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Not all music to the ears
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

January 16, 2011

To be fair to the Music Season, awards and titles did not emerge from it. They have been around since time immemorial. After all, Sarangadeva, the scholar to whom we trace the beginnings of musicology, referred to himself as Nissanka (one without doubt). That could have well been a title. Since then, we have carried on a tradition as befitting a classical art.
- Sriram V
('When the title said it all' in The Hindu, Dec 1, 2010)

The global reach of our music has thrown open the doors for artistes and allowed them to enjoy luxury. Many Indians abroad have become conscious of the cultural moorings in music and dance and invite the musician to teach their offspring. In fact, the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana has become an annual event that bridges continents for artists.
Still there is nervousness as to the direction pure Carnatic music is likely to take in the near future. An un-proclaimed aversion to the traditional performing pattern is providing space for experiments - the orchestral glow of western string and percussion instrument are perhaps the new faces of artistic creativity. There is nothing wrong in this trend if it does not smother the excellence of individual vocal, violin, mridangam and ghatam combination. Let us allow co-existence and let the genuine survive.
('Corporate connections' in The Hindu, Dec 1, 2010)

It's unfair to draw comparisons between maestros of the past and present-day artists. Times have changed. The milieu is different. So, the approach and expectations will be different. There is immense talent, which has to be channelled.
Many a time, I am invited by institutions outside Tamil Nadu for their cultural festivals. During such occasions, I have increasingly felt the need to bring talented artists from different regions to perform across India so that people get to experience different aspects of our rich arts. It is creatively challenging and fulfilling for the artists too.
- Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti
('Munificent connoisseur' by Chitra Swaminathan in The Hindu, Dec 1, 2010)

To be sure, there have been some negative aspects. Some corporate sponsors are known to dictate terms to sabhas, especially when it comes to the choice of musicians. Some sabhas are known to accept payments from artistes for a performance opportunity and that dilutes quality. The banners and advertisements can be hideous and create a most non-musical atmosphere and the lead sponsor, when invited to inaugurate the festival, may display his abysmal ignorance of the art. But all that is par for the course.
- Sriram V
('Season of music, and commerce' in The Hindu, Dec 12, 2010)

An interesting fact emerges as we study the great composers and their lives. They were the original travellers. They were not your modern holiday enthusiasts looking to laze on beaches or view wildlife. They were more like today's bussing pilgrims. Except that they either walked, went in palanquins, bullock carts, or on horseback.
The interested "rasika" is moved by the innumerable associations of places with our great pilgrim composers. Our new generation of musicians would do well to visit them and drink deep in the flow of Bhakti, nurtured by sacred rivers and magnificent temples. Our music, like all our arts, has mystical and magical connections with sacred spaces. Being aware of such fine layers in our culture is the best tribute we can pay to our great musical pilgrims - the great composers.
- Lakshmi Viswanathan
(Pilgrims of music' in The Hindu, Dec 12, 2010)

There is no doubt that a student with practice matures to become a seasoned performer and ripens to be an artist who would sing forgetting the audience or critics and find peace in singing for oneself. Unless the right perspective and values are imparted by teachers, parents and institutions to the students, music will be mastered as an intricate and laborious skill and not as an elevating fine art. Music is pressure-cooked at various stages to be served as a multi-cuisine dish on the competition and concert stage. Are we forcibly exercising and expanding music for the sake of novelty? Are we running the risk of losing the soul and spirit of sangeetam and svanubhavam (self-experience)? We have a responsibility to pass on the art of pausing and absorbing the essence of music. Is it novelty or virtuosity, or the search for deeper elements in music that helped the great masters of yesteryear to breathe life into their music, and create music that has stood the test of time?
- Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi
('Music, pressure-cooked' in The Hindu, December 16, 2010)

The other day, when I went at noon for a sound-check to the Chettinad Vidyashram school auditorium for the Margazhi Mahotsavam kutcheri, I was touched to see quite a few listeners already there for the evening performance. They were happily tucking into their packed lunches. It was a picnic-like atmosphere. Such scenes are exhilarating for artistes but, at the same time, terrifying. You are nervous about offering a musical experience the rasikas would cherish; you are always anxious about fulfilling expectations.
- Aruna Sairam
('A new register' by Chitra Swaminathan, in The Hindu, December 17, 2010)

Not very long ago did I come across the term ABCDs - 'American Born Confused Desis', a not-so-benign reference that didn't seem to offend those at the receiving end of the 'humour'. However, in less than the 20 years since I heard the term, it is perhaps fair to say that the label is rather misplaced. In the present day cultural context, a healthy number of the so-called ABCDs are exceptional practitioners of classical music, dance and other areas of Indian arts. Some others have toiled hard to erect scores of tastefully designed temples in a number of cities. These spaces provide an important platform for volunteers to teach Indian languages, the arts, and religious and spiritual texts to young children. I am invariably astonished when some of these children discuss Vedantic philosophy with me!
It is indeed heart-warming that several teenagers born and raised in the U.S. reveal not merely talent in melody, rhythm and creativity, but also an excellent temperament for handling 'weighty' classical music.
The amount of time, energy, emotion and money spent by the average NRI on Indian music and the arts is several fold that of a similarly placed Indian national today. And the results are showing in no uncertain terms.
- Chitravina N Ravikiran
('Culture: extra fitting or essential?' in The Hindu, December 19, 2010)

For the Carnatic Music Lovers community, Chennai is the tirtha-sthala, the most auspicious time is the month of Margazhi, the sabhas are the shrines or places of worship, the performing musicians are the archakaas (the medium), the principal deity is, of course, Carnatic music!
If we as musicians truly understand that we are the blessed medium for the music, if the sabhas truly understood that their venues and halls are nothing less than veritable shrines, if the rasikas understand that they are the chosen devotees without whom the entire edifice of Carnatic music would crumble, how more glorious would the Chennai December Music Season be!
- Sriram Parasuram
('Are we here for the music?' in The Hindu, Dec 21, 2010)

As a torchbearer of the Palani style of mridangam playing, I enjoy coming to the music season every year, purely out of passion for music and to spread this style among the younger generation. Living, teaching and performing our music abroad, has given me a unique perspective to look at my own culture and the music of India and share it with a global audience. It is thanks to my good fortune, God's grace and my hard work, that I have been enjoying the benefits of the best of both worlds.
- Prof. Trichy Sankaran
('Best of both worlds' in The Hindu, Dec 29, 2010)

We note that many of our artists are rather thin-skinned. They are not used to robust and at times, fierce criticism that musicians and dancers in western countries get all the time.
- N Ram
('Time for discussion on core values,' The Hindu, Dec 28, 2010)

A musician is not a musicologist, even if he gives lecture-demonstrations. A person who compiles and publishes kritis is a lexicographer, not a musicologist. A person incapable of practical rendition of music cannot be a musicologist. Historians are not musicologists.
- Dr. S.R. Janakiraman
('Music versus musicology' by Suganthy Krishnamachari, The Hindu, Jan 5, 2011)

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