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Music uninterrupted

Two Chennai-based sabhas have provided rasikas with a stream of free, unhindered listening

Despite the world of the arts being severely impacted, Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan and Arkay Ramakrishnan each organised hundreds of free concerts throughout the pandemic, for their respective non-profit organisations, Naada Inbam and Madhuradhwani.

A mechanical engineer with a degree in Indian music, Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan took on the Naada Inbam baton from her father, S.V. Krishnan, after his demise in 2007. Krishnan, an electronics engineer himself, had Raga Sudha Hall, the home of Naada Inbam, built to stringent specifications, with its debut programme held in 1997.

S.V. Krishnan with D.K. Pattammal, R.K. Shriram Kumar and Sivakumar during her concert for Naada Inbam. | Photo Credit: Photo: Special Arrangement

Naada Inbam’s concerts had always been live, with audio recorded purely for the archives. In 2013, Lalitharam Ramachandran requested Jayalakshmi’s permission to simultaneously webcast the concerts for his Parivadini music YouTube channel. After the artistes gave permission, the Parivadini live webcast became a regular feature, with over 1,500 uploads to date. Then the pandemic came, and Naada Inbam closed its doors to physical audiences. “Most of our rasikas are elderly and I am unwilling to risk their health,” Jayalakshmi says. As a result, all concerts are now recorded and subsequently uploaded on the Parivadini channel. About 200 concerts have been recorded during the pandemic alone.

Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan of Naada Inbam. | Photo Credit: Photo: Nick Haynes

Jayalakshmi explains that Naada Inbam’s continued focus on senior artistes and committed youngsters with solid patantara comes from her father. Besides presenting veterans such as Thanjavur Sankara Iyer, Kalpagam Swaminathan, T.K. Govinda Rao and T.N. Krishnan, many established young artistes had their debuts at Naada Inbam. Jayalakshmi has introduced several newcomers to the listening public, while continuing to feature lecture-demonstrations by musicians of scholarly bent.

Sekhar (M. Chandrasekharan), who assists Jayalakshmi in managing the affairs of the sabha, handles the stage, mics, cameras, and sound. He is periodically assisted by R. Shiva, Jayalakshmi’s nephew. To provide a better listener experience, Naada Inbam has invested in both a four-track digital audio recorder and two amateur cameras. Besides supervising, Jayalakshmi now has the additional task of editing the audio and video clippings, which takes her at least 4-5 hours to complete.

Naada Inbam’s main funding has come from renting Ragasudha Hall for private functions and an intermittent grant from the Ministry of Culture. During the pandemic, music connoisseurs have also arranged private concerts in memory of family members. . Recently, artistes have begun to hire the hall to record programmes for off-city and international organisations, offering a new source of income.

Office turned concert space

Arkay Ramakrishnan of Madhuradhwani. | Photo Credit: Photo: Rajappane

Arkay Ramakrishnan, a banker turned stockbroker, began Madhuradhwani in 2010, inaugurating the banner two years later. “I spent over ₹40 lakh converting a large portion of my office into a sound-proof space with the latest audio technology, suitable for small chamber concerts.” He immediately found takers among music organisations. He invited many senior musicians to perform, including N. Ramani, Anayampatti Ganeshan and M. Chandrasekaran. After initially recording the programmes for uploads, in 2013, he switched to live webcasting concerts on YouTube, which he continues to do. “I have webcast over 2,500 concerts since 2013,” he says.

During the lockdowns of 2020, Ramakrishnan took to releasing his older recorded concerts or calling artistes and livestreaming their performances sans audience. He has conducted 120 concerts this season alone, with an average of 200-250 annually. “I look for seniors who are not given opportunities elsewhere. This year, for example, I was the only one to feature O.S. Thiagarajan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, and Madurai G.S. Mani.” He says he also invites artistes like Sankari Krishnan, Kasturi Rangan and Swarna Rethas, who have been learning for years but do not perform much, and several youngsters who are not performing regularly elsewhere.

Tiruchi Pradeep Kumar’s concert for Madhuradhwani in 2021. | Photo Credit: Photo: Rajappane

Much of the funding comes from renting out the hall and from donations. The pandemic has seen rental revenues come down but he covers shortfalls from his personal funds. Ramakrishnan has now invested in more equipment. “From one camera, we now have four, allowing for picture-in-picture and close-ups and we also have a digital mixer.” The hall logistics and sound mixing are handled by Ravi, a long-term employee, with inputs from Bharath Kumar, Ramakrishnan’s son.

The pandemic brought in significant operational changes for Naada Inbam and required quick thinking for Madhuradhwani, but the persistence of both at a challenging time has enriched Carnatic listeners.

The author writes on classical music and musicians.

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