I wrote this in 2007. Even now I am sure, countless societies must be forming with the same goals!
Every once in a while, the rather serene Carnatic music radar does record a few blips. Over a period, given the nature of the art, these are forgotten and make for amusing reading when examined with the hindsight of history. In his Musings of a Musician (Wilco, 1977), which is largely a jeremiad on the falling standards of music (a favourite topic from the time of Socrates), R. Rangaramanuja Iyengar mentioned that a Society for the Preservation of Carnatic Music was inaugurated in Madras City with great fanfare on August 28, 1952. He also added that it ended with eloquent speeches, high-sounding resolutions and bye-laws. Nothing more was ever heard of it. A search of The Hindu’s archives gives further details.
The Society was formed in Kasturi Buildings, Mount Road, which was the office of The Hindu. The meeting was presided over by C. Ramanujachari, the man who had done much for the Ramakrishna Mission Students Home in Mylapore and whose Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja (Ramakrishna Mission, 1958) would become a classic work on the songs of the composer. Among those who attended were personalities who were well known aficionados and scholars in music such as Justice T. L.Venkatarama Iyer, Kasturi Srinivasan and Prof. P. Sambamurthy.
The origins of the Society had happened in a meeting at the Music Academy, held on April 25 that year, when concern had been expressed over the poor sales of gramophone discs and the removal of non-selling records from the catalogues and the destruction of the masters (again a recurring theme ever since the beginning of the recording industry and continuing till date).
Why the founders of the Society, almost all of whom were members of the Music Academy, did not consider that body capable of taking on this role will remain a mystery for all time to come. But a separate Society was considered necessary and a detailed modus operandi was worked out.
There were three classes of members. Ordinary Members on paying Rs. 15 per year would be entitled to free admission to concerts organised by the Society.
Sustaining Members on paying Rs. 36 per annum could attend concerts and also be entitled to receive copies of gramophone discs transferred to tape, not exceeding five per year, free of cost. A Life Member, as the name suggests, enjoyed the same perks for life, on paying Rs. 500 once. A Patron, on payment of Rs. 1,000 could, in addition to the above, also claim a seat on the Advisory Council. It was in fact an almost identical copy of the Music Academy structure except for the privileges of the members.
The office-bearers of the Society were also elected on August 28. And that list reads just like the list of those who built up the Music Academy! T.L.Venkatarama Iyer was made president; in the Executive Committee were Kasturi Srinivasan, C. Ramanujachari, T.V.Subba Rao, P. Sambamurthy and Dr. V. Raghavan.
The Advisory Council had, among others, Justice P.V.Rajamannar, T.T. Krishnamachari, K.V.Krishnaswami Iyer, K. Chandrashekharan, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Jalatarangam Ramaniah Chetty, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dwaram Venkatasami Naidu and Rukmini Devi Arundale. The Society aimed to rope in a membership of 300 to 400 strong, and to work in conjunction with Associations whose object was to foster, encourage and facilitate the growth of musical art; and to support, so far as it may be practicable, the preservation and spread of artistic taste in classical Carnatic music. All these and the objectives listed earlier were in fact taken to the word from the objectives that were listed while founding the Music Academy in 1928!
Presumably, the judges, lawyers and businessmen went back to their activities and the musicians continued to sing.
Carnatic music continued to flourish, despite such efforts for preservation and conservation. After all, like any art, it could never be frozen in time and was open to external influences, pressures and stimuli for its survival.