Granny Tales 101: Chapter 5

This one took a while to come. Apologies for the delay. But I promise to be more prompt than I have been.

Today I talk about dadi and my piano lessons. Writing about this was unplanned but it seems like the best thing to relive at the moment.

My tryst with the piano began way back in second grade. My mother had seen a small newspaper listing for classes nearby and thought it was something interesting for my sister and I to learn. Our class was in a crammed home where the piano took up all the space in the room. But as kids we didn’t seem to bother. We were captivated by the instrument and the beautiful music one could make from it. And so, my sister and I took an instant liking to it and learnt fast. What began as a short summer camp eventually blossomed into a full-fledged class that saw both of us appear for Grade examinations by the Trinity College, London for nearly 6 consecutive years.

Continue reading


Chennai: Every day the world is taking a step towards ‘going natural’. From organic food to handwoven sarees, people are going back to the basics as they rediscover nature and now, music is no longer an exception to it. ‘Orisai’, an initiative of the No’Mad Projekt, focuses on preserving the original, raw form of Carnatic music by eliminating digital processing. It was launched on Sunday at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with an enthralling performance by renowned musician T M Krishna.

“The concept of a carnatic concert production is seldom heard of. I wanted to give the listener a memorable experience of a performance by capturing the various elements of an ensemble in equal parts,” says mridangam artist Praveen Sparsh, founder, The No’Mad Projekt.

The No’Mad project aims to record music in its raw, organic form by eliminating processing. It also seeks to capture diverse creative mediums in their purest form.

The beauty of a song is often lost after it passes through countless processors. The high notes of the vocalist may drown the subtle tunes of the Chitraveena and the audience may skip out on a note or two of the ganjira. And the organic sound of the ensemble becomes history. But Orisai tries to bring back the natural touch to the musical experience.

These performances employ condenser microphones instead of the typical dynamic ones. They are placed at an angle, away from the source, such that they pick up the voice of the artist and sound of the instrument at the same time. Sound flows into a console only to be amplified and not processed.

“Orisai allowed me to hear true, real sound and respond to the music that is situated within that. In a normal miked concert, your voice escapes into the microphone and returns to you through monitors as an amplified and in a sense artificially designed sound,” says T M Krishna. “Therefore, you are not really hearing your voice from inside. In Orisai, the voice was as close to what I feel and hear naturally.”

With stage monitors out of the picture, dynamism is at its peak. Fast beats of the mridangam respond to the hollow sounds from the ghatam and the vocalist beautifully chips in to make it a melodious rendition.

“The performing artists are extremely sensitive to the dynamics in the ensemble. And they wonderfully communicate with each other on stage through their music,” says Praveen.

Elegant, simple aesthetics also form an integral part of this idea. The artistic makeover of the stage by art director Susha led to flashy flex banners being replaced with the Orisai logo cut out from plywood. And a dedicated light jockey ensured pleasant lighting.

In the long run, the initiative hopes to make musical communities rethink the nature of music. “Orisai will change the way the audience and organisers understand amplification. Today we have a situation where the microphones, speakers and monitors define music. Orisai inverts that, application is designed according to the nature of the musical form and its aesthetics. This is not audience or artist driven, it is music driven,” says T M Krishna.

[An edited version of this article was published in Times of India, Chennai.]


Chennai: Amid the chaos of big and small black guitar cases, a neatly wrapped dotara (Baul instrument) hanging from a pink wall, traditional dry grass mats and a cot, the distinct and melodic tunes of the rare Mohan veena reverberate. Swiftly running his fingers on this 20-string instrument is Poly Varghese, a Kerala-born musician known to be among the niche group of artists who play the modified Archtop guitar which was handcrafted by his guru Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. Varghese’s long journey as a Carnatic mridangist slowly ended after his chance encounter with the unique instrument. Continue reading


Chennai: Delicious food, aesthetic ambience and good service usually make the dining experience worthwhile except for that mild cacophony – or ‘music’ as they call it – in the background. Blaring tunes, old regional melodies and instrumental songs, nothing spares the city’s mall goers, movie lovers and foodies. But things may be changing with younger restaurateurs paying closer attention to their playlists.

Bad music is akin to a lingering bitter taste in your mouth after a scrumptious meal. What constitutes good and bad music may be subjective, but most Chennaiites seem to agree that except for a few, not many places take the effort to play pleasant music.

“Most restaurants focus only on food, ambience and service. Music is usually a last minute addition and often includes songs which are a personal favourite of the staff, instead of gauging the crowd,” says music buff Vidyuth Subramanian, who also works in the restaurant industry, adding that customers should also be active listeners rather than pay attention only to familiar tunes.

But there are many elements that go into choosing melodies. “The songs must suit the ambience and cuisine of a restaurant. If the music is too loud or repetitive or old, it can put off customers,” says Nithin S, music enthusiast and artist manager, recalling how he never returned to a particular restaurant because he didn’t like their music.

Some eateries and malls prefer the ‘safer’ choice of instrumental music which is either peppy or melodious. “When they use such music, it just shows their lack of interest in choosing tracks,” says Nithin, adding that in cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai restaurateurs invest time in picking songs, understanding its importance in attracting customers.

While some may think that licences and royalties may be the reason for fewer options, members of the Phonographic Performance Limited (Chennai) – which gives out licenses, say most malls and restaurants renew their licences annually.

Malls take a different route to music. While some like Phoenix Marketcity live streams music from websites like BM Asia, certain others like Express Avenue (EA) change the music according to the time of the day. For instance, in EA, slow instrumental music is played in the morning; retro melodies are broadcast post lunch and fast-paced beats in the evening as more youngsters come then, says Raajrishi Tiwari, general manager – events, EA. Yet, many visitors say the music scene can be improved especially in multiplexes of these malls.

A handful of malls, bistros and fine dining restaurants stand out for their music. For Praveen Raj, CEO Barbeque Grill, investing in good acoustics was important too. “I change the music depending on the crowd and I have a diverse collection which connects to different audiences,” says Raj, adding that music blogs are a good way for restaurateurs to keep upbeat on trends and select tracks.

Interestingly, many places prefer English songs as they have a wider reach and usually south Indian joints opt for local favourites while their north Indian counterparts choose Bollywood hits.

When live music suits the ambience, it enhances the dining experience. “In fine dining restaurants like Dakshin at the Crowne Plaza, the traditional instrumental pieces played live by musicians complements the food and ambience,” says M Mohamed Ali, founder, Chennai Food Guide.

Similarly, many customers say weekly solo performances in the evening at places like La Amandier make for pleasant dinners. In fact, customers say making music a crucial factor for rating places can incentivise owners to pay more attention to the tracks.

(Written for the Times of India, Chennai. )