Madhuradhwani: a music enthusiast’s delight!

TM Krishna

Madhuradhwani, literally meaning ‘sweet sound’, was true to its name with mellifluous classical music rendering by stalwarts.

2010 was the year of global GNB (G.N. Balasubramaniam – legendary carnatic vocalist) centenary celebrations and a group of enthusiastic carnatic music lovers in Singapore decided to join in the celebrations by hosting public concerts. Madhuradhwani, a 3 day carnatic classical music festival, was born.

And to boast about the participating artistes in the events, and rightly so, “We have had a variety of artistes from doyens to the most sought-after to reputed upcoming artistes. M Balamurali Krishna,  Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, Hyderabad Brothers,  Sudha Ragunathan, Bombay Jayashri, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Unnikrishnan, Sowmya, Priya sisters, Abhishek Raguram, TM Krishna, Sanjeev Abhyankar, V Shankar Narayanan and many more. Accompanying artistes included reputed artistes such as R. K. Shriramkumar,  Tanjore Sri K Murugaboopathi and many others.” (Vanitha Shankar)

Vanita Shankar

Vanitha Shankar, the main organiser of the event, is a professional start-up venture consultant based in India, helping start-up companies with end-to-end roll out. Her other interests include dancing, research based writing, out-door running and horse riding.

Vanitha has also authored the coffee table book, The Heritage of Hindu Temples in Singapore with support from the National Heritage Board.

And more about the festival from Vanitha….

How do you choose the artistes that perform for you?

We go with a mix of performing styles so that there is variety in the music – it's a three day Indian classical music festival with mostly carnatic music, and so we try and bring in variety in the performers. From doyens to young and promising musicians, we try and do a mix. Of course we also go by the artistes’ availability. 

This year we tried to bring in some innovation around the programming where we included a Jugalbandi and a musical theatre performance.

About the accompanying artistes performing in the events. Does the same group perform for all the concerts? Do artistes have preferences for the accompanying artistes? How do you decide on them too?

We usually get 2 -3 sets of accompanying artistes who play for all the concerts. We invite them based on the main artistes’ preference – because we believe that for a concert to be successful, one needs to ensure that the chemistry between all the artistes on stage is good. It is our privilege to have presented doyens like Dr Umayalpuram Sivaraman accompany Dr Balamuralikrishna. Seeing two stalwarts sharing the same stage was a unique experience for the listeners. We have had Embar S. Kannan, Tanjore Sri K Murugaboopathi, Anirudh Athreya and similar names as accompanying artistes. 

Saw Chennai gaga splashed here and there at the venue. What is Chennai gaga and the role of Chennai gaga in this event?

Chennai Gaga is a Chennai themed concept store that specialises in merchandise that brings out the flavour of Chennai. They have some funky and very hard-core Chennai themed products that make excellent gifts.

A close friend of mine, Uma Seshadri, during a casual conversation suggested that we start bringing in themes around the festival, as people seek new experiences. So with ‘Chennai’ as the theme I approached a few concept stores for ideas. Though a lot of them were interested, they felt the time was short. One such store that I approached through a friend was Chennai Gaga – though I must admit that couple of my friends, including TM Krishna suggested that name when I mentioned Chennai as the theme, and that I was looking for partners.

The response for this has been very good that we hope to partner with many other such concept stores in future – so beyond just presenting the festival as a confluence of classical music lovers, we may even look at promoting small scale organizations through the festival.  This year has worked well. We are yet to assess the future viability.

What are the common hurdles you face organising?

Plenty. Putting together something like this overseas is a huge challenge. The auditorium needs to be of the right size for a classical event with good acoustics, yet affordable. End to end logistics from ticketing, visas, airport pick up, stay is no less a challenge. 

As much support as we get, classical art forms cater to a niche audience and getting people to attend is not easy. The scene in Singapore has changed dramatically in the last few years and there are many programs vying for the same pool of Indian classical arts connoisseurs. Almost all the weekends in August had big classical arts events or popular events that were publicised. So as much as people would like to support; a deluge of events like this becomes daunting for them to handle. 

Financials is probably the biggest challenge for a non-commercial organization such as ours – we operate out of limited funding from well-wishers, supporters and donors. Since we get artistes of this stature, we have to ensure the quality of the event is not compromised, and so operating the event within a specific budget but ensuring quality is a challenge. Our ticket pricing is also very nominal to allow as many people to attend as possible.

Though our event is well attended, it is always a challenge ensuring the info reaches people, more because we don't have an advertising budget.

About the Music Circle in Singapore? Who started that? What is the role of Music Circle in these concerts?

Music circle a registered non-profit organisation was started by carnatic musician V Shankar Narayanan and educational entrepreneur Bala Shankar. It had started off as small informal sessions where the musicians based out of Singapore meet periodically and discuss and exchange ideas and practise together. Music circle also hosts chamber concerts focussing on different themes. 

Music circle is the backing organisation for Madhuradhwani.

What’s next on the anvil?

We do have some ideas – but will execute it after some thought and analysis. We started the festival with an objective of bringing an experience around concerts and spreading music beyond boundaries. We would like to stick to our objectives. Even with our interest and enthusiasm for improvisations, we would like to go ahead only if there is scope and a need for it. Clearly there is no point in reinventing the wheel or re-doing something someone is already doing.

Madhuradhwani Music series concert was held from 28th to 30th of August 2015 at the Khoo Auditorium.