Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Spaces

By Arundhathi Krishnan

After the conclusion of the Madras music season, IIT Madras Music Club has been host to Youthfest 2013, its annual series for the up and coming faces of Carnatic music. This year’s line-up included vocalists Ashwath Narayanan, Sriranjani Santhanagopalan, and Malavika Sundar and violinist Shreya Devnath. In quick succession followed two Hindustani concerts in February-a vocal performance by Omkar Dadarkar and a sarod recital by Abir Hossain.

Music Club celebrated its ruby anniversary a few years ago, and continues to conduct concerts in the sprawling IIT Madras campus through most of the year. The academic year typically begins with Clasfest, a grand series of concerts by senior artists. The rest of the year sees two concerts per month, by a melange of artistes, young and old, vocalists and instrumentalists, from Chennai and elsewhere. Over the last two years, Hindustani concerts have also been organised and received excellent feedback.

Music Club concerts are fairly well-attended, principally by students and faculty, but also some outsiders, for few halls in the city can boast of an ambience and sound system as good as that of the Central Lecture Theatre, where concerts are typically held.

Prof. T T Narendran, alumnus of the institute and Professor, Department of Management Sciences, as well as vainika and music connoisseur, has been the President of Music Club for several years now. Prof. TTN or ‘Mama’, as he is almost universally referred to, remains as enthusiastic today about the Club’s programmes as in the days he was a student volunteer. Mama and a small group of students share the work of planning and organising concerts: contacting artistes, booking the use of the CLT (which hosts a number of institute activities), arranging for the transportation and stay of the artistes, negotiating with sponsors, creating campus and off- campus publicity, down to the little details of arranging for coffee and so forth—in short, regular sabha work!

The smooth running of sabhas and canteens would be impossible without support staff. Mohan ‘Anna’ (a title which belies his age) has been assisting Music Club throughout its existence in setting up the stage for concert and wrapping up after. This is an insufficient description of the help he renders Music Club; his presence will be very greatly missed when he retires from service later this year.

Today’s Club concerts are perhaps held in more sophisticated premises with better technical support, but the yesteryear Music Club concerts saw some of the biggest names in Carnatic music perform, beginning with inaugural concerts by Ramnad Krishnan and Lalgudi Jayaraman. What has not changed, however, is the Club’s commitment to upholding the spirit of classical music, encouraging innovations within the framework of classicism, giving promising young musicians a platform, while also exposing audiences to living legends. Many of today’s star musicians were once Youthfest performers and are more than happy to return to perform in the organisation that helped shape them.

Music Club concerts provide entertainment as well as much food for thought for the scholars who attend, many of whom are students of music, some performers, even. Post concert discussions and ‘jam sessions’ are common in Tiffanys, the campus’s equivalent of a sabha canteen.

There have been many unforgettable concerts amongst the club’s programmes. Two in recent times will forever remain in my mind. One was a vocal concert by T N Seshagopalan, with a memorable Giripai nelakonna Ramuni’. At the other, a nagaswaram concert by Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman, the artistes were delayed by heavy traffic, and there were perhaps fewer than ten in the audience. But as Kothandaraman played the first phrase of a brief Bhairavi alapana and followed it up with the ata tala varnam, and a spectacular concert unfolded, concluding past 10 pm, the very purpose of the Club’s existence seemed fulfilled.

(The author is a research scholar in maths and a Carnatic vocalist).

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