Yet another Season is upon us. And we will have the usual cries of how seasons of the past, namely of an unspecified age several years ago, were of such a high standard and how matters have since deteriorated to an extent where we need to seriously debate on whether the season serves any purpose. From a perusal of reports of seasons of the past it transpires that nothing much has changed and the Season, when it was conceived, took birth as a fully-grown entity, with all of its present features intact. The reports appearing in Sangita Abhimani, a magazine that flourished in the 1930s offer insights.

Take, for instance, the standard complaint on the number of venues and concerts. This question was there in 1936 itself, with the critic of the magazine lamenting over the places he had to travel to — there were three in those days. Next come the speeches of the Chief Guests. The platitudes that we hear now were all there then — calls for setting up a proper music university, the necessity for students to fully soak in music and understand all the nuances before they take to performing, how this is a divine art, and of course anecdotes galore, many of them imaginary, on the lives of musicians of the past.

There were controversies over event inaugurals and concerts — the kind that get analysed threadbare on social media today. At the Music Festival organised by the Congress Party on General Patters Road (yes, that did come as a surprise — the Congress or any political party would be the last one to sponsor a Carnatic festival today and as for GP Road as a venue, just forget it), D.K. Pattammal sang the prayer. She chose the sloka ‘Sayankale Vanante,’ a verse that describes Krishna with the Gopis. She was criticised for choosing an erotic theme for a prayer and opinions were expressed, for and against.

Then came a concert of hers at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha hall wherein she sang a Thodi kriti of Ramanathapuram Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar set to Rupaka talam. There was some difference of opinion with the mridangist, Thirugokarnam Ranganayaki, over the pace of the beat and the latter, when it came to tani avartanam refused to play, albeit in a very gentle fashion, requesting the main artiste to ahead with the rest of the song. That raised eyebrows as well. At a concert by Alamelu Jayarama Iyer, the first woman to run a Sabha, there was a cry for Hindustani pieces towards the end. The singer gently admonished the crowd and said that just because some of the end pieces of a performance were set in ragas of North Indian origin, it would be wrong to label them as Hindustani. That name applied to a great art she said, one that was as ancient and evolved as Carnatic music. The audience appreciated her remarks.

The Music Academy, even though it was a mere eight year old and holding its concerts in rented premises in Royapettah, collared much news space. There were complaints that it had not featured certain musicians for over three years. The Academy defended itself stating that in a festival of ten days, there was space only for a limited number of performers. It had handed out complimentary tickets to certain important people including musicians and some of these had come to the venue without them. The scouts at the gate had turned them away. Why could the scouts not be made to recognise the people, who are coming and let them in, was a question. The Academy’s song book and programme sheets came in for much praise but it was noted that some artistes had not sent in their song list and some deviated from the printed sheets.

Critics then as now, appear to have diverged considerably from the general listener in identifying stars of the future. Of the names listed by the Sangita Abhimani as artistes with potential, not one made it big as is evident from hindsight! One of the most noteworthy absentees from all reports is the canteen, but then, that was a feature only from the early 1940s.

Why then do we look forward to the Season? The answer is given by the same magazine. It is a celebration of our music. The writer observed that if someone were to have sweets without end he would become sick of them but that was not the case with music. No matter how many times we hear a raga or a well-known song, we never tire of them. In fact we ask for more. Therein lies the magic of Carnatic music and of the Season as well. Ultimately it is music that is the star. Long may it shine.

This article appeared in The Hindu and can be read here.