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Vol. XXVII No. 18, January 1-15, 2018

A Season of frenzy

by V. Karpagalakshmi

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It’s been another December music frenzy with several organisations conducting music and dance programmes totalling to some thousands. The “Season” these days begins even in November due to dearth of auditoria, but the frenzy has been at its zenith from mid-December. Unlike a decade ago, music and dance series are now held throughout the year – we have the Ramanavami festival, the mid-year series, Gokulashtami series, Navaratri festival, NRI festivals, the youth festivals and what have you. Many artists have their annual sojourn ahead. So, what is the outcome of this overkill?

A sense of ennui seems to hit the artists, audience and critics. Many of the reasonably known names perform in all these festivals. When they perform so often it becomes mechanical and lacks involvement. Perhaps they do not even have the time to learn new kriti-s! It must, however, be admitted that some musicians do have the capacity to make a decent job of it, but the efforts of many others are rather sad. A majority of aspiring artists need to have an alternate career as being a full-time musician or dancer is not economically viable, which also possibly does not leave them much time to practise.

(Sartorial concerns too take up considerable time especially among women artists, so that they need to plan and place orders well in time for the December season.)

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During the December season, many sabha-s conduct around five or six concerts a day. Naturally the attendance is poor; particularly during the mid-day slots set aside for aspirants, the listeners are either at lunch or enjoying their siesta in the air-conditioned comfort of the auditorium. How would the musician on stage feel, this in spite of having to pay to get a chance. It is worse for dancers who need to spend a considerable sum for the orchestra, lights, make-up, etc. The concert could just be an addition to their bio-data to hopefully enable them to get a chance the next Season. If they manage to get their fellow students, colleagues, some friends and family to attend, they would be lucky. A sabha secretary once declared, “I can only provide the platform, it is up to the musician to bring the listeners.”

The audience too does not seem to care much about the quality of the concerts; except for a few elderly diehard veterans, the rasika-s are so busy with WhatsApp and Facebook that they are rarely fully aware of what is going on and just applaud mechanically when others do. Anyway clapping is an automatic involuntary action after every item these days irrespective of whether the musician rendered the raga, kriti, and tala properly; these seem immaterial. Many in the audience are busily looking into the programme books to decide which programme and canteen to visit next!

Even during the year, the many regular monthly concerts have led to supply far exceeding the demand – considering the number of sabha-s organising concerts and the number of aspiring or even established artists. You cannot also blame the audience for leaving early as they face problems of transport, traffic and security on the way back home, even though the so-called night concerts end latest by 10 p.m., unlike in the past when they would go on till midnight.

As for the critics, they seem to be as bored as the audience with the often stale music and this is reflected in their reviews which too turn out to be equally stale. Many of them see hesitant to mention anything critical when it concerns a popular artist. Mridanga artists, however, have a valid grievance that critics do not mention anything about them except that they provide percussion support. But the truth is that majority of the critics don’t know much about tala and how it is manipulated. A workshop to improve the critics’ knowledge about percussion details might be a good idea.

I also wonder how the organisers manage it financially with the hall rents, rising maintenance costs, the sound system (which is often an excuse, with the volume chasing people away), particularly when most of the concerts are free. Artists may get a pittance as remuneration compared to the effort they need to put in to learn and practise the art; perhaps that is why their presentations are lacklustre. In order to kindle audience interest, new ideas are being tried out, such as thematic narrations by a speaker with compositions sung by a musician – but these too are becoming rather routine affairs. And, of course, there are jugalbandi-s with some unusual combinations to attract the audience which wants novelty. – (Courtesy: Sruti)

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