The grand carnival of the classical arts is on in Chennai. You can listen to Carnatic music to the point of saturation and some Hindustani music too. In dance you get to see a variety of classical forms—a lot of Bharatanatyam, and some programmes of Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Kathakali, Mohini Attam and Sattriya. The audience for music and dance is quite different. If you want to know what the season was like 75 years ago, we have an interesting description of the 1944 December season written by popular raconteur Sriram V.
There are many kinds of rasikas ranging from the single-minded one-sabha rasika to constant sabha hoppers. You can easily listen to over 60 different musicians during the season or simply follow your favourite musician to all the 20-plus concerts! In the audience you will find talkers and sing-along types, some young and many middle-aged folks busy clicking and posting on Instagram and Facebook—we sincerely hope you are not one of them! There will be others googling or frantically turning the pages of the raga-ready reckoner to identify the raga, song and composer being rendered by the artist on stage.
The number of vocal recitals far outnumbers instrumental concerts. Although both vocal and instrumental music have coexisted for long, the latter has not received due patronage from organisers and rasikas. It is a vicious circle—organisers arrange only a few instrumental concerts citing lack of audience interest, while the audience attendance is poor because the number of instrumental concerts is less! Could the high importance accorded to kritis and their lyrics in Carnatic music be a cause for this? What could be the reasons for the greater popularity of vocal over instrumental music? What is it that the audience is looking for? It has nothing to do with quality alone as there are several excellent instrumentalists in the field. In this issue, one of our senior writers, vainika T.T. Narendran, raises questions and offers insights into the status of instrumental music today.
Our Chennai correspondent V. Karpagalakshmi interviewed a few instrumentalists (posted on the Sruti blog), most of whom remarked that instrumental music was better appreciated outside Chennai! They also expressed their disappointment with the rotation system of allocating limited performing slots for a wide range of instruments. Instrumentalists have appealed for at least 25% representation during the season.
Can anything be done to help the cause of instrumentalists? The musicians themselves have been experimenting and collaborating in different ways to try and popularise instrumental music. Last season, Abhishek Raghuram presented a vocal concert with young flautist J.B. Sruthi Sagar as accompanist at the Narada Gana Sabha. This year, Ramakrishnan Murthy and young Ramana Balachandran are presenting a vocal-veena duet at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Most of the musicians interviewed have suggested that lecdems and workshops should be organised to explain the intricacies and the effort that goes into playing any instrument. With this in view, Sruti and Music Forum present Vadya Sammelan on 7 and 8 December—a series comprising lecdems by top artists, which promises to provide insights into the origin, history, styles and intricacies of the tavil, nagaswaram, mridangam, violin, veena, ghatam, khanjira and morsing. The entire Lec Dem Mela, including an interesting panel discussion on the ‘State of Instrumental music’ will hopefully give a boost to Carnatic instrumental music in Chennai.
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