It’s December. Back to the same sabhas

An illustration of a Carnatic concert.

An illustration of a Carnatic concert.
| Photo Credit: Keshav

The December Music festival has no parallel — its scale, quality of music, the fervour and the public following — all have to be seen to be believed. The field continues to attract new talent, including some who can stake claim to other traditional careers. There are as many artistes in their 20s as there are veterans. So, the draw is irresistible for all.

It is said that Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar set the concert format. But over the years, much has changed as far as concert presentation and structure are concerned.

It is said that Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar set the concert format. But over the years, much has changed as far as concert presentation and structure are concerned.
| Photo Credit:

But we are supposed to be a modern world, where challenging everything is allowed, even encouraged. Where rules are meant to be broken. Where individual success is the only goal, almost. Where it’s fine to trample old paradigms. How does one then square the circle — align the old order to the modern world? This is a quiet debate in the Carnatic music firmament.

No one needs to worry about the talent pipeline. If anything, it’s now both abundant and precocious. The breadth and depth of music are mastered smartly by young people.

Young musicians

Young musicians
| Photo Credit:

A YouTube upload of a youngster’s concert could even reach 1,00,000 views! Not many of the old era could have matched such a feat, although such a comparison could be risky. There is a vast sea of knowledgeable audience, mostly netizens, who can analyse gamakams and raga violations with a fine tooth comb. And discuss and disagree on the findings on open platforms. Fan following for artistes sometimes reaches ecstatic levels, should they play the Net game well.

The question that comes to one’s mind is — is the old charm and ecosystem about to step into the archives?

There is a tense transition in progress. Educated musicians are now the norm. Many even pursue other professions up to a point. At the same time, some even abandon other chosen professions to devote full time to music, uprooting themselves from even foreign shores to the Mylapore enclaves. Some do face a reality check as the pyramid structure of recognition allows only a few to rise to the top.

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The new wave of enormous young talent has a social side too. Changes in clothing and appearance are the least of the breaches, if you can call them so. Men’s earrings have made a reappearance, this time only on one ear. Changes in society have impacted the Carnatic music fraternity as well, in man-woman relationships. With some seeking (and getting) unprecedented adulation and with changes in personal lives, the celluloid de ja vu is complete. Flaws in moral character have also shown their head. Some would say it was always there, but open media access has accentuated the dissemination of all such distractions. Aspects such as the guru-sishya bond or collaborative mindset are welcome changes, mirroring modern ethos.

But there is little change in the sabha ecosystem and the chasm is even more obvious. The sabhas are as digital dinosaurs as the artistes are digi addicts. Audio systems, acoustics and hall ambience are quite primitive compared to the personal gadgetry and sophistication of new-age musicians. If adequate remuneration for artistes is still a valid gripe, the bigger elephant in the room is the proliferation of artistes paying to perform. Renaissance in the sabha circuit is a reform waiting to happen, but there may be no one to bell the cat yet.

The festival has garnered global attention and heritage status. With unstoppable talent and the audience enlisting on a regular basis, organisational transformation cannot lag behind. Meanwhile, we will take our due seats among the audience for yet another year of excellent, good and indifferent musical presentations, in unchanged surroundings. Many of us seem to want to just enjoy the musical fare rather than brood over the un-fixables!

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