Wednesday, 7 January 2009


The music season is almost over, and I attended only a few concerts this year.

It struck me how electronic and digital equipment have become indispensable at concerts – drawbacks and all.

Click on picture for an enlarged and better view

Flautist N. Ramani kept his cool when his mike went berserk in the middle of his concert at the Narada Gana Sabha, like a banshee wailing. It is a fire alarm drill, whispered someone. The person in charge came rushing in from outside to stop the awful sound. Ramani had already stopped playing, and with great sangfroid, kept time all the while the feedback was being fixed, never missing a beat, and then resumed from where he had left off, as though nothing had happened. At 10 in the morning – an odd time for a person of his stature, certainly - there were only a few people in the audience, but I was happy to see that it was a discerning crowd. When two oldish men started to natter rather loudly during the concert, everyone turned round to look at them pointedly, while another oldish man shushed them. Soon the crowd increased and soon the hall was half full.

I last heard Ramani last year at the Thiruvaiyaru festival, we sat on the sands on the banks of the Kaveri under pandals and listened to him in the cool of the evening. What a difference in the ambience! There was no room at all, and it was a tight squeeze. There were mikes relaying the concert, not just at the open air venue, but in every nook and corner of the town. The town simply comes alive at this time. Here at the sabhas, you can hear nothing if you step out even for a coffee.

At the Sanjay Subrahmanyan concert of the Sri Bhairavi Sabha, I sat next to a lady, a hardcore Sanjay fan, who told me proudly that she had attended five concerts of his in this season. She had an electronic/digital recorder, fitting neatly into her palm and recorded the whole two hour concert. (Some of us in our music class use this to record our lessons.) I understand that many do this, and go back home to relive the joys of the concert. There have been debates on this – is it ethical? Is there an issue of copyright violation here? There is a school that feels that as long as the recording is not done for commercial purposes, it is permissible. A friend of ours has recorded many such concerts and burnt them on CDs, and now has an enviable collection.

Electronic pieces are now associated with music in other ways too. Musicians almost always have a small electronic box instead of the traditional tambura.(See picture.) But I understand that the Music Academy does not allow any electronic tambura on the stage. Mridangam player Umayalpuram Kalyanaraman, gave me this piece of information recently. He is the son of Tambura Venkataraman, and told me how his father’s services were always in demand till he retired.

But for recordings, so many of these brilliant concerts would be lost to posterity – science supporting art so smoothly. How marvellous would it have been had it been possible to make recordings of Sri Thyagaraja singing his own compositions.

Tambura picture: Courtesy Internet.


pradeep said...

I think music, how much ever traditional it is, will have to move with times. We people, who have seen and heard the vintage variety will feel bad. But what we consider old, itself must be a reformed version of what was still more traditional. So, I always believe that what is modern and traditional is sometimes relative. It depends upon which is the cutoff time we choose.

Maddy said...

just yesterday i was reading a fine book that mentioned the first of the changes.

But before i reach there think of the early 1800's when Baluswamy diskhitar brought the violin to Carnatic and the few years back in time when the harmonium came from the west..

Till then we just had the thamburu and veena as documented in the 1400's by the visiting Chinese.

And coming to the organs let me give you a snippet. The first of the organs brought into south Indian film music was by music conductor & arranger Shekar, (Dilip) AR Rahmans father. He brought a double organ from Singapore after one of his stage shows there!!

We will see many more changes in our time. look at the drums they use now - the electronic pads. Next will be voice synthesis...

Devika said...

Changes may be are inevitable, because its the nature of man to change..

But, I am oldie when it comes to my tastes for music..and in life in general

Good post, Raji



revathi said...

Wonder why need mikes in India? In the west, the opera singers and concert violinists reach out to the last seat on the back row thanks to correct acoustics.

Indrani said...

I am not very much a concert kind of a person and your posts give me lot of info about hem. Reading is a pleasure. :)

This comment has been removed by the author.

Pradeep - It will always be a tug-of-war between the traditionals and the moderns, and music is no exception, I suppose. But evolution is unavoidable, and absorption of modern trends only helps it along.

Well quoted, Maddy.You are a fount of good information.

Devika - to each his own. :)

Revathi - no mikes in the west? Is that right? I now that in pre-mike days singers like S. G. Kittappa would sing in reverberating tones, and that their voices reached each nook and corner of the auditoriums and beyond.

Thanks, Indrani.

Devika said...

aahhh Raji, dear...

there i'm provoked to ask:

Why not to each her own!? :))

i am a sleeping feminist until aroused :)


Abraham Tharakan said...

What a great thought - if Sri Thyagaraja's own voice could have been recorded! We can be sure of one thing. There would not have been any synthetic sounds accompanying him.

Two days back I had a long discussion with a known film music director who is also an expert tabalist. I was amazed by his disclosure on how music is recorded now. Even the singer's voice is/can be edited. Now it is a question of assembling recorded sounds. There need not be an orchestra in attendance. There is nothing like listening to a live kutcheri.

Maddy did not mention about mandolin/accordion. I think most instruments can be adapted to any kind of music


Yes, Abraham, most instruments can be adapted to any form of music - which is how, I suppose, Fusion music is born. And your music director friend has disclosed the tricks of the trade!

Kat said...

Thanks for all the 'Musically Yours' blogs.

కొత్త పాళీ said...

Very nice blog, ma'am. Stumbled across it from

I am an avid Carnatic listener. I wrote about it sometimes in my blog, but it is in Telugu. By the way, my Telugu handle reads "kottapaalee" which means new nib in Telugu.
Happy to have come across your blog.

Anonymous said...