A Festival for Music Students

Posted on August 9, 2008


Picture courtesy: kutcheribuzz.com


An unusual invitation to learn at the feet of accomplished practitioners of Carnatic music.

AUG 9, 2008 – IF NOT FOR THE FINGERPRINTS OF TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY – the microphones, the lights and sounds personnel, the oddly placed computer screens flashing picture slides on the giants of Carnatic music – it would have been easy to mistake the auditorium at Kalakshetra, that cloudy August morning, for a gurukulam. Up above, sloping stretches of thatch converged into a roof, and below, rows of chattering students sat cross-legged on the kind of worn spreads – patterned with parallel lines of varying thickness, printed with bold blocks of colours – instantly identifiable from the platforms of many a kutcheri.

The six-day Svanubhava may have been promoted as a “festival,” exclusively for students of classical music and dance, but as the events of the first day progressed, it was clear that the festivity in this initiative was simply that it was a celebration of the arts. In all other respects, Svanubhava assumed the aspect of a gurukulam, a serious invitation to learn at the feet of accomplished practitioners – and nowhere was this more evident than in the concert of Vijay Siva.

After a brisk, beautiful alapana in Varali, the singer launched into Mamava Meenakshi, and as is the wont of experienced musicians, he kept track of the seven-count misra chapu talam by patting his thigh at just the first, fourth and sixth beats. And seated below the dais, a student followed the course of the composition by painstakingly counting out every single beat – the slap, the little finger, the ring finger, the slap, the open palm, the slap, and the final open palm – as she’d been taught in her introductory music class.

There, in just a matter of a few feet, lay the difference between artist and apprentice – a gap that, by the end of the sixth day, will hopefully have lessened a little. Bolstering this hope were the question and answer sessions, which, besides providing information, gave rise to a general air of merriment, especially when a student – surely the overachieving kind, whose hand would instantly shoot up each time the teacher posed a question to the class – enquired about the nuances of the kampita gamakam.

A bemused Neyveli Santhanagopalan, who took that query, deftly defused a situation that would, otherwise, have required a lengthy technical detour – but earlier, Santhanagopalan provided much merriment himself, instructing the audience on how the major singers handled the major ragas. Taking up Thodi, he so expertly mimicked the gruff rumblings of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, the silvery quivers of GNB, the upper-octaval ta la lou ooye of Madurai Mani Iyer and the lazy drawl of MD Ramanathan, that the audience was torn between gasping at the astonishing evocation of these signature styles and laughing at the circus element of it all.

If all music education were so entertaining, you’d never have dropouts – and going by that morning’s events, if Svanubhava had succeeded in anything, it was in bringing a dimension of liveliness to learning. Whether it was RK Shriram Kumar’s crisp elucidation of why Mohanam is a janyam of Harikhamboji (when it could, in fact, have descended from a number of other ragas), or the opportunity to listen to a rare oonjal paattu by Pillai Perumal Iyengar (in Vijay Siva’s concert), or Santhanagopalan’s demonstration of how Ariyakudi’s sangatis for the anupallavi of Dasarathi (“aasadheera dhoora desamulanu”) transcended the mere swaras and attained a unique bhava, there was nothing rote, nothing that made you sneak glances at your wrist to see when the hour would be up.

In the promotional material, the genesis of Svanubhava – put together by Matrka (the organisation founded by Bombay Jayashri and TM Krishna), with the support of YACM (Youth Association for Classical Music), the Tamil Nadu Government Music College, Kalakshetra and the Music Academy Music College – has been described thus: “The idea of this festival stemmed from the fact that students find it difficult to be part of the December festival due to timings of the concerts, prohibitive daily ticket rates, commuting between sabhas…” If, indeed, as Krishna said, “This is just a beginning,” then we may have witnessed the birth of a new festival, a less intimidating, more interactive cousin to the stately December Festival. We could call it the August Season.

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Posted in: Music: Classical