Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chennai’s Classical Music Extravaganza


Chennai is probably at its coolest in December and, thus, it is great for me that the Chennai’s largest cultural festival is scheduled then. The Classical Music and Dance festival starts somewhere near the end of November, peaks during the latter half of December and ends in January.
Connoisseurs of any art look down their noses at the people who claim to appreciate the art on the I-know-what-I-like basis and, probably rightly so, since that normally connotes I-don’t-know-anything-about-the-art. I, unfortunately, belong to that ubiquitous category. Despite four years of listening to Carnatic music, I still cannot make out one raga from the other. It is, however, true that the performances enthrall me.
A Carnatic music concert normally starts with short songs (Do not think I do this to make the terms understandable – it is just that I, myself, have no real knowledge of the appropriate terms to apply). As the concert progresses, the initial alapana (the Tha-Dha-Ri-Na-Na or open-throated humming, if you will) gets longer, the lyrical parts remain about the same and the swarasanchara (sa-ri-ga etc.) gets longer as well.
A typical concert – the prime time variety – normally lasts about two-and-a-half to three hours. The centerpieces of the concert – there are normally two – consist of detailed rendering of the raga in the alapana by the vocalist, followed by the violinist; rendering of the lyrics - with one line picked out for detailed exposition in various phrases of the raga called the Neraval and a swarasanchara. If the vocalist chooses one piece to be a Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi (RTP, for the cognoscenti), the lyrics are replaced largely by the Thanam (Aa-nam-tha-tha-nam etc. Normally the usage is of Aa, Tha and Nam – the latter two being the reason why it is called the Thanam) with a mere 2-4 line pallavi sung as lyrics with the Neraval done of the same lines.
The RTP actually shows off the musician’s creativity. When the normal Kritis are sung, the composer has detailed the manner it which it is to be sung and, thus, the musician showcases his creativity only the alapana and the swarasanchara. In the RTP, the musician explores the raga through the entire piece. Sometimes the RTP is also done as a ragamalika – sung in multiple ragas – and the dexterity of the musician in shifting from one raga to the other seamlessly is on view. Almost invariably, the RTP is the piece in which the thani-avartanam (thani, for the cognoscenti) – the solo by the percussionists with the vocalist, violinist and the audience just keeping the beat – is played. Where no RTP is rendered, one of the two long pieces is chosen for the thani. After that the concert tails off in a series of smaller compositions – the thukkadas, thillanas, abhangs, bhajans – till the mangalam is sung signaling the end of the concert.
I have always wondered at the fortitude with which the musicians sit through the entire period without taking a break. The audience, however, walks in and out as it pleases. The thani, unfortunately, seems to be the signal for dinner/coffee and the percussionists give of their best to an audience that vanishes into the canteen for food. Given the structure of the concert – where there are no intermissions – it is inevitable that some part of the concert is likely to be selected by the audience for a break and the tradition appears to be the thani as evidenced by the fact that it is played in the first of the long pieces when the concert starts at around 6-6,30 PM and in the second if it starts at 4-4.30 PM thus ensuring that it happens around the normal dinner time for the audience.
A Carnatic concert is a blissful experience for me and I have not found my inability to make out the nuances any hindrance to my joy in listening. In addition, however, it is an impressive sight to see at least one part of Society where achievement in the chosen area of expertise takes on an importance well above the monetary benefits.
Indian music is deeply rooted in Classical music – Carnatic or Hindustani – and almost all the movie songs that have stood the test of time are based on ragas. A tradition the needs keeping alive and it is a heartening sight to see so many young musicians vying to make their place in the sun in this arena.

14 comments:

  1. true,performance enthralls us ...inspite of the mass being ignorant to ragga and taal.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You confess an ignorance of this genre but you know a lot Suresh--at least you have described it well enough to rouse a desire to listen to this music.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was not modesty, Indu, it is a true statement of the extent of my ignorance. If, despite that, I have aroused interest in the music I am satisfied

      Delete
  3. i don't know much about raga even though i attended classical music classes for a brief period. couldn't continue because the timing of my classes clashed with sunday evening DD1 movie timing.

    i love any kind of music. some of the movie songs are based on raga especially Tamil or Kannada movie songs. even though i don't understand the lyrics but simply love those divine tunes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mmm! Can't even claim that much of classical music training Debs! :)

      Delete
  4. Very well put! IN fact I have been part of an audience of concerts that is an open invitation to all (conducted in Ayodhya Mandapam, West mambalam) as part of the Sri Rama Navami celebrations. The artistes enthrall the audience by rendering every request made, esp. Sudha Raghunathan who has never stepped down the podium before a marathon 5 hours!! So guess, sometimes raga knowledge is not always required...so long it soothes the soul!! :)

    Akila

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does soothe my soul - which is what keeps me going.

      Delete
  5. Interesting Suresh. Despite your so called ignorance, it did get too technical for me at some places.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I make up for lack of subject knowledge by reeling out the syllabus :)

      Delete
  6. It has been a while since I have attended a live classical music concert, Suresh, and I often feel that I have forgotten what it is like to be there. But reading yours brought back memories of going to attend music concerts. And nobody will guess that you don't know the technical details. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah! But no reader is likely to sing an alapana and ask me to guess the raga :)

      Delete