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It's make-over time for Chennai's Music Academy, arguably the most coveted dais for a Karnatak musician.
What slot the Music Academy allots a musician, or dancer, becomes an index of eminence. To maintain its position as the mecca of Karnatak music, the hallowed sabha has just completed a thorough overhaul of its internal acoustic system, which engineers say will make it the best for music in Chennai.
Gypsum and perforated hardboard have been used over a layer of glass wool for sound absorption in the new false ceiling. The corrugated configuration will heighten the timbre of every note. Apart from the acoustic effect, the off-white shade of the roof pleases the eye.
The new, segmented backdrop for the stage is made of texture paint with a granular finish. Vinyl flooring has been provided along the aisle.
The biggest change in the Music Academy is not in the academy but looms outside -- the huge flyover that carries the traffic from Cathedral Road towards Marina Beach. The whole place looks illuminated and cheerful, but what effect it is going to have on traffic to the academy is to be seen.
A new lift is being provided to access the mini hall, which is situated adjacent to the main auditorium. This will make it easier for senior citizens to attend the special programmes scheduled there. The mini hall is in fact already in use for pre-season concerts. Says Ms Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala, managing trustee of Kala Pradarshini, which is organising programmes from November 27 to December 3, "We are conducting programmes now because we will not get halls during the season".
This problem is not unique. Sabhas without halls struggle during the music season. Karthik Fine Arts and Kapali Fine Arts, for instance, are holding their programmes at three different venues.
N V Subramaniam, founder president of Saraswathi, says his organisation obviates the problem by holding concerts outside the music season. It does hold lecture demonstrations during the season at Narada Gana Sabha's mini hall, at the latter's invitation. Says he, "The mushrooming of sabhas, which operate only during the music season, is not a good thing. In areas like Mylapore, for instance, there is saturation and more. But, in an area like Valsaravakkam, where will rasikas go for good music? They have to come to the centre of the city. And because most of them depend on public transport, they leave concert venues by 8 p.m. just as the main artiste is warming up".
NVS says the solution lies in distributing the music and dance programmes either geographically or calendar-wise.
Talking of Mylapore, what is that ever-popular sabha, Mylapore Fine Arts Club, doing? Unfazed by crowds that spill over on to the streets, leg room that is more like hand room, bad acoustics, and little shelter from the elements, the sabha is still banking on its name and the undeniable fact that artistes somehow put in their best performances for it. Says a sabha official, "We are waiting for our 50th anniversary next year to make improvements."
The other big name in Chennai, Krishna Gana Sabha in Mambalam, has spent Rs 1.5 lakh on new chairs. It is embarking on a major renovation programme that will cost it Rs 25 lakh. The make-over will happen only after this season, which means music lovers will have to wait another year before they see the results.
Beginning mid-January, Krishna Gana Sabha's renovation involves building of a lounge and hoisting a false roofing. All this will take three months, says Yagnaraman, sabha secretary, and the sabha will be closed for the period.
As for Narada Gana Sabha in Alwarpet, which invariably has its large hall full during the season, it will be business as usual with the public thronging to the counter at the last minute seeking tickets for a Yesudas or Sudha Raghunathan concert.
The sound of music has already begun in Chennai, and will go on till the end of January, when the Thyagaraja Aradhana comes around.
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