The Pied Pipers of Madras Avenue

It’s a Saturday evening. As the sky dims, the lights in front of Himalaya glow brighter, and the murmuring turns into loud chattering. Friends gather to battle the mosquitoes amidst the deer poop as a guitarist strums on stage to check the sound. Though the program starts an hour after the scheduled time, the electrifying excitement and cheers are no less. Music is to humans as a nest is to a bird: an assured spot of comfort to look forward to after the tussles of daily life. Our campus is no different. The regular initiatives by active music clubs are a treat for all music lovers, even those who might consider themselves as just bathroom singers. 

Many students are drawn to the Music Club in their first year itself. Guru Viknesh, one of the convenors of the Club for 2020-21, recalled how he contacted a coordinator even before joining the institute.

I met my best friend Shriram through the freshie group because we fancied similar music…we met in Cauvery on the first day of orientation and just started jamming,” Guru remembered fondly.

Ananthalakshmi narrated how she was noticed by a contingent member and advised to audition for it after he happened to hear her sing for her friends in Cafe Coffee Day. Freshie Nite is often cited as a milestone event for those wanting to be more involved in club activities as it is an occasion where first years get to showcase their potential on stage for the first time. Dazzling performances of all kinds packed the auditorium for the 2019 edition of Freshie Nite: from classical vocalists, to light music in multiple languages, to rock. Guru pointed out that it’s an event where coordinators, convenors, and freshies bond over pizza and have heartfelt conversations about their experience leading up to the night. Suraj Thomas, his co-convenor, added that performing on the SAC stage to an audience of a thousand was a rare opportunity and a memory that he would treasure for the rest of his college life. The Music Club has conducted many successful events in the past two semesters, including Acoustic Night, the Ethnic Day concert, and the popular Karaoke Night, which saw students shed their inhibitions and sing in multiple genres and languages among a floating crowd of around 200.

“With every person that we encourage to start singing during a Himalaya jam, and with every person that we encourage to go up on stage during an Open Mic, the music scene gets affected positively,” – Guru Viknesh on the impact coordinators have on freshies.

Freshie Nite 2019

The IITM music contingent is known for its impeccable skill and the diversity of the songs it performs. Vocal Fry, the institute acapella group, was formed in 2015 by Ashmita Ghosh, the then convenor.

” My experiences in the group were undoutedly the best memories I made in my freshie year, with Unmaad being the highlight. It was chaotic and creative, but we all ended up really ‘in-tune’ with each other,” – Sasank Kaushik, an active member of the Club.

With singers from various backgrounds, Vocal Fry has put up stunning performances in the last two semesters with various events on campus, such as Saarang and Raagabop 2020. 

Shriram, the current captain of the music contingent, looked back at his time in Pornelius Hubert, the institute band that was active from August 2018 till Saarang 2020. Now that most of the band members have graduated, the remaining members are trying their best to ensure that they live up to the standard set by the band. Vishnu Sanketh, the previous QMS manager of the club and the current Cultural Affairs Secretary (Literary), talked about his experiences of sleeping on a thin mattress on a damp floor with 25 people in a room, and spending time at campus eateries while attending the ‘holy trinity’ of fests: Festember, Inter-IIT Cultural Meet, and Mood Indigo. Kamakshi, an alumnus who was a member of the contingent, and who now releases her own music, reminisced about her time in the band Put Proxy which participated in these events. Shriram also looked back at the experience of making his original instrumental composition with Vignesh, a violinist, and receiving an (unexpected) first place in Mood Indigo for the same, despite having given up on placing at all.

Pornelius Hubert

The most cherished memories of the students often come from the grueling practice sessions leading up to performances. Guru recalled his performance with other members in front of the renowned Illaiyaraja in March 2019. The team had to perform on such short notice that they were still memorizing lyrics while on their way and even had to get permission from the Dean to practice in the music room overnight. Pranjali, a contingent member, reminisced about starting over performances due to cups and playing it off as a soundcheck as well as roaming around campus looking for spots to practice. Suraj remarked that as the people around him were fun, even mundane practice sessions were exciting and not something he wanted to escape from.

Shriram fondly remembers the process leading up to their performance of Kosh by Pakshee, which they also performed at Raagabop 2020: “Performing such a gem of a song, with the best musicians in insti was definitely something to smile back on. Enjoying every element of the song, from the asymmetric drum patterns to figuring out the exact guitar and keyboard chords, and the amazing vocals and harmonies, is something I can’t wait to get back to”.
No matter how many all-nighters it takes, the end result is always worth it for these dedicated musicians. Aman, a coordinator and contingent member, elaborated: “…Watching all these plucks and bangs come together into a harmony that packs the emotional impact of a metaphorical truck is an irreplaceable experience…”. Raagabop, the music club’s flagship event, was held in March and drew a large crowd with its marvelous performances by students and professional bands alike. Aman recalled how enjoyable the experience had been despite the intensity of all the last-minute practice sessions.

Raagabop 2020

Although being a part of organizing activities for the Club is generally perceived to be very strenuous, Sasank observed that everyone he had come across had “loved the experience of working with the energetic convenors and conducting great events throughout the semester.” However, this didn’t mean the team could take it easy. Vishnu pointed out that Saarang was an event where one had to be on their toes constantly and be prepared to deal with a multitude of situations and logistical issues.

“There is no set of fundaes that will ever prepare you enough for what’s to come. The sponsor you bagged demands two posters, and you realize that there was a miscommunication. What do you do? A solo vocal event with around a 100 participants needs to be wrapped up by 5 pm, and your co-coord accidentally trips up the electricity for the whole venue, what do you do?” – Vishnu Sanketh

The high skill level of the members of the Club allows beginners to hone their talents by learning from each other. Vishnu spoke about how the Club helped him overcome his stage fright and maintain discipline in practice. At the same time, Shriram mentioned how the contingent pushed him into analyzing the technical aspects of music. Shreya Ugale, who has been a part of Vocal Fry, remarked that through the club seniors, she learned techniques such as projection, harmonies, and dynamics that help her in composing original music. Shreya has been composing, writing, singing and producing her own music and releasing it on Spotify since the lockdown. Sai, another contingent member, also mentioned that aside from getting fundaes on improvement, a great perk was figuring out where to get free sheet music. Aside from providing an opportunity to tap into one’s potential, the Club is also a spot for forming bonds that last throughout one’s time on campus. Suraj described how his friend circle outside the Club was always shifting, but his peers from the Club remained constant. Shreya echoed this sentiment and recalled how many of them would meet after dinner and sing their hearts out on the SAC balcony.

“All the acoustic nights we held, the lessons I learned during Saarang, the Pondi trip right after that, the whole series of gigs we held in Insti…- it was basically a drug-like experience that lasted a year. But the best takeaway…was the team of crazy (I mean, really crazy!) friends I made that I can now safely call family.” – Vishnu Sanketh

The classical music scene is not far behind. With activities of the Classical Arts Club as well as the IITM Music Club run by professors, students have ample opportunities to attend concerts by renowned artists as well as participate in activities. Siddharth Vijayaraghavan, one of the convenors for this year, had imagined the campus to be a classical music paradise before joining, as he had heard that in addition to the high-caliber performances, many professors (including our Director) were classical musicians themselves. He pointed out that concerts organized by SPIC MACAY during the semesters had full audiences, and added that many students may not have the knowledge but are extremely curious and willing to explore. Naren, a third-year, remarked that despite the numerous events, only a few enthusiasts were active, due to the perception that classical music is complicated or boring.

The classical arts club has a lot of untapped potential for engagement and exposure, as even Shashank Nag, the current convenor, was not aware of the Club’s existence till the selections for Freshie Nite. However, after attending his first Carnatic concert on campus, he was left spellbound, and his interest in Carnatic music was sparked. Campus concerts serve as a much-need relief after hectic days, a view shared by many.

SPICMACAY Concert, August 2019

There is a belief among a few that the Music Club has the potential to do even more to involve a larger number of students, as the Club may reflect a kind of environment to which many are unable to relate to. Furthermore, many students who aren’t used to performing need a lot more than nudging to muster up the confidence to sing in front of peers who are seasoned musicians. As convenors, Guru and Suraj are working on revamping the structure to ensure more inclusivity. They are also devising virtual events such as Open Mics and Jam sessions to sustain the ‘enthu’ in the online semester. Siddharth and Shashank too, have been conducting many events to make classical music more approachable for all. Their competitive events, weekly raga-based playlists, guided listening sessions, and online concerts have garnered attention from many students. The vibrancy and diversity of the music-loving crowd on-campus help expand one’s music tastes and ensures that one can find peers with the same taste to jam with, to collaborate with, or even to just talk about their favorite artists, no matter what genre. Students can look forward to having avenues to share their love for music in these virtual spaces until it is possible to pass a guitar to a friend and sing under the stars again.


Design by Abhiram Pavithran
Edited by Anna Dominic

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