The Madras music season has opened, and lined up are the usual 2,000-odd concerts spread over a month.
The Mylapore Fine Arts Club, situated in the conservative heartland of Chennai, conferred awards on two radical singers, and on a mridangist who is popularly felt to have been done a bad turn by that prima donna of sabhas, the Music Academy.
In selecting vocalist K J Yesudoss, Mandolin U Shrinivas and mridangist Vellore Ramabhadran for the title of Sangeetha Kala Nipuna in its golden jubilee year, the club signalled its intention to hold up "audience interests" above traditional tastes.
The compere, poet Va Ve Su, spoke of a Triveni Sangamam, a confluence of three rivers, as the awardees came from the three southern states -- Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. He had the audience in splits when he said that for all the efforts of the club secretary, Mr K S Venkataraman, to run the show, he would still have to face the music when he went home late in the night. And truth to tell, when we rang up Mr Venkatraman's house to clarify a point, a resigned female voice told us that he was still at the club!
And in keeping with the overall light mood of the evening, Yesudoss, the vocalist who draws the most crowds wherever he sings, sang a few lines from a Hindi film song -- Gori tera gaon bada pyara -- from the movie Chit Chor. This was in contrast to what happened at a charity concert a couple of years ago. When the audience yelled for a song a popular young vocalist had sung for a potboiler, he said, "I won't sing film songs in a classical music concert".
Yesudoss was all humility as he launched into the song at the request of the chief guest, Justice Subhashan Reddy, chief justice of the Madras High Court.
In his speech, Mr Reddy repeatedly stressed that he had no knowledge of the intricacies of Karnatak music, but was a fan of Yesudoss' music in all languages.
Other guests recalled anecdotes relating to the three artistes which may not be known to many people today.
T N Seshagopalan, the Young Turk of Karnatak music, recalled how, at the insistence of veena maestro late Balachander, he had listened to the first Chennai concert of Shrinivas at the Indian Fine Arts Society in 1984, and concluded that the boy had a god-given gift.
Natarajan, former director of Doordarshan, Chennai, related how at a concert in Salem, a listener asked Shrinivas to play the raga Manirangu. Shrinivas said that he did not know the raga, and then asked the violinist to play the arahona and the avarohana (the scale). After listening to it, he then played the raga himself!
Seshagopalan related how the great Pallavi Narasamichariar had spent his last years in Yesudoss' house, something many people did not know. The artiste had now made complicated pallavi singing enjoyable and understandable. Perhaps in response, Yesudoss announced that he would institute an award for pallavi singing among youngsters in the Mylapore Fine Arts Club, to be named after his guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.
And about Vellore Ramabhadran, Natarajan recalled how he came into prominence. The great Palghat Mani Iyer was to play at a concert in Mylapore but had to stay back at the last minute. The vocalist, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, told the agitated organisers, "Call that Nadabhadran and ask him to play". "Who is Nadabhadran?" asked the organiser in confusion. "Don't you know him? I mean that boy Ramabhadran, son of Gopalacharariar. He is really a nadabhadran".
On another occasion Mani Iyer remarked, "If you give Ramabhadran one rupee, he will spend 65 paise and save 35 paise". What he was referring to was the artiste's ability to play exactly according to the needs of the particular concert, always keeping something in reserve.
The sabha secretary, Mr Venkataraman, described how the club had survived several difficulties, including a split when the Karthik Fine Arts Club was formed. Past and present office-bearers of the club were honoured; children who had won prizes in competitions received their awards from the hands of great vidwans; the old lady who owns the land on which the club stands was feted. So were the electrician, the pandal contractors and many others, in an event which was very different from the glitzy, fashionable shows put up by music sabhas today.
(An earlier posting of this story mentioned that the season had opened to "populist developments". Ambujam has written to say that was not the tone of her story. The intro given by the desk has therefore been removed -- Ed).
on 19 December 2001
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