By Samvita Kalyan
Professor T. T. Narendran greets me with a warm smile as I walk into his office at DoMS. He hands me the brochure of the IIT Madras Music Club from the year 1979. “Handle it carefully, it is one of my fondest souvenirs”, he says. I flip through the pages filled with advertisements from that year’s sponsors – then, the only way of offering them ‘visibility’. The last page hosts the list of performers from that year, and many are nothing short of legends.
The IIT Madras Music Club, started in October 1970, by the then Deputy Director, Prof. S. Sampath, has been known for showcasing concerts by some of the best Carnatic musicians. From the very first concerts by violinist and composer Lalgudi Jayaraman and vocalist Ramnad Krishnan, the Music Club has always upheld the eclecticism that Carnatic music embodies. Prof. Narendran, now the President of the club, recalls the year 1971 when Music Club membership was just ₹ 2 per month. Central Lecture Theatre (CLT), the present location for all Music Club concerts, was under renovation and a large classroom in BSB was used instead. The CLT of the 70s and 80s, although air-conditioned, constituted of only cane or steel folding chairs and an aisle down the center.
Over the years, number of members to the Club has fluctuated. The success of the Music Club depends on the enthusiasm of its core committee members and student volunteers. The club subsists on sponsorship money, membership fees from students and professors, and tickets sales from ClasFest. Such is the dependence on its members that, at times, the core committee has even considered closing down the club due to lack of interest and dwindling finances. However, the continued support from its patrons has always helped the club revive. Prof. Narendran recalls a time when there were larger crowds at the monthly concerts than seen today. Changes in composition of the campus population, tastes and preferences of the students, and the niche that Carnatic Music has carved for itself, are some of the reasons he cites for the fluctuating numbers of the interested. Some of the most successful concerts include one by U Srinivas Mandolin in 1988 (he had earlier performed at the OAT as a part of Mardi Gras in 1986), Balamuralikrishna, Chitti Babu, T. M. Krishna, and Sanjay Subrahmanyan. The Club has also organized some Hindustani concerts, but logistical difficulties and financial issues have prevented them from pursuing this further.
In addition to the monthly concerts, The Music Club conducts two annual festivals, namely, ClasFest, held in August every year, and YouthFest, held in February every year. Started in ’93-’94, ClasFest is organized over two weeks and witnesses performances from some of the most popular contemporary musicians. Although all its concerts are ticketed, ClasFest boasts of the highest attendance amongst all the club’s concerts. This year’s performers included vocalists N Vijay Siva, Sanjay Subrahmanyan and Gayathri Venkatraghavan, and the prolific violinist, T. N. Krishnan. YouthFest, since its initiation, has served as a stepping stone for various up-and-coming musicians, most of whom have gone on to become household names, and have subsequently returned and performed at ClasFest. YouthFest has played host to names such as T M Krishna, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Bombay Jayashree, and the Priya sisters. Many students of IIT Madras like R Prasanna (Guitar), Chandramouli (Violin), and present day students Giridhari (Violin), Srivatsan (Mridangam) and Arundathi (Vocalist) have also had the opportunity to perform at YouthFest.
Today, the Music Club is headed by the club’s President Prof. T. T. Narendran, and club’s student secretaries Avantika Kannan and Akshay Rangamani who function with the help from their student volunteers. The student group organizes all concerts under the guidance of the President, an accomplished Veena player himself. Since he knows most artistes personally, he helps the students to contact them.
Dwindling interest and thin audiences have not deterred the organizers in the least, for they are determined to organize the shows for the pure love of the art. Says Prof. Narendran, “No art can be considered sound without the support of its listeners, i.e., people willing to pay to watch these wonderful musicians perform. Financial issues will always be there and we will always need subsidies. However, I can proudly say that we have outlived most of the other clubs on campus. We have a continued presence even though it may not be that large. Carnatic music is meant for serious listeners, and that support we are always ensured of.”