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Why Chennai's best in December

The music season is on, and the weather's just perfect. This year, about 60 sabhas are organising close to 2,000 concerts

This is the month music lovers gravitate to Chennai. For nearly five weeks, when the weather is at its best, the city reverberates with music. This year, about 2,000 concerts are lined up. Sabhas big and small have been putting out their schedules.

Ganjam's Flights of Fantasy music festival has just concluded in Bangalore. It featured big stars like Balamuralikrishna and Amjad Ali Khan, and a host of younger musicians. The dhrupad concert by Gundecha Brothers attracted hardcore Karnatak music audiences. The annual Bangalore Gayana Samaja conference is also over. Bangalore has no December season comparable to the one in Chennai, but it does have its Ramanavami concerts in summer, and the Ganeshotsava concerts in September.

Chennai is definitely the place to be in December. Karnatak music gets pride of place everywhere. Hindustani music is not entirely left out, it does find a place here and there. An occasional dance recital dots the schedules. Each locality has a sabha, but that doesn't stop music lovers from hopping across to other suburbs to hear their favourite artistes. And then there are people who come from other cities, NRIs, and foreigners with a keen interest in Indian music.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in December," says C Vasudevan, chartered accountant and veteran rasika. "The festive air rejuvenates me".

Several music lovers spend whole days at the concert halls. "If you are a connoisseur, everything adds to make the season an experience for you. We just love the atmosphere," he adds. "When I was a student I used to go to Madras every December," says Sudha Srirama. This Bangalore researcher misses her Chennai trips, but recalls the excitement of having 15 simultaneous concerts to choose from. That's why some also call it the "Mad season"!

Oldtimers compare, often unfavourably, the present crop of musicians with masters like Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer, Alathur Brothers and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. In fact some sabhas are named after the old masters.

The excitement begins with the appearance of concert schedules in the dailies. The Hindu, an old Madras institution that takes pride in its connection with music, publishes a detailed schedule.

Families spend long hours poring over schedules to ensure that they don't miss a favourite singer or a lec-dem by a venerable artiste. Concerts have to be juggled intelligently.

"We make it a point to attend at least a dozen concerts," says 60-year-old Subhadra, who has lived in Chennai for several decades. "It's a season students should not miss," she adds, "there is so much to learn".

Subhadra remembers attending concerts of greats like GNB. "I can still recall the concerts I attended when I was just 15 or 16. We looked forward so much to the season," she says. Sabhas have grown in number, so much so that an artiste can perform at scores of venues in one season. Earnest students sing along and keep time at the concerts. Discussions are common about who got the senior artiste slot for the first time at the Madras Music Academy, and who was unfairly left out. The interval between two sessions is usually the time for music gossip over hot idli sambar.

Websites now offer schedules. In fact, Chennaionline has created a special section to provide music season information.

O Priya

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