Every December, the city of Chennai
has its five week-long Music Season, which has been described as the world's largest cultural event . The Music Season was started in 1927, to mark the opening of the Madras Music Academy
. It used to be a traditional month-long Carnatic music festival, but over the years it has also diversified into dance
, as well as non-Carnatic art forms.
The traditional role of the Music Season is to allow aficionados of Carnatic music to appreciate performances by renowned artistes, and also to provide a good opportunity for promising young artistes to display their talent and skill. During this time, a large number of Sabhas (music halls) organize kutcheris (formal concerts). Artistes come from across India and from the international Indian diaspora to perform during the season. The event has grown over the years; there were over 1200 performances by about 600 artistes in 2004-2005 (about 700 vocal, 250 instrumental, 200 dance and 50 drama and others ).
What's on the Menu?
The variety cultural programmes that one can expect during the season can be broadly categorized into the following:
The standard Carnatic Concert during the Season lasts for around 3 hours. Most sabhas reserve the evening slots
to renowned artistes. There are usually fewer Instrumental concerts around than Vocal concerts.
Attending the Season
There are dozens of Sabhas all over Chennai and it could get quite challenging
to decide where to go. Simultaneously, several top-notch artistes may be performing at different places around the City. So it's all about choosing and planning the season.
Typically, most Internet Websites like www.artindia.net, chennaionline.com, ramsabode and rasikas.org provide details on the who's who and where's what of the season. Local dailies like The Hindu and Indian Express carry a dedicated section under the title Engagements or Arts, Dance and Drama that lists some of the important concerts / events around the city. The rule of thumb is that when a concert claims All are welcome, it is a free concert with no entry fee. Generally the concerts in the evenings at most places are paid. Tickets usually range from Rs.50/- (a seating from where the stage is barely visible) to Rs.250/- (VIP seating). Almost always, the concerts held at Temples have no entry fee.
Since most of the famous sabhas are located in and around Mylapore, it is a good idea to find an accommodation in Mylapore. (A good hotel that's just a minute's walk from the Music Academy is the NewWoodlands) Besides, all other important sabhas are well-connected to Mylapore by bus and local trains. Parthasarathy Swami Sabha conducts several lecture demonstrations, and most concerts except the evening slots are free.
Sabhas and Halls
A Carnatic Sabha is an organisation that helps conduct concerts. Sabhas fight in contest for their choice of artists. It is also the sabhas that give out titles
to artistes to reward talent. Most sabhas own a hall
(or two). Some smaller sabhas like Karthik Fine Arts
rent a hall during the season. Generally, there is a main hall
and a mini hall
in most such complexes. The main hall
s, on average, can accommodate about 300 people while the mini
can take not more than 75 people.
It is quite easy to identify a hall from the banners, posters and decorated name boards outside the hall facing the roads. and most of these halls are important landmarks, so getting there is quite easy. (e.g. Rani Seethai Hall and Vani Mahal have Bus Stops named after the halls. Buses stop at a fairly close distance to the halls).
Almost all halls run a Canteen
where a variety of South Indian foods, Sweets and Savouries are purchasable. Generally, during the noon a traditional south Indian lunch is also served. Peak time of the Canteen is usually in the evenings before and after the 6 p.m. concert. On weekends it's usually crowded during most part of the day. The selection of Caterer
is also an important point that has an effect on the reputation of the Sabha. Narada Gana Sabha's food contract is run by Gnanambika caterers, and it offers one of the better culinary fares of the season, in addition to that by the Music Academy.
The acoustics of Sabhas have improved greatly in the recent past. But it's still not uncommon to find mixing glitches such as Feedback
during a Concert. Since artistes arrive right on time and concerts start almost always without a delay, there is very little time the artistes get to interact with the sound engineer at the hall. It is common to notice, in the few minutes of their commencement of a concert, the artistes looking to their left (where the mixer unit
and the sound engineer
are) and asking for an increase
to their monitor
Generally, Medium / Small sized halls don't have a dedicated monitor and the PA system usually fills in the role of a monitor.
Some important Sabhas and their (usual) Halls
- Brahma Gana Sabha: Pethachi Sivagami Auditorium
- Indian Fine Arts Society : Bala Mandir German Hall
- Kalarasana : Rani Seethai Hall
- Mudra : Freedom Hall
- Madras Music Academy: TTK Auditorium
- Nadha Inbam : Raga Sudha Hall
- Narada Gana Sabha : Sathguru Gnanananda Hall
- Nungambakkam Cultural Academy : Rama Rao Kala Mandap
- Rasika Ranjani Sabha : Dakshinamoorthy Auditorium
- Sri Krishna Gana Sabha : Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
- Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha : Vidya Bharathi
- Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha : Vani Mahal
- Tamil Isai Sangam : Raja Annamalai Mandram