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Music Forum, a method to mould audience of the future: Dr. S. Sunder
A practicing doctor, a performing musician, and a television anchor, Dr. S. Sunder is a multi-faceted personality. His passion for music has seen him take up many initiatives to promote the cause of Carnatic music. This has led him to take the post of Convener of the Chennai Chapter of Music Forum some 10 summers ago. According to him, information sharing is important for knowledge acquisition and appreciation. Dissemination of information is what his Forum is doing in the sphere of Carnatic music. In this interview, Dr. Sunder articulates how the Forum is trying to make the understanding of Carnatic music simpler for a common person. Excerpts:

Music Forum - Why do you need such a forum?
The forum was conceived as a meeting point and also a lobbying group on all matters related to South Indian classical music. In recent times, I am steering the forum into areas of music appreciation, at two levels; one for the totally uninitiated, such as school children, and the other for those who are into serious music listening and would like to know more. I grew up listening to cricket commentaries when there was no television. And, I was surprised when I saw a cricket match. I was able to appreciate certain nuances of the game, which I had only heard about through the description of the commentator. I felt this exchange of information was lacking in our music concerts. Hence, I devised a lec-con format, where I would stop, pause and explain what I had just sung on stage. This was some amalgam of a concert and a lec-dem, which, I felt, would bridge the chasm between the rasika and the performer. I also felt this was one of the best proactive methods to mould the audience of the future.

What have been its achievements thus far?
We have brought out a music appreciation cassette, which later became a double cassette album brought out by HMV. Later, the forum brought out a book FAQs in Carnatic music written by me. We have done monthly work shops in Chennai, nearly 40 of them, and about 50 workshops for schools outside Chennai. Another recent feature is the annual lec-dem mela during December, when we feature lec-dems by various musicians for two full days on various aspects of music. Our last initiative was on Manodharma in music and dance. This has also been the springboard for Maithreem bhajatha, a weekly serial on Sankara TV which ran for 100 plus episodes, featuring interviews with leading musicians, and dealing only with musical composers and their compositions. We have archived the most recent compositions of Tanjavur Sankara Iyer, and distributed them free of cost to the students.

What is the biggest challenge facing this initiative?
No real challenge, because I am doing what I can out of a passion. I would be happier if there was more awareness about the initiatives we are taking, because I believe there is a genuine desire amongst the schools to expose children to our culture, as also quite a few individuals interested in sustaining our music. This initiative needs to grow.

What is the constraint - in terms of financial and human resource - for this to grow?
We would need more resources to scale up the initiative, both human and financial.

How easy or difficult to have a network of relationship between artistes, fans and the intermediaries?
The artistes have always been supportive - at least those who have agreed to come on our trips. Fans and intermediaries, too, have been very enthusiastic and dedicated to the cause.

What has been the response from people at large?
After a programme, the children have always been thrilled and happy, especially since we give them prizes and incentives to answer music-related questions. Also, I encounter people who ask me why I have stopped my monthly workshops.

What is the way forward?
Ideally we would like to spread out to non-urban areas, get more music teachers into schools outside Chennai, start a music appreciation club in major towns, deliver lectures on music appreciation at different levels on TV or radio, and start a 24-hour music radio station, or start a one-hour programme every day on a channel like MTV.

Has it been able to bring about a tangible change in the listeners' profile at concerts?
Since most of our programmes are out of town, we would have to ask this to our professional performers who visit these towns. In any case, this is a difficult aspect to measure, unless one has a huge team and network.
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