Come December music season in Chennai, we have different groups of rasikas. Some rasikas get season passes of one sabha and attend all concerts organised by that sabha alone. Then there are those who like to experience a variety of artistes along with a variety of cuisine, so would alternate between the grand and mushrooming sabhas of Mylapore. There are some who, like club members, strive to show off their “elite” sabha membership. And then there is a secret society which operates with one password: Sanjay Subrahmanyan.
The personal, professional and leisure schedules of the rasikas of the vocalist Sanjay Subrahmanyan revolve completely around his kutcheri timetable. Right from the time he releases his December season list, which he does a month ahead, knowing very well that die-hard fans from across the globe will have to make their travel plans. A number of conference calls are made and flights booked between the Indian states and the United States, to land up in Chennai for the “Sanjay” festival.
Why Sanjay Subrahmanyan? Very simply put, here is a performer who does not take his audience for granted - ever. His concerts have something in the offering for every kind of listener. For the rasika of the older generation there is the thread of classicism that runs through the concert. For the music student, there is abundance of learning — right from the variety of varnams, kritis of rare composers, genius raga expansion and mathematics of pallavi. For the regular rasika with a discerning ear, there are unique ragas like Balahamsa, Manorama and Sanjay's own discovery, a ragam called Dravida Kalavathy. For the newbie, there are viruttams soaked with emotions, needing no prior musical exposure. For the linguist, there is a variety of languages with a lot of emphasis on Tamil. And for a fellow performing musician, there is tremendous insight on how to showcase one’s musical repertoire in a 3-hour format which is aesthetic, classical, enjoyable, without being ostentatious and without a single dull moment.
All this is presented with no fuss. There are no boring pauses or reference to iPads for lyrics. The artistes on stage are clad in simple crisp whites. They truly demonstrate team work which is evident in their on-stage communication and the way Sanjay communicates with his audience throughout the concert. Always exuding positivity and ever smiling through his moments of hard work and sweat. And while performing a high energy concert, he also poses gracefully for his photographers. Exactly as someone was overheard saying in a queue “Part of the charm of Sanjay’s concerts are his facial expressions”.
The buzz begins right from buying tickets. The organisers know only too well that tickets for a Sanjay concert get sold within ten minutes of the counter being open. No empty seats for his concerts. Only extra plastic chairs, like in a Rajinikanth movie. The concert day starts for a rasika, with Sanjay’s morning tweets on the evening to come. Anxiety and excitement build up in equal measure and a number of Sanjay fan groups on facebook and whatsapp start betting on the main raga or pallavi for the day.
There are many fan pages of this artiste created exclusively by listeners on facebook, each with about 5000+ members. Tamil is the most anticipated language from this musician since he works like a master craftsman to tastefully embed verses from Mahakavi Bharathiyar and Thiruvalluvar into his pallavi lines.
Not to mention his impeccable diction while rendering a Tamil paasuram or a Sanskrit masterpiece of Muthuswami Dikshitar. He strives towards perfection in all elements that collectively form a wholesome concert experience.
The social networks come alive during and after his concert-his facebook page goes live, rasikas post pictures and comments online. Identification and second guessing of ragas begin to happen. There would be a live thread on whether the raga being sung was Jog or Chalanaatai, and the astute Sanjay would cleverly respond with the word “Jog” in his next phrase, to a roaring applause. This season at Narada Gana Sabha, his pallavi phrasing was “Varada Venkata Gopala”- indicating not just the Lord but also his accompanists for the day — S.Varadarajan on the violin, Neyveli B Venkatesh on the Mridangam (these two stellar artists comprising his regular team) and K.V Gopalakrishnan on the Kanjira. These creative inclusions create “wow” moments in his concert and always evoke outbursts of glee.
After the concert of course, there would be an overflow of reviews, narrations, enlisting of ragas sung, mobile captures, DSLR pictures, videos and a gush of tweets-some of which he graciously shares on his social pages. Here is an artiste who truly cares to engage with his followers.
If someone wants to get a live feel of how Sanjay Subrahmanyan affects his fans, one must go to his concert venue when he starts the “mangalam”. Standing ovations that last for several minutes follow the mangalam without a miss. A Sanjay concert is very hard to forget and usually results in blissful hangovers. As evident in the discussions that last for days and sometimes years amidst the rasika crowd.
One could call Sanjay Subrahmanyan, a hard working tech-savvy classical vocalist. A rare artiste who is equally conscious about his audience as much as he is about grammar, conventions and tradition. The listener can draw from his music, his energy and his gushing positivity. They can delve in his live and recorded performances throughout the year. But from a completely non-musical sense they can learn a thing or two about customer focus, team work, avoiding shortcuts and a “never-say-die” work ethic.