Rusek at Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s Vocal Concert at The Music Academy in December 2022. Photo credit: Srinivasan KV
Prabha Sri Devan
The season is over. A few random thoughts made me look at the scenery racing before me. There was a time when women attending music academies were usually dressed in Kanchipuram pattu and wore diamonds. It looked like they were attending a wedding or Navaratri Kolulu.
Not anymore. The variety is now amazing. There may be the odd silk and diamond here and there, but they are not mandatory. A casual top knot, jeans … anything goes with the study.
The music season has also become the canteen season. They even have hierarchies. Was this menu better than this – basically, you go here for the tiffin, but go there for the alai spadu. At a concert, a couple sitting near me discussed the merits and demerits of Ashoka Halve. I put up with it for a while, then bowed to him and said: “Please, Konjum Kachari Kikalama?” (Can we listen to a bit of the concert, please?)
The audience made me cry sometimes. At a concert, a rasika near me insisted on singing along, and she was not compatible. At another concert my neighbor tapped the tilam on her thigh, and she was clearly listening to a different beat. In front of me were two people who looked very much like visitors from abroad. I doubt if they heard the Vidwan song. They were more interested in live tweeting or Instagramming to let everyone know they were there. The board says not to record video or audio. Volunteers come and tell you. Still…why?” I asked. They took the shine, and removed the instruments.
At a lake dam, I requested Mike, and said: “Vadoan is sharing his knowledge and art so generously, it’s almost spiritual. And, can you think of just posting it on social media?” are?” Later many people including artists thanked me. But I’m sure there were many flashes. If the Sabha had put a box to vote for the most abrasive member of the audience, I might actually have won.
But I am being treated unfairly. There were others who were different. A young man and a woman moved me at the free morning concert. He did not seem to be a regular of the Sabha. She had difficulty seeing, but could hear. He was overjoyed to recognize the ragas. He had to leave after the main melody. He stayed behind. The concert had come on the Thalana stage. He took out a clutch of papers. He had marked all the free concerts in various sabhas. He checked where he had to go next.
Sabha serves more with its ‘free concerts’ than its house-full concerts. Free concerts tend to attract a wider audience, which may be younger. The principle is that artists ‘graduate’ when they are shifted to ticketed concerts. But what does this ‘graduation’ really mean?
A few years ago, I was at a concert without a ticket. Two young men, who did not seem to be regulars of the sabha, sat in the back. The performer began his eulogy, and from behind came an excited whisper – “Surti da!” I was excited for them. I shared it with the artist a few months later. He was chuffed, and rightly so.
A mother of a son with mobility issues once asked me why concerts were “inaccessible.” Things have changed for the better, but there is still a long way to go. Of course, online concerts are here to stay, and some organizations are doing great. But doesn’t everyone have the right to breathe ‘seasonal’ air?
There was a time when people thought that Tani Avartanam meant interval. Now the audience listens. This is when percussion takes center stage in a speaking style. The singer should plan wisely this time. At some concerts, I realized that the singer had forgotten about Tani Avartanam, and was quick to nod graciously at the mridangam performer, not even five minutes to spare. This is not correct,
I don’t need to worry unnecessarily about the future. Here is a beautiful quote, shared in “Remembering veena vidwan S. Balachander”. SB had said: “Art will always flourish. Art will live on from us…Artists of the future will also flourish…Artists of the future are bound to outlive us. So, let’s keep our ears and eyes… and the basic Keep your heart open.”