Compiled by Lalitha Venkat
January 27, 2009
Artists must ask themselves, what experience are we trying to gain for ourselves and elicit for others, ultimately about values. Entertaining is not a bad word about pandering to the lowest common denominator. It is also about having fun yourself. First touching myself, my contemporaries, my peers, my students, my guru, my society, my God. Audiences must allow this journey, in bringing with it sustained belief and maturity, refinement to your art form.
(Leela Samson, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
The dance scene has so far been inclined towards fashion, hype and jargon, rather than dedication to theme, lyric, music, originality and creativity, except in a few cases. Dance teachers just do not break off from over-flogged compositions and themes, which are very few in number when compared to music, where the compositions are innumerable. This is one major reason for a dance concert in general being banal. When a serious choreographer does turn up, she has to contend with indifferent accompanying artistes who will be required to do much more homework than with the other ("standard") items, in which they will have to reproduce the same tunes, jatis, teermanams, sancharis as they have been doing for years.
There would be practically no need for rehearsals for a "standard menu" - and who wants to slog when he can get his charges by just sitting at the stage for an hour and a half? The cost factor too is more serious in a dance concert. A dedicated choreographer/dancer can get quite frustrated under the circumstances, and originality fails to find an outlet.
(PS Krishanamurti, in 'Raise the standard,' The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
"I have seen fame and money, but once on the stage, I put them all behind me. You should not project your personality, and I am extremely cautious about that. It's not a mere display of my talent. Every performance is a step towards protecting the art, nourishing it. You need to focus all your attention towards that till it becomes your prayer. From the early days, I kept my dance and films apart.
In the name of individual interpretation and freedom of imagination, you are witnessing a lot of unaesthetic elements and amalgamations of styles. Discipline does not seem to be a nice word. Most adopt an aggressive approach for instant recognition. I strongly recommend that you surrender yourself to the art form and see how it elevates the audience."
(Vyjayantimala in 'Complete surrender to the art' by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Music Season, Dec 17, 2008)
I feel today people are beginning to look inward. There is more introspection, and a much more refined approach to art. Yes, Gen Next is slowly waking up to the beauty and uniqueness of our culture. Experiments are happening, which is good. The horizons for dance have expanded and innovation is happening. In fact, now even Nativity plays are done in Bharatanatyam style.
(Sudharani Raghupathy in 'My festival,' The Hindu Music Season, Dec 23, 2008)
In the past, the cognoscenti would come to watch the performances, but even the layman knew enough to spot an error and would demand an explanation from the dancer at once. As for publicity, it would be more word of mouth. Organisers would approach the artists for performances. No one would canvas for performing opportunities. Today's audiences are diverse and this is a natural progression of events.
(Guru Kalyanasundaram in 'Of 'talking' feet' by Vidya Saranyan, The Hindu Friday Review, Dec 26)
Agreed, gone are the days when gurus were nattuvanars-cum-vocalists-cum-composers-cum-choreographers and had a permanent team of accompanying artists (on the violin, mridangam, flute and veena). The dancer just went up on the stage and performed. Yet, we need to make an effort to maintain some discipline of style and tradition.
Wait till you gain a deep understanding of the form and content. In dance, jatis are not merely arithmetical calculations; they are closely linked to the composition and have emotion.
(Swamimalai K Suresh in 'Livewire of the show' by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Music Season, Jan 7, 2009)
Jugalbandis too are nothing more than picnics. Just good fun. Profound musical values don't come out of them. Fusion is an exchange of opinions. Often compromise. Oh, I enjoy it. But true, deep satisfaction comes when you are on the stage by yourself and get lost in the music.
(Shujaat Husain Khan in 'When strings speak,' The Hindu Metro Plus, Nov 11, 2008)
If a vocalist learns an instrument, one can improve and complement the other and one can get a better grasp of the dimension (parimanam) of the gamakas.
Today's youngsters should remember that a musician is enjoying while performing, and communicating this enjoyment to those before him. For this, he needs peace of mind. Guru bhakti, deiva bhakti and family support are the pre-requisites for leading a good life, and this can bring one peace of mind. MS Subbulakshmi was a great singer and a good human being; one could see it on her face.
Bear in mind that there is no substitute to learning directly (Gurumukhamaga) from the guru. As he teaches you, some positive vibrations also pass on to you. It will transform you, surely.
(Geeta Raja in 'One needs peace of mind' by S Sivakumar, The Hindu Friday Review, Nov 21, 2008)
"How do you measure success? Which is the yardstick? Crowd, money, fame and awards? They serve as indicators, yes, but what matters is the quality of music and whether you have fathomed it. It's a question of constant research, as audience taste keeps changing. I think in music, every end is considered a beginning."
(Sudha Raghunathan, in 'Charisma and commitment' by V Balasubramanian, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
Let us ask ourselves - are we offering the best music to audiences? Is audience taste bringing down the level of the performer or is it the other way round? Is it not true that the energy of the deity can reach devotees only if the priest performs puja with total dedication? Can he do so if he sees this as just another profession for his livelihood?
What do we see in concerts? Listeners come and go, eat and drink, chatter, gossip. We know that music has therapeutic values, it is meditation. How can listeners receive these benefits if they do not focus?
Listeners too must help the artist to give his best. If they become visibly impatient for their favourite tukkadas, send impertinent requests for "Madu meikkum kanne" or "Adu pambe" when a grand raga is being presented, the singer begins to doubt whether he is a cowherd, snake charmer or a vidwan. Why not ask for Saveri? "Sri Rajagopalam" is also about Krishna minding the cows!
(Neyveli Santhanagopalan, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
We live in a new world. We are not faced with audiences, but with consumers interested in commodities. If I don't get instant gratification in a concert I have no use for it. Consumers are not audiences.
Artists who compromise lose depth. They don't want to extend into metaphor, or ellipses that spark thought, vision. From the unknowable, unnameable, indescribable they come to the surface as all commodities in the market must be superficial, reduced to an unthinking sensation. By naming the unnameable, they merchandise it.
(Mani Kaul, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
Traditional art forms cannot be sustained without patronage. It is good that the corporate world has come to support them. But they come with their own demands and funny ideas. I know from experience that if we want, we can play our music the way we want and bring the audience to that level. It takes time but it is possible.
(Pt Shivkumar Sharma, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
In the past, great musicians etched their names in the hearts of listeners because they did not compromise values. Today self centred musicians who tamper with values argue that they do it because the audience wants it, without realising that they are lowering music and musicians. Why not establish a rewarding partnership with the audience and move together towards higher goals?
(RK Shriram Kumar, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
With concerts shrinking from four hours to two, and the circuit widening from Tiruvaiyaru to north America and Australia, the artist has to deal with different demands in sabha, temple, wedding and overseas kutcheris. We must not bend down too much but strive to bring listeners to our level in this endless journey of self discovery.
(Nithyasree Mahadevan in Responses to 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
In Carnatic music the need to understand the import of bhakti, religion and bhava is definitely an issue, the import of the lyrics being "divine." It follows that an atheist cannot be a Carnatic musician. You have to believe in God before you start singing. I don't agree with that. There is divinity in music itself. The divinity of Bhairavi, Khamboji, Thodi, is far more important for me as a Carnatic musician than Tyagaraja or Rama. The import in Tyagaraja's compositions is his personal experience as a human being. If he has made it in here in the song then I believe that getting lost in his Thodi is also getting lost in his lyric.
I take great offence at the idea of "lowly cutcheri." You are lowering yourself when you make a statement like that. What's lowly about a concert? The kutcheri by itself is not pandering to people. It is my experience. The audience comes to experience my experience on the stage. I disagree with Tansen. The moment you try to please someone, god or king, there's something wrong, an externality enters - doesn't matter coca cola or Rama. But when the experience is internal, it begins and ends there.
(TM Krishna, in Responses to 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
I feel today's musicians have no time to listen. That is because they are so busy preparing for their own concerts, which are so many during the Season. Besides, everything is much more accessible now thanks to technology – the Internet, DVDs and CDs. I remember when I was young, if I asked to listen to the radio, I would be reprimanded.
Also, I find that it is easy to ascend the concert platform now, equipped with just a handful of pallavis, kritis, thillanas and javalis. That's not how we learnt. Our generation of musicians had a repertoire of over 3,000 kritis!
(Padmavathi Ananthagopalan in 'Learning should never stop,' The Hindu Music Season, Jan 7, 2009)
Does serious art, whether music, dance, cinema or theatre, have to compromise on quality to reach out, to become popular? Does the dissemination of art also inevitably trigger a downslide in standards? Or is it possible to share the best without attrition in quality? How does the artist manage to preserve intensity, subtlety and sophistication, while also reaching out to more and more minds and hearts? How does he or she satisfy the needs of diverse listeners without turning art into a consumer-drive?
The questions are troubling.
(N Murali, in 'Art and audience: Finding the balance' by Gowri Ramnarayan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
The December music and dance season is the time when sponsorship peaks for art. The sponsors vary from small business establishments to big corporate conglomerates. Sponsorship in turn has ushered in the banner culture. If the banners hung outside the premises are an ugly sight, the display inside the hall really mars the ambience.
Smaller the organisations, more the number of banners and smaller the hall, uglier the display. Aesthetics are thrown to the wind as the banners are hung as if they were clothes jostling for space at home during monsoon.
(Charukesi, in 'And the sponsors are...,' The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 1, 2008)
The important question of funding remains. In today's classical music context, we notice the prevalence of "free admission" concerts, organised by patrons of the art form who want greater audience participation. However, a beautiful Behag is sidestepped in favour of bhelpuri at the nearby chat house, a Varali does not curry favour with the audience that buys the first day's tickets to a Varanam Ayiram. My answer to this conundrum is to let things be the way they are. I do not think that classical music ever needs to "compete," nor do I believe that it is "entertainment" on par with the day's movie listings!
(Anil Srinivasan in 'Strokes, ragas 'n reverie,' The New Sunday Express, Dec 28, 2008)
A pure percussion kutcheri can be as enjoyable as a vocal recital because it also has emotion, melody and composed pieces. It is not that you just play whatever comes to the mind. A lot of planning and imagination go into successful tala-vadya kutcheris...It has to be the sound of the soul, not sound of fury.
(Karaikudi Mani in 'Rhythm takes centre stage' by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu, Music Season, Dec 31, 2008)
The pricing of tickets and the whole system is such that there is no way we can see quality performance without shelling out outrageous amounts. Daily tickets range from 600 to 150 at Music Academy, 450 to 100 at Narada Gana Sabha, 500 to 50 at Bharat Kalachar. How can common men afford such amounts and see programs? One cannot buy season tickets as we may like to see programs at different sabhas.
If this trend continues then there would be no more audiences left to see the programs. Persons from the rich and elite without any idea of music, but who find going to kutcheris a fashion statement (attired in their best silk saris and kurtas etc) will make this a farce – it has already become one. I only see people come in cars. I do not find ordinary persons coming in buses or scooters and attending these sessions. If Carnatic music tradition should be preserved, nurtured and encouraged, then something has to be done to change this system. Pressure from rasikas is the only way.
(NS Parameswaran, narthaki discussion forum, Jan 5, 2009)
I noticed that, ironically, it is mostly the mediocre or even rubbish performances, mostly ballets that are ticketed. So I am happy that you think there would be no more audiences left to see the programs!
Ordinary rasikas coming in buses or scooters know very well that they can attend free but truly excellent (ironically, better than the ticketed ones!) performances in Bharat Kalachar or Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, etc.
(Malavika, narthaki discussion forum, Jan 5, 2009)
Some ticketed shows in big sabhas are also presented in other places (or in the morning free slots in the big sabhas) for free - no tickets to buy. If you want to shell out Rs.600 at the Music Academy's evening for Alarmel Valli's, do it if you are in such a big hurry and have to waste your money. But I can wait and go to watch her free recitals.
It is a matter of personal choice, of course. People who do not have money are so poor because they waste their money.
(Meera, narthaki discussion forum, Jan 9, 2009)