Attending Indian Classical Music Performances

Anything that I understand about Indian classical music is attributed to my friend, Ashish Deshpande, who has always shown immense patience in understanding and explaining every doubt/query/criticism.

A couple of weeks back, I attended Swaraanjali hosted by Indian Classical Music and Dance (ICMD) Group at the University of Michigan. Overall, it was a very nice program. However, I felt it lacked something. t is not about the quality of the players – they were really good.

I think the flaw in the program was in not making the listeners identify themselves with what is happening on the stage, or making them feel involved. As long as classical music is not explained in the language of the layman, it will remain the prerogative of those who have the talent to play it. It will remain an activity that should be performed and appreciated.

Just imagine, by translating the Gita to Dnyaneshwari, Dnyaneshwar brought an item that was perceived as complex to the common man! I am not saying that ICMD should have such goals, which would require Herculean efforts, but can they not have small items that can help explain to the audience? Not even once as a small part of an entire evening?

Every time, the common audience claps when the player plays the tabla/mridangam for a long time; or when the singer sings a long note in a single breath. Is that all there is to classical music? Is it not a narrow (and possibly, incorrect) view of Indian classical music? What is the difference between MS Subbalaxmi singing “something” and Asha Bhonsle singing Raat Akeli Hai? Why should I then ever take the effort of listening to the former?

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2 thoughts on “Attending Indian Classical Music Performances

  1. Lalit, this is an interesting observation and I have thought about it for a while now. I think that Indian classical music concerts or any classical music concert is typically catered to the experienced ear. Most of the audience in a professional performance in India are either trained in classical music, or are knowledgable, and therefore can appreciate the unique style of the performer, creativity, or mere skill. However, I have observed concerts performed abroad (to an audience that may not have sufficient knowledge of classical music) by professionals tend to follow the same practice.

    A concept that is catching up in concerts in Chennai especially in veneus such as Kalakshetra are demonstration concerts, where the performer explains each piece along with challenges and particular parts to pay attention to before actually performing the piece. I think this should be the mode of operation for all concerts performed abroad, where a large percentage of the population is ignorant to the art form. I have found such concerts more involving and interesting.

    I am not sure how ICMD concerts can adopt this or if this will better connect the audience with the performance. However, I feel this is important for classical music concerts in general.

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