Quotes of the season
Compiled by: Lalitha Venkat

January 27, 2013

DANCE

Performing on stage is relatively easier than putting together a series of elements to make that performance happen. A hands-on experience at the activities behind the screen, I feel, makes you a better dancer. You automatically push yourself to go that extra mile in putting forth your best.
- Nivedita Ganeshram
(‘All in all’ by Payal Chhabria, The Hindu nxg, Nov 29, 2012)


The return of the month of Margazhi makes one ponder about the standard of music and dance today. Thanks to the combined lure of speed and technology, music and dance appear to be heading for a state of banality and vacuity in creativity. In dance, new forms and genres seem to seek freedom from the rigours and discipline of the earlier style. Being ‘contemporary’ is seen as being synonymous with creating an illusion of being merely esoteric, marginalising aesthetics, and opting for mindless movements and formations, served with a lamentable paucity of sahityam….. The advent of technology and management had led to a shift in focus -- from feeling to efficiency. In the process, the Soul is the casualty!
- PS Krishnamurti
(‘Where’s the soul?’ The Hindu, Dec 1, 2012)


While in the hands of an astute dancer even a simple song can gain in stature, inexperienced students can falter while negotiating indifferent compositions. The approach to composing (choreography is another matter) for dance has changed considerably. Often highly dramatic representations of complex lyrics gloss over pure aesthetics. In a flurry of activity, the suggestive charm of Bharatanatyam is forsaken for overt narratives which play to the gallery. After all, much of dance is, at present, a community activity.
- Lakshmi Vishwanathan
(‘Women and Bhakti,’ The Hindu, Dec 1, 2012)


In the land of Murugan Idli and Molaga Podi, Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam, Jayalalithas and Karunanidhis, Khushboos and Rajinikanths, Karpagambal mess and Kapali temple, sabhas and sapads, Kanjivaram sarees and vettlepaaks, Rahmans and Illayarajas, Thalapakatti biryani and autowalas that loot you.... I wake up to the divine voice of M S Subbulakshmi and a big tumbler of steaming hot filter kaapi... the annual December Margazhi season is here! Looking forward to the madness...
This is also the time when young artistes bunk performances of seniors on the pretext of having classes and rehearsals and seniors bunk other seniors’ performances giving an imaginary busy schedule as a pretext....
- Veejay Sai
(On Facebook, Dec 7, 2012)


If we don't project what we stand for, we are sidelined as a bunch of entertainers. I run a school, so I am an educationist. I am also an artist, so I consider myself an edutainer.
- Madhuvanthi Arun
(‘Branding the artist’ by Priya M Menon, Times of India, Dec 13, 2012)


For me the greatest joy is when I am able to bond with my audience. Even for a fleeting moment. That, for me, is fulfilling, a high.
- Priyadarsini Govind
(‘Of confluences and contradictions’ by Savitha Gautam, The Hindu, Dec 22, 2012)


Dancers incorporate Telugu terms according to their whims and fancies. This should stop. They should refer to the lexicon (nigandu). This may mean extra effort but this would help them communicate in a better way to the audience, through their abhinaya.
- VAK Ranga Rao
(The Hindu, Jan 10, 2013)


One striking feature today is the moving away from the grammar of the adavu system. Time is a factor. Dance classes are held not more than three times in a week. Adavus are taught in a selective manner and in some instances whole units are left out because they are not used much in the items. The stamina of the younger generation is less than ours. I can easily keep up with the fittest of them without strain! As a result we find that now there is a shift towards those actions which make fewer demands on the knee, the back or the heel over a period of time.
- Roja Kannan
(‘Thinking on her feet’ by Vidya Saranyan, The Hindu, Jan 10, 2013)


In a world struggling with aggression and dark violence, the classical arts can offer one thing - emotional and spiritual balm…. We cannot dance to the theme of bride-burning or corruption in the classical format. The classical dances are not about depicting reality, they are about transcending the reality. But does it mean that they have no place in our lives? What they can do is to re-envision for us all that is refined and good in our souls. And believe me, in times like these we feel bad about ourselves.
- Malavika Sarukkai
(‘The dance disconnect’ by Malini Nair, Times of India, Crest, January 12, 2013)


Both art and activism are a part of life. If I feel strongly about something, I will speak about it or take out a protest march but it will not be reflected in my dance.
- Vyjayanthimala Bali
(‘The dance disconnect’ by Malini Nair, Times of India, Crest, January 12, 2013)


Classical dances are rooted in a time when society was not complex and lines were clearly drawn between classes, castes and genders. That world is gone but classical dances continue to resonate those social structures….You can't stand on stage, in a typical dancer stance, attired in silk and gold and talk angrily about AIDS and rape. It simply does not work to suddenly weave a campaign into a jathi. That would serve neither cause, dance nor activism.
- Anita Ratnam
(‘The dance disconnect’ by Malini Nair, Times of India, Crest, January 12, 2013)


It looks forced if we use Bharatanatyam to talk about violence, rape or corruption. The way I see it, classical arts are a way to harmonise the mind, elevate it but they cannot be directly connected to what is happening on the streets.
- Alarmel Valli
(‘The dance disconnect’ by Malini Nair, Times of India, Crest, January 12, 2013)


MUSIC

I have nothing against fusion music but I feel one should have complete knowledge of their genre before venturing to experiment. Nowadays, I see some who combine a violin and flute with a guitar and drums. Fusion music is not just that!
- Rithvik Raja
(‘Best of both worlds’ by Madhumitha Srinivasan, The Hindu nxg, Nov 29, 2012)


Fusion music is catchy. There are no restrictions and, sometimes, no lyrics too. So anyone can listen to it. I feel some changes need to be made in the way classical music is presented to take it to the masses.
- Tanjore K Praveen
(‘Best of both worlds’ by Madhumitha Srinivasan, The Hindu nxg, Nov 29, 2012)


I have already attended six concerts in which the vocalists have consumed record quantities of hot water from strategically placed thermos flasks, all to no avail. The performers have invariably croaked and coughed so badly through the concerts that even the accompanying violins seem to go off key in sympathy. Though some of my suspicious friends like to play guessing games as to the contents of the flasks, I don’t subscribe to the view that they can contain performance-enhancing potions of any description. At least I am yet to see evidence of any performance enhancement. I dread to imagine the scenario in the third week of December, by which time many vocalists will have completed at least half a dozen cutcheris.
- V Ramarayan
(in his blog, Dec 4, 2012)


There are different kinds of people among the audience. Some will be learned and some will be laymen. The job of the performer is not to fall to the level of a layman but to raise him to the level of understanding excellence….Classical music was initially performed only in durbars of the rajas and emperors. Commoners got to hear it only during temple festivals. Today, music has made inroads to all homes and public platforms. So many people are learning it. The future can only be better.
- TN Seshagopalan
(‘The Mozart of Madurai’ by Arjun Narayanan, Times of India, Margazhi Swaram, Dec 8, 2012)
 

For many undoubtedly, the greatest attraction is the canteen and it decides the venue for the concert they are going to attend. “It is the time when we can hear good music and tuck in good, tasty food. Sometimes, the caterers get changed at the sabhas and so we get the opportunity to taste different styles of cooking just as we get the opportunity to hear different styles of music,” said a rasika smilingly.
- V Padmasini
(‘All roads lead to sabhas,’ Mylapore Talk, Dec 9, 2012)


I don’t even approve of bhajans being sung at kutcheris, so mixing cinema with Carnatic is not something I would encourage. The individuality of Carnatic music gets lost.
- Dr. BM Sundaram
(‘Kutcheris date Kollywood’ by Kamini Mathai, Times of India, Dec 9, 2012)


Chennai’s sabha-s give more than a musical repast to connoisseurs. They give to the music knowing, to learners, to aspirants, and above all, to the simple unselfconscious general body of sangita-jnani-s who are often quite poor, and sangita-rasika-s of all ages and many strata, a chance to connect with their musical founts. The ‘season’ is, I believe, the only one of its kind in the world, a huge enfranchising of the highest classicism.
It is the organised flotation of a gilt-edged aesthetic security, the release into a populace’s hands of a mint-fresh issue from the gold standard of pure tradition. A ‘release’, we should know, not in some regional largesse but in strict exchange, value for value, of the gold of music for the bullion of appreciation. And sabha-s have to be complimented and thanked for this. That a festival of this scale should take place, year after year, without any government subventions, solely by dint of public support to sabha-s, is an extraordinary achievement.
- Gopalkrishna Gandhi
 (‘December mist and magic,’ The Hindu, Dec 10, 2012)


Economics has always been an uneasy ally to the classical arts. With a shift in the focus of sponsorships towards reality television and its related events, the ability for mainstream media to create viable slots for classical arts programming has drastically reduced. Other than pockets of paradise that support classical art events, the world is becoming a very different place. The advent of social media and viral proliferation has ushered in a new generation of musicians who make their own rules and have started creating their own markets. Some classical musicians have endorsed this brave new world and have already made the transition, adjusting their oeuvre to suit this paradigm.
- Anil Srinivasan
(‘Fitting a changing mould,’ The Hindu, Dec 11, 2012)


During my younger days, there were hardly 10 to 12 singers and about 3 venues for the Margazhi season. Sometimes, we would perform in makeshift venues with pandals. Now there are so many singers and venues, which is an indication of the fact that people are interested in classical more than ever. The level of knowledge among people is quite high.
I do not understand the concept of sticking to tradition in music. What is tradition? Thyagarja Bhagavathar himself experimented with music. There can be no tradition without additions.
- Dr. M Balamuralikrishna
(‘Maestro of music’ by Sangeetha Nambiar, Times of India, Margazhi Swaram, Dec 12, 2012)


One of the main reasons for artistes not singing old kritis or songs is the short duration of concerts. Decades ago, concerts ran for 3 to 4 hours and artistes could explore a variety of ragas. Now concerts are only 2 hours long, so artistes squeeze in popular ragas that the audience can easily relate to.
- S Sivaramakrishnan
(‘Rare ragas hit low note’ by B Sivakumar, Times of India, Dec 12, 2012)


As the season hots up, sabha-s will have to give top priority to acoustics and make sure that the pristine tradition of Carnatic music is duly packaged and presented in high fidelity, especially given that contemporary artistes can tend to neglect voice culture and are very often seen cupping and cradling the mikes and repeatedly adjusting their tambura drone levels. All this while, the miming act with the sound engineer carries on as the artiste struggles on with undeserved frustration.
- V. Kalidas
(‘Time for sabha-s to make some sound investments,’ The Hindu, Dec 17, 2012)


The main demand for online teaching, as of now, comes from the Indian diaspora — Indian immigrants in America who settled thousands of miles from their homeland for professional advancement. The appeal of online teaching for this diasporic community is apparent. Parents can encourage their second-generation Indian-American children to receive musical training from popular performers in Chennai and, in turn, stay connected to their cultural heritage from the comfort of their own homes.
In spite of the serious challenges in virtual music education, such as audio/video lag (which prevents teacher and student from performing tasks simultaneously), substandard audio and video quality, call drops, and limited musical and social interaction between teacher and student, virtual lessons are undeniably convenient for both parties. And after all, the technology, when fully operational, appears to simulate face-to-face training.
But why would online performer-teachers in Chennai take time out of their hectic, international performance schedules to teach beginner-and-intermediate-level students over the Internet? The primary incentive, many of my collaborators admit, is economic. One of my collaborators put it succinctly: “Teaching online is the easiest way to earn in American dollars and spend in rupees.” Thanks to the dollar-rupee conversion rate, Chennai teachers are able to get five times or more as fees than what local students can afford to pay.
In this technology-driven, global cultural and economic exchange, I speculate that immigrant parents are the essential cultural and economic link that actively connects Indian-American students (who represent “western culture”) with Chennai teachers (who represent authentic “Indian culture”). There is, thus, no mystery as to why online teaching in Carnatic music is as popular as it is: the technology is available, there is a clear cultural demand from the Indian immigrant population and Chennai teachers are ready to supply their artistic expertise, so long as the price is right.
- Rohan Krishnamurthy
(‘Logging on to the virtual gurukulam,’ The Hindu, Dec 19, 2012)


While veterans found it easy to blame youngsters for not taking up the instrument full-time, very few ventured to do anything about it. At an institutional level, the effort remained deplorable. Some of the country’s top-most centres for music education don’t as much have a teacher, let alone a department or any syllabus on the instrument. For one thing, it turned out that the veena really wasn't that much easier to master like the others that replaced it eventually as an accompanying instrument. Like a neglected and helpless grandmother between rejecting members of her family, the veena continues to stay in the hands of a few individual activists who do their bit by organising exclusive festivals to popularise it.
- Veejay Sai
(‘Something to fret about,’ The Hindu, Dec 25, 2012)


When was the last time an accompanist drew rasika-s to a concert?  Did good violinists and mridangists just stop emerging? Any keen observer of Carnatic music would say that the opposite is actually true. The music scene is brimming with highly talented violin, mridangam, ghatam and kanjira artistes now, more than ever. What then precludes the emergence of a Lalgudi Jayaraman or Palghat Raghu from among the successive generations?
In the interviews leading up to this article, it was clear that there was a lot boiling under the surface. Some artistes were willing to make a few points on the record and some points off it. Some artistes preferred to voice their views strictly off the record. Most of the top vocalists begged to be excused from expressing their views. Those who were willing did not wish to be identified. But the angst, belligerence and insecurity among accompanying artistes clearly came through.
More than one vocalist felt that a lot of accompanists had stopped growing after showing a lot of initial promise. This invited a quick and sharp response from a violinist, “When we are paid a pittance and have to average 15 to 20 engagements a month to keep the home fires burning, where is the room to grow?”
- Viswanath Parasuram
(‘Where are the giants?’ The Hindu, Dec 26, 2012)


Even though I enjoy giving violin and vocal duet concerts with my sister, violin accompaniment was most important for me. But the scene is very depressing. It is so rare to find a main artiste who is happy when I play to my full potential. I have played for so many emerging vocalists in the early stages of their career because they are eager to have the best accompanists at that point. Once they establish themselves, the situation reverses completely.
- Akkarai Subbalakshmi
(‘Where are the giants?’ by Viswanath Parasuram, The Hindu, Dec 26, 2012)


If I have to enjoy my role as an accompanist, I have to be challenged adequately or I must have something substantial to learn. The challenges are rare and I do accompany a few very senior artistes, from whom I have a lot to learn. I can afford to be choosy because I have other musical options.
- Sriram Parasuram
(‘Where are the giants?’ by Viswanath Parasuram, The Hindu, Dec 26, 2012)


Sabha-s have long given up their role in deciding on accompanists. Like the trend of the angavastram being joined to the veshti or the blouse piece being joined to the sari, the main artiste also comes with a set of accompanists. If a sabha suggests an accompanist outside the familiar set, the main artiste is likely to contradict the suggestion saying that the combination may not work out. You decide whether this is the truth or blackmail.
- M.A. Sundareswaran
(‘Where are the giants?’ by Viswanath Parasuram, The Hindu, Dec 26, 2012


The need for acceptance among the fraternity of Carnatic musicians is what attracts aspirants to Chennai. This acceptance is measured by concerts, crowds and critiques in newspapers in this city has, which has built up a reputation as an opinion-maker, and other cities look up to Chennai, as one would an older brother, for opinions and judgments. And despite the proliferation of Carnatic music around the globe, where else will you see an auditorium filled to capacity for a lecture demonstration on tanam singing at 8am on a weekday? It is this kind of devotion that still makes this city the last word in music.
And Chennai, for all its opportunities, is not as unbiased as it would like to believe. Just as an IPL team may have a Ponting or Malinga performing brilliantly, but the adoration and adulation is still reserved for ‘enga thalai Dhoni’, similarly, for all the concerts that Hyderabadis or Keralites perform in Chennai, it is generally the namma paiyyans of Chennai who will be loved and feted.
- Manasi Prasad
(‘The city where stars are made,’ The Hindu, Dec 27, 2012)


The world is changing; it’s moving faster. Even artistes are doing more things at once and have less time to sit down and practise. There are stories of yesteryear seniors practising for up to 12 to 16 hours in a day! Nobody does that anymore. Nowadays, artistes are concerned only with how to get on stage!
- Praveen Kumar (percussionist)
(‘Debating change,’ The Hindu, Dec 27, 2012)


I don’t know how far back the tradition of speech-making in Carnatic music circles goes; this tributary of the art is barely chronicled. I wonder, often, who the Ariyakudi of speech-making is - who laid down the structural format for this art - for the format is well-set.
First, shower cyclonic hyperbole on the main artiste. If it is an upcoming artiste, tell her she is worthy of being in the top rung. If it is a musician at the height of her powers, tell her she has proved today why she is there. A “doyen” must be spoken of with the necessary honorifics and references to their experience and mastery. The accompanists are usually spoken of in comparisons to the legends of the past. For instance, if you tell a mridangam player that he sounds like Palghat Mani Iyer, you can never go wrong. Reminiscing is a bonus, precise reminiscing - in such-and-such year, so-and-so's concert with so-and-so as accompanists at such-and-such venue — makes you a Jedi of the art form. In most concerts, you can start a speech with a reference to ‘Inta sowkhyamani’and you can mention ‘Sogasuga mridanga talamu’ to describe most mridangam vidwan-s. Sadly, the Trinity didn’t compose kriti-s on violinists. If the musicians are from Andhra, quote Bharatiyar, Sundara telunginil paatu isaittu...” If the musicians are NRIs, talk about how culture has been preserved so far away from our land. I am sure the secretary can give these speeches even before the concert begins.
Then, there are the speeches given at award functions. So many titles are given out each year by sabha-s that senior musicians might have to get a sahasranaamam composed to remember all of them. I heard of a recent instance where a sabha forgot that it had already awarded a musician a particular title, and sought to award it to him again. Even the musician realised only much later and the sabha hastily anointed another vidwan in his place.
- Swaroop Mamidipudi
(‘Purveyors of the ambling preamble,’ The Hindu, Dec 31, 2012)


Beatific smiles and bhesh-es, sabhash-es and bale-s (a friend swears he actually heard the exclamation ‘kya baat hai!’ on the stage in a recent concert) in praise are not just reserved for accompanists but also bestowed on your singing or instrumental partner, sometimes in mid-phrase or sangati, thereby creating new sounds for the rasika to mull over.
The whole effect is one of bonhomie, a convivial jam session among friends, calculated to win applause every three minutes, standing ovations after every two kriti-s and a thunderous mega-ovation at the end of the concert. Fortunately, the habit among rock musicians and fusion bands of demanding applause from the audience (“Don’t be shy, give us a big hand!”) has so far not caught on in Carnatic music.
One welcome development has been that the audience has generally refrained from bursting into applause when the vocalist touches a dramatic high note, showing remarkable restraint in this respect. I remember a Hindustani pair of vocalists a few years ago pleading with listeners to defer applause to the end of an item, as during a piece it interfered with their manodharma.
- V Ramnarayan
(‘From rich raag-s to rarefied raga-s,’ The Hindu, Jan 1, 2013)


All music genres have their own particular brand image, developed by the artists themselves, and displayed to audiences as part of the entertainment package itself. Thus, we have rock and pop artists with their usual wild and vibrant, sometimes societal-norm flouting, dress and behaviour codes. We see western classical musicians adopting a more sober dress code - reflective of the discipline and focus required of a western concert musician. All orchestral members are generally dressed in neat and formal black attire - women in black evening gowns or skirts, men in black suits.
What of our Carnatic musicians and the image they present to audiences through their dress and behaviour patterns? There seems to be a 360 degree transformation in image, compared with the sober, spiritual images projected by our venerated musicians of yesteryear. Witness the pious and devout renderings of Subbulakshmi, in her modest, both shoulder-covering sari compared with the gaudy, vulgarly expensive Kanchipuram silks (costing tens of thousands of rupees) donned by the female stars of today - to the accompaniment of glittering diamonds and excessively heavy gold jewellery.
As a Carnatic musician myself, I wonder what must be going on in the minds of these vain, display-conscious musicians, as they prepare for each concert. Will they be focussing on which sari and matching jewellery to wear or on the subtle nuances of the main raga for the evening? The male artists too have taken to this finery display - many of them donning quite loud and ugly angavastram, all looking uncomfortably out of place.
What will we do with our beautiful Kanchipuram collections, I can hear the women wailing. Sure, we want to encourage and patronise this most exquisite silk-weaving art, honed through centuries. But, perhaps, we should reserve their use for weddings, parties and TV shows - not for the concert platform. And how about taking to Kanchipuram cottons for a change towards more profundity?
- Sushila Krishnamurthi
(‘Sober dress for soulful music?’ The Hindu, Jan 6, 2013)


This has reference to the article “Sober dress for soulful music?” by Sushila Krishnamurthi. At the concert platform, Carnatic music is at best an admixture of a subjective and entertaining nature. Therefore, stage presence is an indispensable part of the event. It will not be incorrect to say that artistes of yore dressed well for the occasion with a certain amount of ostentation that provided a visual treat preceding an enriched aural experience. One learns from books and elders that they did take great care of the sartorial part of the “show.”
While MS’ music was divine, her presence was no less thanks to her sense of aesthetics that called for a well-stocked wardrobe of Kancheepuram silks! (In fact, there is a brand of a silk saree flaunting the MS Border, another an MS Blue!). She was aesthetically bedecked with jewellery topped with a rich hallow of well arranged jasmine flowers. The tilak marks on her forehead sported a multi-coloured three-tier design. She was the epitome of a stunning picture that blended visual aesthetics with aural grandeur. Happily for us, there is a goodly slice of our leading Vidushis following the MS trail. May their tribe increase!
The vidwans in the Golden Era were no less flamboyant. They had expensive silk-tasselled shawls and “angavastarams” draped over their broad shoulders which they nonchalantly negotiated while coursing through the sweet strains of a raga. While silver snuff boxes and silver betel containers added to their accoutrements, a liberal sprinkling of fragrances (javadh, attar and punugu) lent a unique dimension to their persona. They were not shy of flaunting their gold “kadukans” or diamond rings. Remember Ariyakudi and GNB and others of their ilk? Why then grudge our contemporary vidwans their colourful kurtas and shawls which do lend a certain charm to their personality?
- V. Kalidas
(‘Clothing soulful music in colourful format,’ The Hindu, Jan 13, 2013)


One aficionado asked me “Why are people not coming to concerts of serious musicians just because they are not popular? This was not the case before.”
Having been branded ‘popular’, today I need to ask myself another question. Am I contributing to this ghettoisation? My initial reaction would be absolutely not. I am doing what I do, sing and making ‘hay while the sun shines.’ Does my responsibility end there? After a few moments of reflection, I find the conflict, the dilemma in my thoughts. Are we, the popular, making sure that every opportunity comes only our way? Are we, in a subliminal sense, creating a popular-related thought process in the majority? Are we avaricious?
Yes, I am all that. I am insecure and all artists are. I should make sure that I maximise my professional life as long as it lasts. “The artist’s life is limited,” says the other side of me. After some battle, I must say that we are not only maximising our opportunities but even sending out messages that minimise them for the rest. We - the popular - need to look beyond ourselves; at the music, at the eco-system of Carnatic music. How many times have I actually refused a concert even though I have three concerts on either side? Why have I not thought to myself that if I say ‘No’, another serious musician would be able to perform? Have I ever considered suggesting such musicians unless specifically asked? Do the not-popular feature on my lips or do they not?
We need to wake up and realise that we live in a self-obsessed popular bubble. It is lovely and will disappear but if I am not confident enough about my own music, to think beyond myself, it is unfortunate not only for music but for the music community at large. We are today in a position to influence people, and we need to nudge people to go to concerts by the numerous lovely musicians who are not famous, in order to secure Carnatic music.
- TM Krishna
(‘Beyond the stars,’ The Hindu, Jan 12, 2013)


GENERAL

The performance venues transform into vibrant community spaces. The canteens invite us to steaming cups of filter coffee and hot vada-s, but also to a space where you can soak in fiery debates and pleasant interactions. They provide the perfect platform for free association - it’s a part of the order to go and sit at a table with people we’ve never met before and strike up a conversation, something we would not normally do at a restaurant. In fact the atmosphere releases us from all that inhibits us socially. If we have become increasingly guarded in our human interactions, making judgment calls and restricting ourselves essentially to those we believe are ‘like us’, the December season comes as a refreshing change. It liberates us from this mindset and is the ultimate community experience.
- Preeti Mohan
(‘Drawn to a close, December drew people closer,’ The Hindu, Jan 2, 2013)


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