The evenings in temples and concert halls are a lot busier. It is festival time and music is an integral part of the celebrations. The months leading to Margazhi set the tempo for the music season.
The series of concerts that happen in Tamil Nadu during Navratri is a precursor to what is in store in December. Carnatic vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan has a packed schedule, with a concert almost every day. “In June-July there is a pause in concerts and artistes travel or take rest. But after Janamastami, the tempo gathers pace. During Navratri, I sing a lot of Devi krithis of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Swathi Tirunal. I pick a lot of Tamil krithis as the venue changes from a village in Karaikudi district to the Thanjavur Big temple,” he says.
Being the grandson of Sikkil Kunjumani, of the famed Sikkil sisters, Gurucharan had music all around him in his household. As a child, he would sit in rapt attention watching his mother take classes. “I also remember my grandmother brushing up her krithis before her concerts and I would also be taken to some of those concerts if they felt I wouldn’t be a disturbance. When I began performing on stage, my mother and grandmother would draft the list of krithis for me initiatlly. But over the years, as I got a hang of the prevailing mood of the audience, I began making changes to the list and add a few things. I got this ability to gauge and change the list on the spot over the years,” he says.
Over the years, Gurucharan has used different means to popularise classical music among the youngsters, from delivering TEDx talks to performing in colleges. “Thanks to the legends before me, by the time I began performing, youngsters had started taking interest in classical music and today, their numbers have increased a lot. I feel elated when I see youngsters occupying the front rows taking down notes and listening in rapt attention. For this, I have performed in many SPICMACAY concerts in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kerala,” he says.
Gurucharan strongly believes that Carnatic music has a lot in it to attract even those who do not understand it in the typical sense. “When the students enter the hall it is evident that they have been forced into the hall, even I have been as a student, which I desisted then. But as I am into my third rendition, I can see a slow change across the hall. These students enjoy the creative aspects of classical music like the kalpana swarams, taanams and thaniyavartanams. These work anywhere in the world, regardless of the linguistic barriers,” he says.
Regardless of the format of a kutcheri, the beginning and the end matters a lot to any artiste. “The minutes between seating myself on the stage and the raising of curtains are filled with suspense. Many things run at once and there is nervousness and excitement. It’s magical.” Gurucharan sticks to a piece of advice he was given by the legendary Umayalpuram Sivaraman. “He told me the importance of singing the right song to end the concert as that is the lasting impression of a performance people carry home.”