Saturday, 26 December 2015

Beyond geography

By Bala Shankar

Every now and then, ‘concerned’ artistes and rasikas echo a lament that Carnatic music is suffering from declining popularity. I think this is a Chennai centric view. In the past two decades, Carnatic music has actually grown new wings, geographically speaking. Thanks to media, people are familiar with the US story and the rampant expansion to countries as unthinkable as New Zealand, Austria, China, Brazil and everything that is in between. This is a far cry from the isolated concert tours of MS or Lalgudi Jayaraman in the 1960s and 70s. The prestige associated with performing in Cleveland is no less than an opportunity at the Music Academy. 

The more impressive, but less publicized development is within India itself. Tamil Nadu now hosts festivals in Erode, Salem, Ranipet, Kumbakonam, Devakottai, Chidambaram and Kanchipuram besides the matured centres like Madurai, Coimbatore and Trichy. Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have their own high profile events in smaller towns and cities and there are activities through the year. Besides  icons like Shanmukhananda in Mumbai, many organizations are hosting events in Kolkata, Pune, Delhi and even Bhubaneswar and Guwahati. These are very important developments in the spread of our music. Some of these festivals have gone on to achieve enough financial muscle to fly in artistes from Chennai. It is also not a secret that audiences pay their due gate fees and organizers do not just depend on sponsorships. That augurs well for a audience supported eco-system, which is how the world of music is commercially run. 

The geographical growth also helps in development of regional artistes and accompanists and raises the bar for them. And in grooming enlightened listeners of the future. There are many stories of outstanding concerts outside Chennai by stalwarts in the 50s and 60s, including the famous one by Alathur Brothers and Palghat Mani Iyer at Trichy Nandrudayar temple in 1956 and many of GNB, Ariyakudi and TN Rajarathnam. These became gold standards for the succeeding generations of both artistes and listeners. We must go beyond the Mylapore enclave to appreciate how our music is extending itself with salubrious effects. 

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