Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Pappu Venugopala Rao honoured

Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, eminent scholar, academician, and writer was presented the title of 'Natya Kala Visaaradah' by veteran artist Vyjayanthimala Bali  at the inaugural function of the 36th Natya Kala Conference on 26 December 2016 at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai. Y. Prabhu, General Secretary, SKGS and Natya Kala Conference Convenor Dr. Srinidhi Chidambaram  look on.

Friday, 23 December 2016


 An exciting opportunity for emerging Carnatic vocalists below 25 

TAG Corporation and Karnatic Music Forum, both involved in promoting Carnatic music, and Sruti, India’s premier performing arts monthly, join hands once again to conduct the third edition of the annual Talent Hunt to spot five top voices in the field of Carnatic music.

The TALENT HUNT will be held from 9th to 14th January 2017 at TAG Centre, Alwarpet, Chennai.

Applications are invited from young, aspiring vocalists looking for opportunities in the Carnatic music performance space. The applications must be accompanied by the applicant’s biodata and audio CD to the address given below:

Mrs. Usha Bharadwaj, Coordinator, D1/9, Anand Apartments, 50, LB Road, Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai – 41 or by mail at musicforum.chennai@gmail.com

Out of the applicants, 18 will be selected to perform for an hour each during the January 2017 event. The top five voices of 2017 to be selected by a panel of experts, will each receive prize money of Rs.5000 and a citation.

  • The artists must be below the age of 25 as on 1st January 2017. 
  • The CD must contain one classical kriti with raga alapana, niraval and Kalpana swaras for a maximum duration of 25 minutes, and a light classical song. The total duration of the CD should not exceed 30 minutes. 
  • December 26, 2016 will be the last date for receipt of applications.
  • During the hour-long performance, the selected applicant is expected to present a mini concert that will include raga alapana, niraval and kalpana swaras.
  • Proper vocalisation will be an all-important criterion in selecting the top five. Open-mouthed, akaram-oriented singing will be a must.

Violin and percussion accompaniment, to be provided by the organizers.

The organizers’ decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entertained.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Thinking Body

By Buzybee

A classical dance documentary THE THINKING BODY will be screened at 8 am on 29th December, at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha Mini Hall, as part of the Natya Kala Conference 2016.

The film has been directed by Kadambari Shivaya and produced by Films Division, Government of India. Cinematography is by Vanaprastham director  Shaji N Karun and sound design by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

Nobelman at the gates

By Jaideep Varma

It is perhaps not hyperbolic to say that Bob Dylan’s prize for Literature is the most discussed Nobel award in its history. However much people had argued over eventual choices in the past (including bizarre ones like Obama winning the Peace prize in 2009), no one quite had the occasion to argue about the recipient’s presence in that specific category. Never had so many people appeared to care so much. 

While the literary fraternity appears to be divided about the validity of this choice, there are many more who have voiced outrage this time more than ever before. Sample writer Irvin Welsh’s response, for example, that this was “an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.” Meanwhile, fans of Murukami, DeLillo, Oates, Kundera and Roth, were dismayed, not to speak of those who supported the Syrian poet Adunis or Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o – other favourites, if bookmakers were to be believed.

Thing is, the latest recipient would probably be the last one to argue about this. It is curious that Dylan did not respond for over two weeks, after the announcement, much to media outrage, before finally letting on that he was “speechless”, adding that it was “amazing, incredible; whoever dreams about something like that?”

The roots to his relative indifference perhaps lie elsewhere. In 2004, when St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, bestowed an honorary degree on Dylan (his second, after the one from Princeton in 1970), he was asked on stage what his songs were about. Dylan deadpanned: “Some of them are about three minutes and some are about five minutes.” This sits neatly with a famous 1965 interview moment where, in answer to the question, “Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?” he replied, “Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know.” The consistency of thought over 39 years reveals a great deal of how Dylan sees himself and his art.

Dylan  is the greatest creator of songs in human history, if volume, influence, innovation and longevity are prime factors. There is little to argue about there. (But some still do, and I envy the time they have on their hands.) But, and this is the relevant departure here, this is not because of his lyrics. 

Mythologizing lyrics 

Song lyrics are not meant to be poetry; they may have a lot in common with poetry, but fundamentally, the two are different art forms. 

Otherwise, what stops the finest musicians of our age from teaming up with the greatest contemporary poets and producing unalloyed masterpieces? Has it happened even once in popular music? Sure, artists as varied as Joni Mitchell, Aaron Copeland, Carla Bruni, The Waterboys, Natalie Merchant, Keane and many others have attempted this, but despite their relative merits, no one would say that any of that music would figure on a list of even their most memorable work. 

Another point, in the same vein: if Dylan was primarily a lyric-writer — like, say, Robert Hunter (who wrote for the Grateful Dead) or Bernie Taupin (who writes for Elton John) — do you honestly believe his words would have had anywhere near the same impact? Finally, how many people do you know who read Dylan purely as poetry, as text? 

Bob Dylan’s greatness as a songwriter is about how he expressed himself through song. This is self-evident really: that searing sensibility crackling through the ether, where the power of his harmonica complemented that uniquely straining voice delivering those words while guitar chords lurked beneath. Those words are less notable as autonomous poetry than as navigation points for the song as a whole, rhythmically and thematically (a very significant and noticeable role), and how they themselves sound (as opposed to mean). This may seem blasphemous, but many of his famous lines could easily perhaps be interchanged with others, and no one would really miss them, given the weight of that sensibility, if the familiar words were not lodged in listeners’ heads. It’s not the words themselves that are indispensable; in song, their power lie elsewhere. 

An analogy – lyrics perhaps carry the same weight in a song as the leading actor does in a film. Even if he or she is sometimes the most visible thing about a film (as words often are in Dylan’s uniquely articulated music), the question to ask is if he or she is really indispensable? Again, it may be blasphemous to say that someone other than Marlon Brando could have made “On the Waterfront” as memorable, or someone could have replaced Meryl Streep in “Sophie’s Choice” or Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty” – but there are enough instances of famous performances not being done by first-choice artists for the conceit of that conviction to be rather misplaced. But can we say that about the script or the director of those films? Are they not far more indispensable to the film? 

Those who repeat many of Dylan’s lyrics as slogans for our times really miss the point. What proportion of greatness in the song “Not Dark Yet” lies in the most quoted line of the song "Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain”? Or does the line “"He not busy being born is busy dying" justify the existence of the song “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”? Does the line “She knows there’s no success like failure and that failure’s no success at all” define the song “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit”? Would these songs really be any lesser if these three lines were not in them? There are rooms you might be laughed out of if you insisted on calling them “poetry”, as you would if you put up the lyrics of “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “The Times They Are-a-Changin’” and hailed them similarly. Do they really retain their power on paper? Sometimes people have argued that Dylan’s own process of being led by those words (which sometimes came first) led to those songs. That may be true, but that is as significant to his listeners as whatever else may have inspired him: his Muse or the light falling on the wall or his favourite cushion. 

And yet, there is no doubt that Dylan’s most unique contribution was to bring a certain literary sensibility and approach to the popular song, and expanding its scope with his own influences: classicist poetry at first, then the Beats and the symbolists (Rimbaud remained a big influence for a long time) in a manner no one before or since has done. He changed the preoccupation of the popular song and redefined its boundaries, bringing it closer to literature than any other artist. But, in the end, it wasn’t the words that gave the songs their emotional resonance (inarguably, their most important function); it was the music they served. 

Scholars of all hues have compared Dylan’s lyrics with poetry in the past, with Keats, Blake, Eliot and the Ancient Greeks, most notably the former professor of poetry at Oxford University Christopher Ricks, in his 2003 book Dylan’s Visions of Sin. It has never been a particularly well-received argument because it was devoid of the big picture.

Melody as the mainstay 

Curiously, during the same week Dylan won this prize, The New Yorker carried an article on Leonard Cohan by David Remnick, in which Dylan is quoted as saying, “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius.” It is a pity not enough people talk about Dylan in that context; there is much, much more to speak of here, in fact, more than about any other musician in history. 

That is what really expanded the folk song in the 1960s, when he wrote some of the greatest songs in that format (“Blowin’ In the Wind”, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”). He wrote modern music’s first “anti-love” song (“It Ain’t Me Babe”) and later its first anger song (“Positively 4th Street”) – as notable thematically as musically. 

Then, calling the folk format “static” and “one-dimensional”, he went electric, and created folk-rock and some of the greatest music in history till date (“Like A Rolling Stone”, “Visions Of Johanna”). Earlier in that phase, he laid the seeds of rap (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”), which was also famously the world’s first music video.

Then, with The Hawks (who later became The Band), he made rock even more distinct from rock 'n' roll music (“I Shall Be Released” and The Basement Tapes), laying the roots for Americana. Then, he did a country-rock album, that still has at least two bonafide classics (“Lay Lady Lay” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”). He did one ostensibly confessional album (Blood On The Tracks) in his career, and it remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in that sub-genre (“Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Idiot Wind”).

In his born-again Christian phase that lasted five years, he wrote gospel songs, a few of which will perhaps have the same status 200 years later that “Amazing Grace” has now (most notably “Every Grain Of Sand”). He lost his way thereafter somewhat, even though he produced masterpieces occassionally (“Jokerman”, “Dark Eyes”) and his second wind came with an album that overcame a serious creative block “Man In The Long Black Coat”, (“Shooting Star”), which was also stunningly captured in a chapter on the album Oh Mercy! in his book Chronicles: Vol 1 – one of the best pieces of writing on that subject.

A serious health scare in his mid-50s led to a Grammy-winning album which has some of the greatest songs on mortality in popular music (“Not Dark Yet”, “Trying To Get To Heaven”). His work over the last 15 years has been groundbreaking too, as no one in popular music has chronicled the last quarter of life as vividly as Dylan has been doing (“Mississippi”, “Ain’t Talking”, “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”, the album Tempest). 

The point here is that Dylan has always sung his age, his preoccupations invariably keeping pace with that, and of course, his words servicing this sensibility. But the only reason why his work has been so relevant for so long, with so much of it ostensibly timeless, is because of how he contructed those songs, and that goes way beyond just the words. 

His own voice 

It is also about his voice, often reviled for its unusually rough quality. But unlike classical music, where virtuosity plays such a big part, modern music (especially rock) is about expression and the quality of being “real”. It is not about prettiness or technical prowess but about how much they “tell the truth”.  Even in his 70s, Dylan’s chalk-and-gravel voice rasps with an urgency and honesty most younger singers with far more energy cannot match.

So, if there are so many other elements to Dylan’s art, how does his Literature Nobel make sense then? Well, the Nobel citation specifically praises Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” It does not mention lyrics or words but poetic expressions, which is what songwriting is (not “song writing”, which is equated squarely with only lyrics in India, but “songwriting” as the composer of songs, and the lyrics). Thing is, words did lead the way in this – much like, to use an earlier analogy, a leading actor may get a film made purely on his star power. But, in the end, the film stands on its own feet because of how it is written and directed, and how all the elements come together. So, even if lyrics do not constitute the most critical element in Dylan’s songs, they have led the way noticeably and invaluably in defining his art. 

There is an argument that suggests that Dylan is, in fact, the second songwriter to get the Literature Nobel—after Rabindranath Tagore, who got his in 1913 primarily for a book of verse “Gitanjali” which was actually a bunch of song lyrics translated from Bengali to English. It is a spurious argument though because it is clear from Tagore’s citation (“his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the west”) that the panel never even considered the context of song here; they were clearly seen as verse on paper, meant to be read. In any case, while it had huge impact in Bengal, Tagore’s music meant (and means) nothing to most people outside that region, leave alone India, nor did his music ever really transcend its form, like Dylan’s did, several times. And that is not merely because of the universality Dylan’s language gave him. 

Those who seem to think that Dylan’s Nobel opens the door for other songwriters and musicians to also get the prize should also give it a rest. No one else comes close to what Dylan did – using a unique approach to words to change an art form repeatedly. Words as a means, not an end, but still crucial in their import. 

Forget music, there is no other artist who comes to mind, who used words in such a manner as to transcend and transform his art form. Those who think this also opens the door to screenwriters, web series creators and stand-up comics to be awarded the Literature Nobel, might just struggle to determine who the Dylan equivalent is in their respective art form. No single person even comes close. 

Yes, giving the award to Bob Dylan has expanded the scope of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a good thing in these rapidly changing multimedia times. But it is highly unlikely anyone else will be let in through these expanded gates anytime soon. The purists can breathe easy.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Lifetime Achievement Award

Radha and Raja Reddy, veteran Kuchipudi exponents, gurus and founders of Natya Tarangini in Delhi, received  the Lifetime Achievement Award  from Kartik Fine Arts at the inauguration of the Natya Darshan confest convened by Krithika Subramaniam, on 16 December at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Auditorium in Chennai. Chitra Visweswaran, Member Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram and L. Sabaretnam, Chairman, Kartik Fine Arts presented the awards. The Madurai N. Krishnan memorial award was presented to Rathna Papa Kumar--senior Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer and teacher based in Houston, Texas. The Nrithya Jyothi Award was presented to US-based Bharatanatyam dancer Madura Viswanath Vijay, and the Natya Sudar Award was bagged by young Bharatanatyam dancer Sudharma Vaidyanathan.

V.P. Dhananjayan appointed Dean

Natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan has been appointed as the Dean of the Performing Arts section of the Chidambaram Annamalai University which offers graduate and post graduate degrees in the performing arts. Shanta Dhananjayan has been appointed faculty member.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Rare appearance by Yella Venkateswara Rao

Sannidi Academy's Annual Festival

By Samudri

Sannidi Academy's 6th Annual Festival on Saturday17th and Sunday 18th December 2o16, will feature a range of artists in an intimate setting.

The festival has been lovingly curated every year since its inception by  mridanga vidwan  TR Sundaresan, who served as faculty for over a decade at the Kalakshetra Foundation and then went on to teach for many years for the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society. He has performed alongside many of the great musicians of our time over the years.

The highlight of theSannidi festival is mridangalayavinyasam on the opening day(6-7 pm) by Sundaresan's guru YellaVenkateswara Rao,  a disciple of Palghat Mani Iyer and Padmashri awardee. Known for his ability to produce extraordinary tones on the mridangam and for his innovative and sensitive playing of the instrument, Dr Rao is a Guinness record holder for nonstop performance on the mridangam for 36 hours.  

This is a rare Chennai appearance by the maestro, thanks to the efforts of Sundaresan, his devoted disciple. 

On Saturday, 17 December , the festival features concerts by JA Jayanth (flute) in the morning and Bangalore Shankar (vocal) in the evening. 

On Sunday, 18 December the headlining artists are Sripriya Vijay (vocal), MuraliPavithran (violin), Karaikkal R Jayshankar (vocal), B Seetharaman and VimalanGopalan(vina duet), S Srivathsan (vocal), VijayalakshmiSubramaniam (vocal), and TV Ramprasadh (vocal). 

Sannidi Academy's festival reflects the honest effort of a distinguished vidwan and teacher to honour his guru and serve the music community with an impressive lineup of stalwarts and burgeoning talent that emphasizes instrumental and vocal music alike. 

The festival will be held at the Tamil Virtual Academy Auditorium (next to Anna Centenary Library), Gandhi Mandapam Rd, Kotturpuram, Chennai 600025 (contact 88616-31828). All are welcome.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The great December challenge

Music Academy Season Tickets. 

Rajagopalan Venkatraman

(Reprinted from Sri. Sri. Sri. Faceseasonananda's diary entry of three seasons ago. Suitably modified with addendum #9 to factor in the current climate).
Rain or shine, currency or card, bike or boat, TADA or Nada, the show must go on!
For the benefit of those who haven't yet seen the customary full page programme schedule on the Music Season Special Supplement of The Hindu today --
Eligibility / Selection Criteria for Season Tickets ---
1. Minimum of 75% in 10th and 12th Stds. Notary attested mark sheets to be presented.
2. Minimum of 70% in Bachelor's and/or Master's degree. No arrears in any subjects in any semester. Attested mark sheets of all semesters to be produced.
3. Ration Card, PAN Card, Passport, Driving License, Aadhar Card and Voter Id -- all of the above in original to be produced at the ticket counter. Two attested copies of each need to be submitted.
4. Those holding valid Drivers' License issued in the continental states of the US of A are given 5 grace marks.
5. Residents of the Greater Mylapore area, immediate blood relatives and descendants of performers in the evening slots and super senior slots in the morning are given 5 grace marks upon producing attested, documented proof for the same.
6. Written Test carries a weightage of 50 marks. Broadly covering Trinity, Papanasam Sivan, Purandaradasa and 20th century composers from TN, Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala.
7. Group Discussion carries a weightage of 25 marks. Topics will only be on Trinity compositions.
8. Personal interview carries 25 marks. The panelists comprising Shri. PSN, Smt. Vedavalli and Shri. BM. Sundaram will conduct the personal interviews. Their decision will be final. No further correspondence will be encouraged with the President and/or any Executive Council members of the Academy.
9. Those who bring the old Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500 notes shall bring an authorization letter in original duly signed by Hon. Shri. Arun Jaitely and Shri. Urjit Patel along with two photocopies attested by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Egmore/Saidapet.
Also, applicants are strongly advised against queuing outside the Academy premises from this afternoon onwards. The counters open sharp at 09:00 am tomorrow and applicants are strongly advised to come to the venue not earlier than 6 hours before.
Here's wishing all the very best for applicants.
Have a Happy and Fulfilling Music Season 2016.
Issued on behalf of the Office of Sri Sri Sri Faceseasonanda.