Date:08/01/2007 URL:
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The peregrinating Academy


When Sriram.V recently took a group on the trail of the peregrinating Music Academy and followed it up with an even more detailed lecture at the TAG Centre about that meandering trail, he surprised even those connected with the Academy with the number of places to which it moved over the years. In fact, even most of the elders in the audience had not heard of some of the places. Perhaps this item will bring in more information about some of the locations where the Academy had temporarily `camped.'

The first suggestion that a "Musical Academy" be started was voiced at a meeting held in 1926 in the Saundaraya Mahal in Govindappa Naicken Street, George Town. The seed sprouted in a pandal put up on the dry bed of the Spur Tank where the first conference was held in December 1927. The performances were held in the Museum Theatre and the conference secretariat functioned from the Rama Rau Clinic in Thambu Chetty Street. Seven prominent donors made the events of December 1927 possible: Annamalai Chettiar (later to receive the titles Raja and Sir), the Raja of Parlakimedi, the Zamindar of Seithur, K. Nageswara Rao Pantulu, K. Suryanarayana Murthi Naidu, K. S. Jayarama Iyer and T. R. Venkatarama Sastriar. In a curious turn of events, many of these initial sponsors were to become the founders of the Tamil Isai movement and figure in a stormy clash of ideas with the stalwarts of the Music Academy in later years.

When the Music Academy was formally inaugurated on August 18, 1928, it was at the James McConaughy Hall in the YMCA at the edge of the Esplanade, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar doing the honours. With Dr. Rama Rau, a legendary George Town physician and a Member of the Legislative Assembly, elected the first president of the Academy, its office continued to be in his clinic, which is today the site of the Rama Rau Building. The first Annual Conference of the Academy was held in March 1929 and its venue was the University of Madras' Senate House.

The next conference was held in Mani Iyer's Hall, Raja Hanumantha Lala Street, Triplicane. (I wonder what its history is.) Its next venue, where it stayed put for a few years, was a pandal erected annually behind Ripon Buildingin People's Park. It then moved to two spacious gardens on General Patter's Road, first to a house called The Funnels(now presumably occupied by auto spares dealers -- or am I wrong?) and then to Lodd Govindoss's premises. The next move was to a venue not too far away, the gardens and home that belonged to the Raja of Ramnad on Westcott Road, Royapettah, and which in time became the property of building contractor Munivenkatappa, who in the 1930s teamed up with K. Krishna Rao to establish there the first Woodlands Hotel.

The World War II years saw the Conference back at Senate House, then, for a dozen years till 1954 at three venues in Mylapore -- Sundareswarar Hall of the Rasika Ranjani Sabha (for inaugurations and some concerts), the P.S. High School (for concerts) and the National Girls' School (later known as the Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls' School) for lec-dems. The P.S. High School continued to be the venue for concerts till the present hall, the Academy's own property, was inaugurated in 1962. The conferences, however, were held in pandals raised at the present site annually from 1955. The Academy's offices too, moved here soon after the property was acquired in 1946. Between the Rama Rau Clinic days and 1946, the offices moved from Philip's Street, George Town, to 306 Thambu Chetty Street, Kasturi Building in Royapettah, and Kesari Kuteeram on Westcott Road, the home of Dr. Kesari who ran the Telugu magazine Gruhalakshmi.

The present offices, halls, library and training college of the Academy are located on a 28- ground property whose centrepiece was once a house called Sweet Home, owned by Ethiraja Pillai. This was bought, with the help of the Indian Bank, for Rs.1.6 lakh.

Sweet Home was demolished in 1957 to make way for the present building, which owes much to the Rs.1.5 lakh M.S. Subbulakshmi raised from several concerts. Subbulakshmi, whose first concerts were at the Academy, had been banished from its portals when she joined the Tamil Isai movement.

T.T. Krishnamachari, who had played a signal role in the banning, was equally instrumental in bringing her back to the Academy's stage and getting her to sing for the benefit of the Academy's auditorium. The auditorium was named after him in 1974.


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