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Chennai stays pitch-perfect

Whereas they bravely tailored to the digital world, singers and audiences returned to reside live shows with open reduction

After two years of Covid-induced interruption when the Chennai music season briefly returned to reside live shows on the finish of 2021, what was on show was hanging resilience and the town’s age-old dedication to its favorite artwork — from musicians, the sabhas, and the music lovers. It noticed all of them seamlessly transferring between the digital and actual worlds in what could possibly be known as Chennai’s first hybrid season.

Probably the most outstanding function was definitely the resilience, and its demonstration got here primarily from the musicians, the life-force behind the decades-long custom. Since March-April 2020, they’d been denied their profession, livelihood, and the important join that they take pleasure in with their followers. Musicians, extra so classical musicians, are unanimous of their opinion that acting on stage is what retains them going. Beneath regular circumstances, denying that chance for such an extended interval ought to make them unsure and downcast, however Chennai’s Carnatic singers saved singing and exploring, not caring if they’d a stage to carry out or not.

After they lastly got here again to the massive stage, all of them have been raring to go. Some had improved on their voice vary, some on their methods, some on the aesthetics and expressions, some on their repertoire and most of them on all these elements. Their danger urge for food too appeared to have gone up. Clearly, the diligence and integrity that Carnatic music calls for from its practitioners had influenced them in different methods too.

The break “gave me time to introspect, learn, revise, listen and practice,” says Amrita Murali, who was fairly busy each with reside and digital live shows whereas Ramakrishnan Murthy discovered the additional apply and listening time “amazing”. “Practising and listening just for the sake of musical enrichment, rather than goal-oriented learning; I really cherished all that time.”

Naturally, the dedication with which the musicians persevered with their artwork was unmissable on stage. Though many main sabhas organised reside live shows, each ticketed and free, the attendance was a lot thinner most likely due to Covid fears amongst senior residents, the absence of outstation music lovers, and the flash floods in some elements of the town.

Nevertheless, the sight of sparsely occupied halls because the curtains went up didn’t appear to faze the musicians or make them carry out beneath par or for shorter durations. If something, some appeared extra spirited. “In as much as it is always fantastic and gratifying to sing to a full house, I have always respected the audience I have had. The number doesn’t pull down my spirits or the quality that I would like to maintain,” says Amrita. In accordance with the Akkarai Sisters, the recommendation of their father-guru Akkarai S. Swamynathan — ”Do your work with devotion and dedication with out worrying about outcomes” — saved them focussed.

An auditorium with limited rasikas enjoying a concert.

Though quite a lot of sabha-hopping older regulars have been lacking, it was compensated to a small extent by different, youthful age teams. Bharath Sundar stated he observed a number of younger folks within the viewers, a really encouraging signal. Amrita did “miss seeing sure die-hard elder rasikas,” but additionally discovered it gladdening to see extra younger folks. S. Saketharaman additionally observed this modification. “I saw quite a few first-timers including youngsters who attended the last few live concerts.”

All musicians have been, expectedly, unsettled by the extended clamp-down on performances and, extra importantly, on earnings, however seem to have rapidly gathered the power to maneuver on. “Professionally, it was indeed a setback. It’s our bread and butter. But when you think about it, it was like a sabbatical. Now when I sing at a concert, the way I look at it itself is very different,” says Bharath Sundar. “For any performing artiste, it has not been very easy to come to terms with the very unlikely situation of these last two years,” say the Akkarai Sisters. As S. Saketharaman says, “The live experience is in our DNA.”

Improved on aesthetics

If necessity compelled the town’s music ecosystem to go digital final season, this yr they significantly improved on manufacturing values and aesthetics. One downside, nevertheless, was that common live performance goers, who have been initially gung-ho about digital live shows, appeared slightly fatigued by the extreme provide — there was an excessive amount of content material, each free and paid, during the last two years. For the musician, nevertheless, it didn’t matter in the event that they have been doing a digital or reside live performance. “Once the music starts, it’s only about the music. Not to say that I didn’t miss live concerts; I undoubtedly did, but the focus changes after those few initial moments,” says Ramakrishnan Murthy.

Regardless of issues about digital fatigue, Mahesh Venkateswaran of MadRasana, a pioneer in progressive presentation of Carnatic music, believes digital is right here to remain. “If you present the digital format as a replacement to the stage, then you are not really leveraging it to the fullest. But if you present it in a way that cannot be replicated in live stage shows, then you have something special to show to the audience that is different.”

Saketharaman agrees. “Digital content has to be curated carefully, presented using state-of-the-art technology and marketed appropriately,” he says.

If digital was the innovation final time, this yr it was the broader use of on-line ticketing, which pushed the sabha ecosystem ahead. Though metropolis entrepreneurs have wished to collaborate with the sabhas to promote tickets over time, there was resistance prior to now. This time, the lobby of most halls welcomed folks with bar-codes.

Regardless of every thing, digital stays an afterthought. As the following wave of the pandemic tightens its grip, Chennai’s musicians hope reside live shows will proceed. Sandeep Narayan summarises it succinctly: “It was exhilarating to return to the concert stage and see live faces. In the end, it’s the live concert experience that gives me what I’m looking for.”

The author is a journalist-turned-UN official-turned-columnist based mostly in Travancore.

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