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Madras season

What Semmangudi said

The grand old man of Karnatak music has been provoking much thought with his sharp remarks at sabha inaugurals

The grand old man of Karnatak music, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, is a prominent figure at the inaugural day programmes of most prominent music sabhas in Chennai.

While last year he delighted music lovers with a special millennium concert that coincided with the centenary celebrations of Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha, the city's oldest sabha, this year he has just been speaking, and speaking his mind.

Livening up formal ceremonies with his wit, Semmangudi Mama is sending across important messages to musicians and sabhas. Here are a few of them. Let's hope that those who have the power to make a difference honour him not only with shawls and bouquets but also by implementing his suggestions.

Bharat Kalachar: Artistes with good formal education should be considered to head the culture ministry. As they can't get elected directly to Parliament, they should be nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

Musicians in the past went around the streets every day, singing in the early hours of Margazhi (December-January); the month is now known for sabhas putting up classical music concerts. Sending the audience into splits, he said he was not sure whether rasikas could digest all the offerings at the music festival that lasts a month and a half.

Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha: Semmangudi Mama raised a flutter by calling upon artistes to perform without microphones! He said he had found that many musicians did not perform well but tried to cover up their weakness by using microphones. A long time ago, he said, when he wanted to perform with the great Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist had insisted that no mikes should be used. Semmangudi had agreed to the suggestion. Many musicians of the past had performed successfully without mikes, he said, and advised present day artistes to try it out.

Mylapore Fine Arts Club: The youngest ever to be awarded the Sangeetha Kalanidhi among performing artistes warmed the cockles of the hearts of sabha officials here. He said sabhas played a crucial role in propagating iyal, isai and natakam (composition, music and drama) and should be encouraged. He urged philanthropists to give financial aid to artistes and sabhas such as Mylapore Fine Arts Club so that they could grow. He pointed out that there were over 4,000 artistes in Chennai today.

Semmangudi Mama was not present on the dais at the inauguration of the Music Academy's 74th conference on December 15, but those who were offered some fireworks of their own. T T Vasu, the Academy's president, expressed regret that the Union Communications Ministry had not responded to his request for a commemorative stamp on his father, the late T T Krishnamachari. TTK was the moving spirit behind the growth of the academy and the main auditorium is in fact named after him.

Vedavalli, who was conferred the Sangitha Kalanidhi award, was unhappy that All India Radio had reduced the number of new concerts and people were forced to listen only to old recordings.

The first alumnus of the Academy's Teachers College of Music to win this award, she wanted the institution to be elevated to a college, which could give degrees and carry out research.

Speaking in chaste Tamil, she made a strong plea that the "manodharma of music" should be maintained without sacrifice at the altar of commercialism.

The organisers did not seem to have planned for two women -- Vedavalli and the chief guest, Ranjana Kumar -- to talk into the mike. Its height was more suitable for Vasu's towering figure and a platform had to be hurriedly brought and placed for the senior Karnatak musician.

Not that it disturbed her; she was her usual calm and clear self.

Padma Ranganathan

Why have all the tamburas gone? Read more season reports

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