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By going digital, the Margazhi competition has blurred boundaries for each audiences and artistes

A number of months in the past, this yr’s Margazhi season was beneath risk of a washout by a raging pandemic. In the face of a precarious battle to remain alive, classical music was the very last thing on folks’s minds. But right now, the competition seems to haven’t solely survived the existential disaster however has presumably develop into larger by embracing the digital house.

By going digital, Margazhi 2020-21 has not solely gone international, it is usually on the edge of the only largest means of democratisation because the annual competition started 9 a long time in the past. With live shows open to audiences internationally, it’s extremely probably this season will find yourself as probably the most attended one.

When the Federation of City Sabhas met in early August to take inventory and determine how finest to make sure the legacy of Margazhi remained uninterrupted, all that they had in thoughts was a couple of days of free digital live shows on YouTube. However, buoyed by the resilience of the musicians and the keenness of the rasikas who needed a full-fledged season, they determined to go all out throughout the confines of the pandemic protocol.

The result’s a ‘Yours Truly Margazhi’ that guarantees to be probably the most intense digital classical music competition : 120 occasions, 500 artistes, performing back-to-back for 30 days. That is about 150-plus hours of music and dance at one stretch. Add to this the Music Academy and Kalakshetra live shows and impartial organisations resembling MadRasana, First Edition Arts, Arkay Convention Centre (ACC) and others, and the dimensions will get actually huge. Plus, a digital Season means it’s not open solely to Chennai’s sabhas but in addition to organisations from Mumbai, Bengaluru and even the U.S. A Season that was at all times huge even by international requirements, now appears mammoth.

Ranjani and Gayatri

Reaching folks straight

What makes this Season actually outstanding, nevertheless, is that for the primary time, the entry obstacles are damaged. The music goes on to folks — anyone, anyplace can hear it. Everybody will get a front-row seat.

Over the years, the conservative veneer of town’s sabhas, live performance halls and generally even the musicians; the music’s obvious socio-cultural exclusivity; and even its stereotyping in common tradition created each actual and perceived obstacles to Carnatic music. The notion that one wants technical coaching to get pleasure from it and that one would possibly really feel intimidated by an knowledgeable and older viewers additionally stored folks away. The youthful technology discovered the setting dated and forbidding and located each institution and audiences condescending.

Going digital has meant an effectual blurring of boundaries not only for audiences however for musicians too, whether or not by way of venues or time slots. “The digital space has loosened some of the old rigidities and hierarchies and one cannot help but notice the winds of change,” says Devina Dutt of First Edition Arts.

Other impacts are equally important. The live shows are shorter. Interestingly, as a substitute of utilizing the limitless time provided by the Internet to leisurely discover a raga within the Hindustani type, organisers and performers have chosen to compress the standard format. However, not having to stretch the live performance to 3 hours has additionally meant that good singers are utilizing the chance to innovate and make classes extra satisfying.

Second, the a number of digicam angles and actions, the close-ups and high-resolution visuals, and aesthetic manufacturing values make the live shows an intimate expertise. Most importantly, one can watch it at one’s comfort in a setting that one chooses. You don’t need to fulfill your self with a backrow seat in an ill-lit corridor with unhealthy acoustics however can watch it on an opulent house theatre or catch it whereas commuting to work.

Third, necessity has made the know-how sleeker and extra experiential. Technicians from the film and recording industries, in addition to state-of-the-art gear have been roped in to lift manufacturing values.

The largest gainer in all that is Carnatic music itself. From its conventional catchment of some thousand folks in Chennai, it’s now open to tens of 1000’s of music lovers throughout India and the world. As it occurs with each type of music and artwork, easy accessibility and unintended publicity may also result in folks from numerous cultures and demographics crossing over. Who is aware of, Margazhi might discover new attendees in, say, the Solomon Islands.

The response from music lovers thus far has been extraordinarily good, in line with each the Federation and different stakeholders. “The ticket sales have been very encouraging,” says Harishankar Krishnaswamy, secretary, Federation of City Sabhas, whereas in line with MadRasana’s Mahesh Venkateswaran, “It’s been much more than our initial estimates”. Music Academy’s ‘main’ occasions will even be ticketed. Not giving free content material is a breakthrough the sector very badly wanted. Larger international audiences and growing cross-over numbers can certainly usher in extra money.

S. Saketharaman

Challenging process

Putting collectively a digital season isn’t simple. In truth, the Federation has undertaken a mammoth process. Filming 4 programmes a day with 4 cameras throughout three venues in a fortnight is difficult each creatively and logistically. Everything is on an unprecedented scale: coordination of artistes, surfeit of footage, its storage and post-production work.

MadRasana Virtual Festival can have six prime musicians, whereas FEA is launching a year-long ‘Now Hear Us’ competition in partnership with Indian Oil. MadRasana’s Mahesh talks of how they’ve tried to fine-tune the expertise. “The look and feel will be different for each concert, all shot outdoors. The artistes have also come up with interesting content to suit the digital age .”

Interestingly, the musicians have taken to the digital transformation somewhat properly. “It’s not been a problem although initially one has to get used to performing without the audience,” says vocalist Saketharaman.

The huge query stays. Is the digital outreach only a stopgap transfer to tide over the pandemic or will it stay a parallel stream that may develop the viewers and economics? The crucial challenges Carnatic music faces are stagnant and restricted patronage, incapacity to succeed in out to rasikas exterior its strongholds, and its incapacity to draw crossover audiences. Examples such because the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Jazz at Lincoln Centre, LA Philharmonic, MadRasana, and FEA have demonstrated that smooth, curated content material can certainly usher in bigger, ticket-buying audiences.

“Virtual platform as a parallel way to experience and consume music is here to stay. The opportunity is immense, and I hope it continues,” says Mahesh. “We will meet after the season and analyse the learnings. It certainly looks promising,” says Harishankar.

As the Season strikes out of the darkened auditorium to properties and cafes, Devina has a deeper, transformational optimism: “We have been forced to confront the idea that probably this notion of space and presentation for a complex art form, the particular sameness of setting in a closed hall with static listeners and a large display of corporate logos is not the only possibility.”

The author is a journalist-turned-UN official-turned-columnist

based mostly in Travancore.

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