(Not so) Musical Musings

December is here and that means The (music) Season. The Man from Madras Musings has already given indications of this in his last few columns. And to those of you who are not musically inclined (which includes the Chief), MMM must extend a heartfelt apology for harping (pun intended) on the subject. But come December, and MMM finds it difficult to remain silent. He repeatedly clears his throat and warbles songs that he has heard in music seasons in past. Occasionally he bursts forth into a one-man chorus, only to subside to barely audible humming, subdued by the stern gaze of MMM’s good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed.

But there is a flip side to any good thing and, in the case of The Season, it is the inaugural event at each of the sabhas. These inaugural programmes belong to the realm of monotony. Which is rather surprising, given the high quality of music that follows over the month. And if you have attended one of the inaugurals, you have been to them all. All of them follow a set pattern and MMM, whose painful task it is to be present at least at some of them, wonders whether these are beyond redemption of any sort.

Speeches galore

In case you are the kind that has never been to a sabha inaugural, let MMM assure you that you have not missed anything. The inaugurals invariably begin with a prayer sung by a nervous child or two. In case the child is missing, it is by the sabha secretary, who is an occasional bathroom singer of some ability and who is not above grabbing the mike and belting out a song invoking the Almighty. Then we have a speech of welcome. No, hang on a sec, MMM is not giving you a blow-by-blow account. The event usually kicks off with a request to all dignitaries off the ‘dias’ (yes, that is how it is pronounced) to come on the (you guessed it right) ‘dias’. These dignitaries usually comprise the sabha president, the principal awardee of the season for that sabha and a chief guest. The last named is usually selected on the basis of who he/she is and not because of any affinity for music. Consequently, it is easy to identify the chief guest – yes, that is the person with a “where am I” kind of look, seated right in the front.

Once the dignitaries are on the dais, the prayer is duly sung. Then the sabha president makes a speech, wherein he thanks everyone, the artistes, the organisers, the sponsorers (yes, that is another Carnatic contribution to our lexicon); a ‘sponsorer’ is a sponsor who contributes to a Carnatic music event), the audience (even if there is only one person who, as a wag put it, qualifies thereby as an ‘audien’) and, above all, the caterer. The thanking of the last named is usually greeted with great applause.

Now in case you thought that is it, let MMM assure you that you have not heard the half of it. Next, the president will go on to speak on why the award was being conferred on a particular musician. In this he will recite the curriculum vitae of the musician and while this is being done, the chief guest will wake up with a nervous start, for he just then realises that the president has already pinched the content of most of his speech. The musician to be awarded, however, is delighted and listens to the CV as though he/she is hearing it for the first time. The president then moves on to how he has known the award recipient for years. He then goes on to thank the chief guest. A fairly long narrative of the CG’s successes in the world will follow. The time schedule would have by now been shot to pieces but who can stop the president when he is in full flow?

But at sometime all good things will have to come to an end. Yes, the president, after an appeal to all well-wishers for funds that will go towards building a corpus to enable the sabha to acquire its own property and construct an auditorium, will wind down and take his seat.

Next, the compere for the show, after making some inane wisecracks, will proceed to introduce the chief guest. This will involve a slightly more formalised version of what the president had said about the chief guest. Then it will be time for the CG to make his speech. The CG, to be fair to him, will usually begin by confessing to being an ignoramus in the world of music. He will then also wonder aloud as to why he has been invited for this event. By which time, MMM and others of his kind would also be wondering the same. But after this show of humility, the CG will then surprise everyone by quoting copiously from slokas and Tamil verses, all usually taken from Google and lasting a good half-an-hour. Then, having reduced the audience to a state of bored resignation, he will smile at the award-recipient, thoroughly mispronounce his name, and say that it was all very appropriate that so-and-so was being given the award. He will then give his version of the musician’s bio-data, also taken from Google. Once again, it will be the musician alone who will be listening to all this in delight.

Then comes the principal event of the day – namely the swaddling of musician and chief guest in shawls, the conferment of the award and the handing over of citation and medallion. MMM can claim only hearsay knowledge of this, for this event is witnessed only by a battery of photographers who crowd around the ‘dias’ (sorry, dais) at this climactic moment. No doubt it is a Masonic ceremony of sorts. When it is done and the photographers apart, you see chief guest, musician and president all smiling, with the musician clutching the citation, no doubt praying that he should not let it fall and smash his toes.

The compere then returns with more wisecracks and thereafter proceeds to read the bio-data of the musician which, if you recollect (and if you are still awake), has already been read twice before, as parts of president and chief guest’s speeches. The musician then speaks, and this is usually a rehash of the bio-data. Just before this speech, the chief guest (lucky guy), claiming to have another engagement, will quickly collect his shawl, bouquet and garland and make a fairly noisy exit, usually accompanied by several others who, MMM strongly suspects, were just looking for an excuse to run away. After this, at the more malevolent sabhas you will be treated to what is called “felicitations of awardee”. Friends of the award-recipient will climb on to the stage and begin wrapping him/her in shawls, throwing garlands around his/her neck and offering bouquets. If the compere is particularly half-witted, he will invite some of them to say a “few words” and that means several versions of the same bio-data, no doubt all taken from Google.

Vote of thanks

By the time the mayhem caused by these felicitations has lessened to an extent, someone will give a quick glance at the clock and realise that the programme has gone beyond schedule by a few hours and those still seated, like The Man from Madras Musings, are on edge. The sabha secretary will then deliver the vote of thanks. If you are interested in its contents, you just have to read the president’s speech.