Today, there is an intentional effort afoot to make the coveted Chennai performance stages more accessible. Young people from here and abroad flock to make their mark in the Madras music scene at the December music festival which hosts over 3000 concerts in venues across the city from November through January. Technological advances have resulted in TV contests, videos of live concerts, online classes and various other immersive musical experiences that are geography agnostic. Hence the global spread and popularity of South Indian classical art forms. The audience in Chennai is the most discerning and therefore sets the bar high for artists. A live concert in this city is a challenge they must scale to make their mark pursuing complex, intricate, mathematically precise and yet infinitely creative art forms.
Speaking of access, sponsors such as saree magnates Chinnaswami Chetty of Nalli fame, continue to make most concerts available free of cost. However, as the population ages and streaming services catch on more and more, one wonders if this will continue to be the case? It is hard to tell. Are new artists serious enough to pursue these art forms as careers, to back-fill waning older artists, in sufficient numbers? One cannot really say. I do hope that the golden years of the Chennai December season are not a thing of the past and the musical extravaganza it presents continues to evolve, grow and thrive with the myriad technologies at our disposal. For eg, you can now buy tickets through apps, single and bundled, and you can watch concerts live-streamed for a price. There are music concerts bundled with buffet lunches. So you can have your pick! Since Carnatic music is all about improvisation, the connection with the audience is relevant and important for artists to feed off and offer the best experience - hence live concerts are imperative. I therefore hope the status quo of the December concert season proliferates to enchant and enthrall even more than before.
As for me, for some time to come, I hope to wear jasmine in my hair and join the many women elegantly dressed in colourful silk cotton sarees at concert venues. We will while away pleasant December evenings listening to heavenly music that evokes strong nostalgia of a simpler time when drinking coffee and eating tiffin between concerts at the Music Academy made for a wonderful Dec concert season.