In my younger days (school and college), I lived in Ponmalai (Tiruchi) and Hubli. My father working in Railways was the reason for living in these two towns. Ponmalai is a suburb of Tiruchi where bulk of the employees of Railways lived. Hubli is in north karnataka and along with Dharwar is considered a part of the Hubli-Dharwar twin cities.
During those years, my main source for music was the Radio, just like anyone else in India. I was too young to remember any live concerts in Tiruchi and it was only while in College i was able to listen to live concerts. Although Hubli was and is a place for Hindustani music, having been exposed to carnatic music I had not paid any attention to hindustani music in my school days. And studying in a catholic school, i had a lot of hangups about talking about my interest in classical music and that I was learning violin to anyone.
Then came a time, when i participated in a classical music competition instigated by a neighbor. She and I were the only ones in the carnatic style and the rest were hindustani. I am sure it posed a lot of problems to the organizers on how to deal with this other style 😉 They simply decided that there would be distinction and judged the participants based on their merit regardless of style. I was surprised that i was placed second in instruments with a girl playing Sitar as the first. It was after this event, that i started listening to hindustani music !
This was also around the time that the tamilians in Hubli decided to start an organization for carnatic music. They would alternate between carnatic and hindustani concerts. I heard some fabulous concerts by Jasraj, M S Gopalakrishnan (Hindustani), N Rajam, Gayatri (Veena) and many more. M S Gopalakrishnan playing hindustani – unforgettable is all I can say; The yaman and bhairavi that he played were phenomenal.
During my college years, my father transferred to Secunderabad, which meant that i would go to Hyderabad during the holidays. And it was in Kalasagaram where i listened to many concerts some of which are etched in memory. Some of them that i remember are (late 70’s):
- L Subrmaniam, L Vaidyanathan and L Shankar with Palghat Mani Iyer – this was a mikeless concert in an open pandal; imagine the trouble we the audience had to deal with the acoustics. With all due respect Mani Iyer, the general consensus in the audience was that he was ‘nuts’ (rofl); the concert was fantastic – Shanumkapriya was the main piece
- Lalgudi Jayaraman with G J R Krishnan – In the middle of the concert there was a huge downpour and the concert was moved indoors; the bhairavi that they played was unforgettable; the poise with which GJR was playing swarams is something i can never forget to this day; that was the time when a huge cyclone hit AP and 10000+ people lost their lives in the coastal areas
- Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer with T N Krishnan – Having heard some recordings on radio and other information about him, I went with a lot of expectations. I was disappointed at best – perhaps it was a combination of bad throat or something else, it was simply not good; A few years later I heard him in Mumbai and that was a great concert.
In those days, the listening experience was pretty much limited to Radio and then came the TV which would have national program of sorts that I would look forward too.
The time at Mumbai (IIT) was when I started to listening to a lot more. The Spic-Macay movement started at that time and there were the established organizations with monthly concerts that I/we could pick and choose from. Some i remember are:
- M S Subbalakshmi at Shanmukananda; the thing that i remember is that the power went kaput in the middle of the concert, but she continued without missing a beat !! The audience was well behaved in just staying put and listening. The cut was long enough that the tani started without power – and then you had a whole bunch of people putting talam and that was driving my friend sitting next to me nuts.
- T V Sankaranarayanan: he sang a fabulous sanakarabaranam; May be 15+ years later when he was visiting Pittsburgh, I told him about listening to that concert and he remembered who accompanied him and the main piece. Wow, the memory that these musicians have is something and that i believe is a mark of a good musician. I remember my friend Ajit telling me that his guru Ramani could tell who played with him and what they played in specific concerts even 30 years earlier.
- M D Ramanathan – the only time I listened to this great man at Music Triangle. After being seated, he spend 3-4 minutes untying and knotting his tuft/kudumi; was a beautiful concert; he sang ‘varugalamO’ in Manji, in which he was on the line boomiyil pulayanai pirandene’. After singing a couple of times, he paused and sang ‘boomiyil pAppAnAi pirandene’ with a twinkle in his eye. Unforgettable a concert that was. Ten years later, I meta gentleman from Dubai who was a huge fan of MDR and with a large collection of his concert recordings – to my surprise and delight he had a recording of that concert, which he made a copy of for me.
- Lalgudi Jayaraman at Shanmuknanda; i remember that he played ‘sankaracharyam’ but the thing that stands out in my memory is that his string snapped and he spent a good 15 minutes changing the string. That took the wind out of the concert.
At no time, the thought that someone may be recording these concerts simply did not occur to me; at least it did not occur to me that some people were doing it and it was not so obvious; Listening to live concerts, Radio and the Vinyl records was the only way it seemed. Boy, how wrong I was !! And it took only a year to find that out….