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Sunday kutcheri in park - a platform for unsung children



It is the flagship company of a traditional and reputed industrial house in the city of Chennai. It is no surprise then that the highly regarded Sundaram Finance Ltd. has chosen to revive and conserve the traditional concert format for Carnatic music. By organizing a concert at the park every first Sunday of a month, the non-banking finance company (which has been providing a safe opportunity for investors to grow their money sans risk) has spread out a solid platform to discover the hidden talent among the children in the traditional art of Carnatic music. In an interview to K.T. Jagannathan, T.T. Srinivasaraghavan, Managing Director, Sundaram Finance Ltd., shares his thoughts on the concept of concert in park, its impact and influence.

Why did SFL pick this Park concert model?
T.T. Srinivasaraghavan: The Kutcheri in the Park has been (and continues to be) an integral part of the Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival, which we started 5-6 years ago. The idea behind the Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival was to use the spaces in this heritage zone (Mylapore) to host events related to local heritage and lifestyle that not only reminds us of the past but also provides an opportunity to unearth and showcase hidden talent.

The Kutcheri in the Park was one of the highlights of the Mylapore Festival. The morning walkers in the park and the music connoisseurs, who gathered at the park to listen to the Kutcheri, as well as the artistes themselves, suggested that we make this a regular feature so more artistes could benefit from this. The encouragement from the audience led to the Sundaram Finance Sunday Kutcheri in the Park. Since February 2006, we have been organizing the Kutcheri on the first Sunday of every month between 6.30 am and 7.30 am at the Nageswara Rao Park in Mylapore. The idea behind the Sundaram Finance Sunday Kutcheri in the Park is to promote young musical talent aged below 15 years and to provide a launch pad for them.

We did not want to disturb the peace of the morning walkers with loud music and, hence, consciously stayed away from mikes and speakers. Also, being an open air kutcheri, amidst falling leaves and curious birds chirping around the park, we believed that we would be able to bring out the best in the children if they performed without the help of mikes and speakers.

Later on, several music gurus, whose students have performed here, acknowledged that the absence of mikes and speakers made the children put in more effort. And this, the music teachers believe, has brought in quite an unexpectedly better performance from the artistes.

What has been the response from participants (individuals and institutions)?
TTS: The interest from participants over the last 2 ½ years has been overwhelming. We have had suggestions, of late, to increase the frequency of the Sunday Kutcheri in the Park to twice a month. We have had applications from all over Chennai. Children from Chrompet, Vandalur, and Valsarvakkam, among other locations in Chennai, have performed at the park. We have also had enquiries from Pondicherry, Coimbatore Trichy, Vellore, Bangalore and Neyveli to participate in the Kutcheri in the Park.

It is especially heartening to learn that children who have performed at the Sunday Kutcheri have gone on to perform at Sabhas. A few of them have had the opportunity to perform in popular television music shows. One or two have even received calls from music directors.

A visiting NRI (non-resident Indian) who came to the park for his morning walk heard the Sunday Kutcheri in the Park (performed that morning by a set of students from a school in Vandalur, on the outskirts of Chennai) and reached out to help the financially poor children in the school.

More recently, we have had children from the U.S. and Dubai performing at the Kutcheri in the Park. These children applied via the Internet by sending CDs, for evaluation by our audition committee.

Our objective was to make this Sunday kutcheri in the Park a small stepping stone for young children with musical talent and provide them with an opportunity to perform in front of an audience, and shed their inhibitions. Based on the feedback from the artistes and their parents, I think we have made fair progress on that front in these last 2 years.

What does it take to organize such park concerts?
TTS: As in anything, for a start, it needs passion and commitment to make it happen month on month. We spend a fair bit of management time in taking care of minute details. From a performance quality perspective, we wanted to make sure that there is a certain minimum performance standard at the Sunday Kutcheri. Hence, we set up an audition committee with experienced people to conduct the audition. Processing of applications and co-ordinating with the artistes also takes time. We have also assisted the artistes by helping find accompanists like mridangam, ghatam and violin artistes.

Being an open air Kutcheri in the Park, there is the risk of rain. However in the last 2 ½ years, there has been just one kutcheri that has had to be postponed. On one occasion, we have had members from Sundaram Finance holding up umbrellas so the artistes could continue the performance in the drizzle.

In order to encourage the participants and to recognize their efforts, we present certificates and mementos after each Kutcheri.

How about the audience for such concerts (for one, it is held early morning. for another, it is given by kids)?
TTS: The audiences have actually been very receptive and have quite liked the concept. They, in fact, were responsible for prevailing on us to make this a regular ongoing feature at the park from the one off Kutcheri we used to organise during the Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival. We have often found that the regular morning walkers at the park stay back (after their walk) to enjoy the Kutcheri and to appreciate the young children. Over time, the first Sunday of every month has become a regular feature in the calendar for several of the music connoisseurs and morning park walkers.
 
What is the next stage in this kind of park concerts?
TTS: In the last two years, several people have suggested that we take the ‘Kutcheri in the Park’ to other locations, other neighbourhoods. But our objective was to make this, in our own little way, a platform for young children to perform without inhibition that could be replicated in other parts of the city.

We have had people from other locations visiting us to understand our model, so they could replicate this in their own local parks. We were quite pleased to hear that recently a couple of other parks in Chennai have adopted this Kutcheri in the park model. This is indeed very gratifying.
Is there a system within that provides for hand-holding the `talent' to next level?
TTS: Our objective is to provide a platform for children to perform, in front of an audience. This we believe will give them the confidence to move up to the next level. In fact, we have already had instances of these children getting opportunities to perform in sabhas and television shows. Children who have performed here have also cut their own CD album. We will continue to focus on making this a launch pad for young children.

Why only kids? There are lots of `unsung' heroes/heroines among artistes, who are talented but have not had the platform to exhibit their wares. Can SFL do something to them?
TTS: That is very true. But we chose to focus on young children- ‘catch them young’, sort of thing. We restricted it to children below 15 years as we believed that this would help them shed their inhibitions and give them the confidence to grow up to the next level. To all of us at Sundaram Finance, the first Sunday of every month is their ‘Day’. The young children are the ‘stars’ of the show.

At the moment, we are focused developing this as a platform for young ‘unsung’ children.

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