The floods have been of such magnitutde that for the first time the city is asking: Should the December Music Season be cancelled? Is it appropriate to have a festival of the fine arts at a time when there is so much suffering in the city? The answers to this have been as varied as the opinions on what constitutes good Carnatic music.
Some artists have cancelled concerts while others have said that since this is a profession like any other, the question of calling it off does not arise. A third group has not expressed any opinion but continued to perform, letting art speak for itself. A fourth says performance is prayer.
Whatever the truth in any or all of these claims, there is one indisputable fact: The Season has never been cancelled in the 89 years of its existence.
One reason is that there is no single organisation that really heads the Season. The Music Academy, despite its preeminent status, has ultimately the same rights as that of a humble Sabha operating out of a school in the outskirts. The likelihood of all the organisations coming together on any issue is therefore remote.
During World War II, Madras was evacuated in 1942 and in 1943 there were floods from end-October to early November on a scale similar to the current one. The Season continued nevertheless. The despondence brought about by the Chinese aggression of 1962 did not stop the Season. The three Season organisers of that time – the Music Academy, the Indian Fine Arts Society and the Tamil Isai Sangam donated money to the Defence Fund.
Historically, dates around Christmas have been bad ones for Chennai. Rajaji died on December 25, 1972 and Periyar a year later on December 24. Performances were called off for just a day. MGR’s death on December 24, 1987 had a bigger impact chiefly owing to the law and order problems that ensued. But the Season was back on its feet on the 27th, with many Sabhas resuming after a condolence meeting. It is significant that they continued to hold programmes thereafter despite the 13-day State mourning.
Even the tsunami of December 26, 2004 disrupted the Season for just a day. Some organisations made contributions to the relief drive. The Academy interrupted its Season a year later to accommodate Zubin Mehta and his ensemble to perform and raise funds for tsunami victims.
Though in real terms and numbers, it involves a miniscule population, the Season’s high profile does make a statement. Stirred but not shaken would perhaps best describe its spirit.