Above her workstation at advertising agency FCB Ulka, Minitha Saxena, vice-president, has hung a light bamboo flute. Every time she gets off her chair, it gives her a gentle knock on the head. Wacky as it is, the idea serves to remind her of a lesson she learnt a month ago from the life story of a legend of Carnatic music, G.N. Balasubramaniam: that it pays to be persistently distinct.
The very good-looking Balasubramaniam was one of the seven Carnatic wizards who featured in an offbeat workshop for 120 busy executives that connected classical music with the principles of creativity in business. At the event, popular classical singers Bombay Jayashri and T.M. Krishna brought alive stories of the legendary musicians. And pitching in with connected lessons in management was R.S. Sridhar, music lover and innovation coach from IDEAS-RS.
“Typically, these management workshops are very boring. But the stories and the music made it a really lively session,” says Saxena, whose idea of using the giveaway flute as a reminder of the event was recently voted the best by IDEAS-RS.
Another source of corporate inspiration was the late mridangam master Palghat Mani Iyer. He had a great stage trick to hook audiences. He would take his hands off the mridangam while the main artiste carried on. During the ensuing silence of the drum, fans would watch his hands in gleeful suspense, waiting to see how he would re-enter the song. And the magic never failed.
The crowd-pleaser he was, Iyer would have loved to know that his strategy was coming in handy to teach executives the power of inventiveness. “You realize that true excellence and greatness lies in sharing your talent with the community. That you could be a great intellectual, but it means little if you don’t impart it to those around you. After all, these artistes were ordinary human beings till they decided to let their talent touch a chord in others,” says Lynn De Souza, director of media services at Lintas India.
The source for the workshop was the coffee-table book on the seven Carnatic musicians, Voices within Carnatic Music: Passing on an Inheritance, by Krishna and Jayashri.
Krishna, who is among the youngest Carnatic singers to hit the top slot in concerts, believes there is much to be learnt from the life and times of these musical giants. Each had his/her unique strategy to establish a connect with the listeners. M.S. Subbulakshmi, for instance, believed in making her music spiritual and uplifting. Balasubramaniam added great flair and style to his singing. And T.R. Mahalingam wowed audiences as an untameable maverick.
“Musicians build this bridge instinctively, changing, modifying their styles all the time. This, we felt, should also apply to how businesses work,” says Krishna, who, along with Jayashri, runs the organization Matrka in Chennai to create a new platform for Carnatic music. “And what really thrilled us was that many of the participants had no clue about Carnatic music and came with open minds.”
For want of exposure, Carnatic music is generally seen as a stodgy system in other parts of the country. An online survey done just before the event showed up some predictable results: one, that many associate Carnatic music with only Subbulakshmi. And that many found it “boring”. It was even more challenging that more than 80% of the audience were not South Indians and had few opportunities to hear Carnatic music.
But Krishna and Jayashri held the attention of the audience with their great skills as raconteurs and singers. But then, says Sridhar, they were not planning to convert the audience into keen lovers of Carnatic music. “We just wanted a fair hearing. And it is an added bonus that some participants said they wanted to understand more about this music,” says Sridhar.