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Expressions: The season
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

December 31, 2007

Margazhi for dancers is, indeed, a mad stampede. Are we happy about this? Absolutely. Yet, as I dream about the flavor and fragrance of the forthcoming festival, a small part of me aches. The tragedy is audiences today are only more familiar with the 'mass scale Bharatanatyam' and are unable to recognize a first rate performance. Even some of these performers are forced to realign their style to the 'popular level' by imitating the tricks and mannerisms of the 'stars' for that is how one can draw crowds. Large doses of these have resulted in our acceptance of mediocrity.
(Swarnamalya in 'The mad stampede,' The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 3, 2007)

December is very special. To me it's not the end of the year, but the beginning. The December audiences of Chennai are very special. They are unpretentious, but challenge you to give your best. They follow you from theatre to theatre. You will not find such an audience, anywhere else.
Bharatanatyam is not all geometry, leaps and stretches. Beyond that there is poetry. I always want to see the music and hear the dance.
(Alarmel Valli in 'Poetry in motion,' by Sushila Ravindranath, The New Sunday Express, Dec 9, 2007)

Margazhi utsavam today needs to reduce its pace and volume. Too many awards, performances and sabhas...I am afraid the festival is not growing in the right direction.
(C V Chandrasekhar in 'There was so much to imbibe,' The Hindu Music Season, Dec 14, 2007)

I am happy but it would have been more befitting if awards had come my way during late eighties or early nineties when I was active during the music season in Chennai.
(Kamala on receiving Natya Padmam award, in 'Dance is my very life,' Mylapore Talk, Dec16 - 22, 2007)

Youth in the dance scenario are taking our breath away. They are bold, ride roughshod, are rude and often do not listen to words of caution. Much of what they do may be hackneyed stuff in new packaging. It is often far too complex and clever for my liking. They are copycats and do not shy from hiding it. They are not subtle. They will steal an idea and even a theme, as it comes out of the fire from a senior dancer.
Nevertheless, for the moment they are speaking true. And there are some among them who do some original thinking as well.
Can anyone say that young artists do not live for their art or are any less committed than their mentors? Were we as talented or driven as they are? How can you put such enthusiasm down?
(Leela Samson in 'Spirit of daring,' The Hindu magazine, Dec 16, 2007)

Culture reflects and mirrors in many ways the times and context it is produced in. India is in a new and dynamically exciting phase due to its economic boom. Among various classes there is a sense of claiming our space in the world order. This confidence is fertile ground for artistic fecundity in the fields of the visual arts, literature as well as the performing arts.
No longer do we need to caveat it with our 5000-year history, instead it is us here and now and this newness is at once fresh, exciting sometimes a bit brash, not always fantastic but in a continuous churn of being created as if it were on the potter's wheel and with every turning we are moulding, patting, turning, throwing our artistic pots, which are full of the balance of the past and its traditions but are able to carefully hinge on modernity and the colours of the contemporary as well.
(Ranvir Shah in 'Cultural catalyst,' The Hindu magazine, Dec 16, 2007)

December then was not as chaotic. Today everything is on an ascending mode...sabhas, rasikas, artistes and performances. Leaving you wondering, where to go and what to see. Yet, my fascination for this unique celebration of the arts will never fade.
(Vyjayanthimala Bali in 'Season has special significance in my life,' The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

Most youngsters in the field are getting carried away by the term choreography because of its popular association with glamorous ramp shows and film numbers. They are in a hurry to do their own thing. One needs to master and practise the technique for a few years to understand spaces and energies before creating something. Guidance and support of seniors can help you realise and visualise many vital aspects. Choreography demands a lot of time. Some of my works have taken me almost a year.
It is not easy to come out of the pure classical mould and attempt something with a contemporary appeal. I have faced immense criticism and opposition. But I strongly believe that one shouldn't give up one's artistic urges influenced by a few opinions. Of course, you cannot forget the audience. Continue the creative journey; they will surely join you sometime.
(Anita Ratnam in 'Aesthetic vehicle of self-expression' by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

For any experiment I expect sympathy, tolerance and 'biaslessness' from audiences. Work hard, but mediocre work is also practised hard. So who's to say what's good?
(KSR Aniruddha in 'So what's new?' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu Music Season, Dec 21, 2007)

This season is an acid test for every artist. It is a challenge for us to grow as artistes. This place is the heart of Bharatanatyam. When we perform here, the response comes from people's hearts and minds. I find the best audience here and I feel renewed and re-energized each time I perform here.
(Alarmel Valli in 'Of raga and bhava' in Margazhi Fest, ET Madras Plus, Dec 22, 2007)

The change mainly has been with regard to cost. Gone are the days when a dance recital required only ten lights. Today, we need 80 lights. A mike used to be provided for the vocalist alone. Today, the whole orchestra requires it. Every artiste now brings his/her own equipment and listeners need high power speakers.
There are more performers today. More avenues are available with lec-dems and the like. But people do not have the patience to sit through concerts for a long number of hours. They need shorter programs with variety.
(R Krishnaswamy, Secretary of Narada Gana Sabha, in 'Cater to music, dance and drama,' in Margazhi Fest, ET Madras Plus, Dec 22, 2007)

With thinning audience, dancers of great repute are finding themselves performing to dwindling numbers which can be a very discouraging thing. The yearly Natya Kala Conference, which is usually an exercise in new dimensions exploring and re-looking at traditional art forms, too has been suffering lack of quorum. The kind of learning and interaction that could happen in these lecture demonstrations and short performances, is not something that can happen in regular forums.
(Chitra Mahesh in 'Sitar played as rain drummed its own tune,' Deccan Chronicle, Dec 24, 2007)

Bharatanatyam for me is a language of the present tense. I dance in the 'now.' Often I create a new vocabulary to convey what I intend to through my dance. I discover my own technique, which happens naturally. It's been a long journey of more than 30 years. And the journey has become more internal.
My performances are not recitals. They are not about imitating hastas or adavus. I see them as experiences. It's living the moments of re-creation; initiating a thought process. You go up on the stage and change the energy of space.
(Malavika Sarukkai in 'Exploring a woman's psyche' by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Friday review, Dec 28, 2007)

Our biggest problem is, we have too many dancers and not enough slots. I was thinking of suggesting to sabhas to ask the senior people to cut down their program by a half-hour and let talented dancers perform before them in that slot, which is enough to show your talent.
I think the audience's minds have opened up. They are willing to appreciate new things if well done. Also to appreciate traditional things, if well done.
(Anita Ratnam in 'Many graces, many faces' by Anjana Rajan, The Hindu Friday Review, Dec 28, 2007)


There's so much openness now that you need not fear expressing yourself. If you are happy following what has been passed on to you, fine. If you want to explore, this is the time...Our Indian system of rhythm is so well-structured that once you have mastered it, you are ready to play any kind of music. Classicism is the seed. Without it you cannot rise up to the demands of the changing times...Twenty-five per cent you learn from your gurus, another 25 by yourself, next 25 from your colleagues and the last 25 per cent you learn with experience.
('Ghatam' S Karthick in, 'Want to explore? This is the time!' - The Hindu Metro Plus, Oct 30, 2007)

For us classicism does not mean a cage. Our gharana has taken freely and openly mind you, not stolen - the best from other gharanas such as Gwalior and Indore. We have gone to other artistes, surrendered ourselves as shagirds, served them and learnt from them....
We are fascinated by Carnatic music. You have some really mazedaar (enjoyable) taals, and intriguing techniques of handling them. Your raags are different too. Hindustani music has taken so many raags from you. It will be good for us to learn more about all this firsthand. We don't plan before concerts.
(Pakistani musician Rustam Ali Khan in 'Classicism is not a cage' - The Hindu Metro Plus, Nov 3, 2007)

Technology has changed the music industry, and it is both good and bad. But there is more harm than good in this development. The reason is, the more one moves away from nature, the worse it is. Take musical instruments. The natural sound of the sitar, if enhanced electronically, loses its quality. It is less beautiful. Yet all Indian musicians today, barring a handful, have started using electronic pickup on their instrument, be it the guitar, the sitar, the sarod or even the santoor. Now, if we were to fit a device into our throats to enhance the volume, the natural timbre would be lost.
(Pt. Rajan Misra in 'Technology is good and bad' - The Hindu Metro Plus, Nov 5, 2007)

Style is not just about dress. It is also about dressing up ragas in your own unique way. There is a pattern you follow when you train in an art. As you mature as an artiste, you should try to give touch to every aspect of your singing to make a mark. Besides individual approach, style also refers to the two branches of our classical music Carnatic and Hindustani. It's not easy to master both, but a good understanding of the two will perk up your presentation.
The soul of music gets lost in mix and match exercises. When it is a fake encounter of genres, it is confusion and not fusion.
(Pt Suhas Vyas in 'Audience deserves the best' by Chitra Swaminathan - The Hindu Friday Review, Nov 16, 2007)

One thing we need to learn is to be more expressive while performing. I realised this when I worked with African musicians (he has done an album "African Fantasy"). My mother moves her hands and body a lot while singing. When I sit stiff and play she tells me, "You are a musician not a statue."
(Trilok Gurtu in 'Improvisation makes music timeless' - The Hindu Metro Plus, Nov 27, 2007)

It (electronically generated music to traditional forms) simply lacks the human touch. Despite the innovations and mechanization, science has not been able to push the envelope and discover a new musical note.
(Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in 'Unifying melodies' by Sudipto Mondal - The Hindu Metro Plus, Nov 28, 2007)

Perhaps what I miss most today is the absence of 'rakti' playing which used to be an integral part of the nagaswaram-thavil combine.
(Mayavaram Venugopal Pillai in 'Artist of great vidwat' by Lalithaa Krishnan - The Hindu Friday Review, Nov 30, 2007)

Only music can liberate this society fettered by religion, caste, creed and race and can help one attain mukthi too.
The River Ganges on her course from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, flows into several thousands of villages. A musician's journey should also be like hers. As Mahaperiyaval said, music is the only medium that can redeem man and make him realize parabrahmam. Music is the finest of fine arts and discipline, the most important aspect of music.
(Neyveli R Santhanagopalan in 'Music is the finest of fine arts' by V Balasubramanian - The Hindu Friday Review, Nov 30, 2007)

True, not every guru past and present was or is exemplary. But the best know that music cannot be taught like theorems and formulas to a set annual syllabus. The teacher knows the different stages at which the disciple is ready to receive what is imparted.
(N Murali in 'Guru, the irreplaceable force' by Gowri Ramnarayan - The Hindu, Music & Dance, Dec 1, 2007)

The secret behind keeping my voice fit during the season is talking less, reducing the duration of my practice sessions and doing most of the practice in my head! I also eat less.
(Sudha Raghunathan in 'Marghazhi & me' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 1, 2007)

I believe that limited number of concerts can avoid mechanical performances and also help in keeping fresh throughout the season...Awards are an inspiration and make artistes feel they have received recognition for what they have performed. Most importantly, it puts greater responsibility on the artistes after they receive an award as they hold something that great maestros held in the past.
(Bombay Jayashree in 'Quality comes first' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 4, 2007)

Today there are a number of young talents coming up, but not many of them turn up at seniors' concerts. To evolve into complete musicians, they must have an open mind and listen to others (concerts) too. I am happy that many youngsters are emerging to carry on the rich tradition still forward. But I also feel they are overexposed.
(Pt Janardhan Mitta in 'Striking the right balance; by V Balasubramanian - The Hindu Friday Review, Dec 7, 2007)

Receiving an award is like a pat on the back for your efforts and hard work, and motivates you to continue the good work.
(Aruna Sairam in 'Music season rejuvenates me' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 8, 2007)

Chennai is the Mecca of the Veenas. It's such a pity I don't get invited. I am happy about the fact that musicians from down South are getting people's warmth in Delhi and other cities in the North.
(Ustad Asad Ali Khan, Rudra Veena exponent, in 'Who wants them?' - The New Sunday Express, Dec 9, 2007)

People should learn a lesson from the Kolkata audience who respond to an artiste even if they don't understand the language.
(Pt Ulhas Kashalkar in 'Who wants them?'- The New Sunday Express, Dec 9, 2007)

Some people think that if you sing more ghana ragas, with more alapana, swaram and neraval, then it's a 'serious' concert. And if, after one hour, you sing tukkadas, they may label it a light concert. But if you have a heavy raga in a tukkada say, in a virutham, you launch into a Yadukulakhamboji I'd still say it's a hard-core Carnatic concert. Popular concerts should also be there, but you should ideally have a mix of everything.
(Sikkil Gurucharan in 'Of Season' by Bharadwaj Rangan - The New Sunday Express, Dec 9, 2007)

While one has to definitely take advantage of technology, it is now universally reckoned that being a slave of the mike is a sure way to spell doom in the career of any vocalist. Also, one has to ward off demons like unfavorable climate, pollution, water contamination etc. An artiste also has to do too many things at the same time like media interviews, workshops amidst the concerts and is put to a lot of stress.
(R Suryaprakash in 'Being vocal about singing' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 10, 2007)

Teaching needs the same amount of passion and commitment as performing. You need to earn your students' trust. It's so gratifying when they later talk about your role in their success.
Technology has improved the reach of our arts. Online lessons have attracted many from within the country and outside to learn classical music. But the computer shouldn't rob your identity. Music is not a copy-paste job.
(T V Gopalakrishnan in 'Music bridges time and distance' - The Hindu Metro Plus, Dec 11, 2007)

The season has exploded. The season that started in December, probably because of the mild weather now begins somewhere in November and extends well into January. A number of organizations have mushroomed and there is lot of pressure and expectations of the artistes, leading to strain on their health and voice. But on balance, the season has been good for music.
(N Murali, President of Music Academy, in 'December season over the years' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 12, 2007)

Communication is not easy. Sing 'hummable' stuff and you are called populist. Go into vyavaharam and the audience yawns.
(Lakshmi Rangarajan in 'It's all about communication' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 14, 2007)

With so many opportunities available right from a very young age, the objective of learning has changed. Today people practise for competitions, for concerts ... There are definite targets to be met. Parents want a timetable from the guru: "When will my son/daughter perform?"
The learning process in turn has been altered. Once this happens, quality definitely suffers. I don't mean to say that this is true of all the youngsters but I do see these signs in many cases. Packaging is also the 'in' thing. Audiences earlier looked for creativity, the ideas and the flow. The energy of the talent was important to them. Today I feel even the audience wants only well packaged music from young talent.
You need the rough edges. You have to appreciate those rough edges, only then will talent flower. The roundedness and polish come later. If an artist starts focussing just on presentation from a very young stage, it kills creativity.
(T M Krishna in 'Dawn of a new era' - The Hindu magazine, Dec 16, 2007)

Come December it's celebration time for rasikas when they conglomerate from all around the world in Chennai to get immersed in the ocean of Carnatic music. Vidwans too look forward to the year-end festival... The sabhas are doing a great service carrying music to every nook and corner of Chennai. I hope this festival grows even bigger.
(Vellore G Ramabadran in 'The sabhas are doing a great service' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 21, 2007)

The performing scene is not what it was a few decades ago. Talent alone seems to be insufficient for success at many places. You have to necessarily be the offspring or student of a popular musician, influential in society or know to socialize well.
(A former sabha secretary, in 'Music faces the music' - Mylapore Talk, Dec 23-29, 2007)

We were applying for a slot every year, to perform during the music season, to one of the most popular sabha in Mylapore. In spite of our standing, we did not receive a chance to perform in any slot. Now we are dejected and have stopped applying for a break. At some sabhas where we have been performing regularly, we have not been considered for promotion to a higher slot. Our juniors have been allotted senior slots. It is saddening and dejecting.
(A singing duo, in 'Music faces the music' - Mylapore Talk, Dec 23-29, 2007)

For the audience, attending music concerts is something like eating out. Nowadays, dining at restaurants is quite common. Not much cooking is done at home and good and bad don't matter. So with music. Any product is accepted and saleable. The preference for foreign goods can be found in music too. People present orchestras, call it new music, and so on. But you cannot say this is bad. It is the trend.
(T N Krishnan in 'There is quantity rather than quality' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 25, 2007)

I belong to the previous generation when music was practised in its pristine form. I still remember those days where my seniors would churn out pure music. It was their upasana.
But the same cannot be said of today's youngsters. No doubt their knowledge is incredible, but distractions like film music and other lighter varieties affect their classical pursuit. It might be even due to changing lifestyles.
The gnanam, the raga bhavam is found wanting. Their singing is pleasing to the ears but they are lacking ideals.
(Nedunuri Krishnamoorthy in 'Festival has brought global recognition' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 26, 2007)

Just as musicians are given awards by sabhas and by the government, those who make musical instruments should also be given awards.
(K Karuppiah, Asst Director-Display, in 'Recreating treasures of the past' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 26, 2007)

I enjoy the camaraderie with my colleagues in the profession. We share a good rapport. The large-heartedness of the seniors who are now past their fifties is a lesson for us youngsters to imbibe. Why should there be room for politics when there is space for everyone? The talented and the industrious will win recognition, sooner or later. No one can come between the performer and the rasika. Our seniors have paved the way, let's follow them.
(N Vijay Siva in 'Honing art to perfection' - The Hindu Friday Review, Dec 28, 2007)

Chennai now boasts several respites from the main "season," with the arrival of several festivals, some for classical music but happily, many for experimental and fused forms. While a large section of the populace remains skeptical about the quality and quantity of these, I think the atmosphere that Chennai has managed to create is highly desirable. We are at a point of inflection in our journey to define the new Indian reality, exploring new waters and finding sounds that we like and assimilating them. The finale is yet to happen, and in a way that is perhaps for the best. There are pockets of artists who have resorted to agenda-led music creation (typified by the ubiquitous "lets do a world music album") in favour of more true-to-the-self creativity. In time, this too shall pass.
(Anil Srinivasan in 'Thank you for the music' - The New Sunday Express, Dec 30, 2007)

The crowded schedule leads to a general fatigue and as the season winds down, the fatigue is perceptible in everyone irritable celebrities, cranky audio technicians, harried sabha secretaries and even the janitor at the bottom of the pecking order!
(Ramanathan Iyer, editor, in 'Yours musically' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 1, 2007)

The stars may be paid a pittance by the local sabhas; the fledglings may spend to perform; many concerts are free; the audience floats in and out; chatterers gossip in the front row, readers peruse yesterday's reviews during today's recital, plastic bags rustle, mikes crackle in mid-performance, tani avartanams signal exoduses, even gandharva gaanam cannot keep the listeners in their seats after 8.15 pm. But the Carnatic musician and music lover will not miss the Madras mela for the world. Wherever they may be, earning dollars or euros, acclaim and applause, the musicians rush back for the season...
The Chennai festival lacks centralised authority, and continues to run on private initiative, even personal whimsy. But this ad hoc hodgepodge character is its charm.
('Get drenched in the rain of ragas' by Gowri Ramnarayan - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 1, 2007)

On Dec 9, 2007, Fortune Refined Sunflower Oil launched the Fortune Carnatic Express a fleet of 8 vans to provide rasikas free transport between sabhas. It is a noon to night service on weekdays and morning to night service on weekends. The service works in the T Nagar, Mylapore, Alwarpet and Nungambakkam areas where most of the main sabhas are located.
It is normal to find vocalists getting into wild gestures when performing. Some musicians just cannot sing without stretching out their arms. Some get lost and the facial expressions are a feast for the cartoonist. But it is a little odd when a rasika takes to such mannerisms. This person almost hit his neighbour in the next seat with his swaying arms. He didn't seem to hear the protests from rows behind as his vigorously nodding head obstructed the view.
('Listening with gestures' in 'Music matters' - The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

The December season is a somewhat self effacing creature. It is accessible only to the determined seekers. Indeed, but for a few apologetic billboards, a casual visitor would be hard pressed to infer from the streets of Mylapore and T Nagar, the happening of any more significant an event than a high school fete. A large majority of the state's (Tamilnadu) 40 million domestic and 1.5 million international visitors, many of whom arrive during the 'peak tourist month' of December, pass through Chennai, blissfully unaware of this cultural phenomenon.
(Vijay Sarathy in 'The Seasoned Tourist' - The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 22, 2007)

A few take complimentary tickets or purchase tickets in bulk for near dear ones to ensure a large audience. When complimentary tickets are restricted, some even resort to boycotting the sabha for the season.
(Former committee member of a Mylapore sabha, in 'Music faces the music' - Mylapore Talk, Dec 23-29, 2007)

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