7 Qualities should look in a Music Critic
The basic question, therefore, must be the norms or standards of reporting of music. We have to identify the qualities of good music reporting and build up musical opinion in support of such qualities. What are the qualities we should look for in a music critic?
- The foremost quality of a music critic is obviously his commitment to authentic music and its traditions. In other words, the music critic should have a fair measure of knowledge or understanding of our musical system to be able to fairly assess the skill and content of the music artist’s performance.
- The second quality of a music critic is a judicial sense of impartiality or neutrality. This is indispensable irrespective of the cross currents of gharana rivalries, prejudices and above all overt support by some newspapers to certain artists stars or celebrities. Some venerate artists are either not well or adequately commented upon or worse still completely blacked out from reviews. This is totally unfair and a travesty of justice. We have on the other some chosen artists and very often those who have attended the concerts in question are surprised to see the vast gap between what was performed and what reported in the press. Both these position are wrong and must be deprecated in very strong terms.
- The thirds quality of a music critic is precision in the language of music reporting. One often comes across reviews where the play up of words and phrased is such that nothing really emerges from the review. Worse still, such reviews may mean something or many things to different readers.
- Critical Music reporting is becoming quite difficult and complex on account of the vastly increased number of music concerts. There is apparently a mismatch between the music concerts to be covered and the number of good and experienced musical critics available. One feels that there is a case for some appraisal training courses or workshops in major cities for the music critics who are functioning today. Very senior critics of music reputed for their empirical outlook may act as leaders in these seminars and workshops. Increased exposures and cross fertilization of experience should be useful. Musical Concerts can be arranged at the workshops and the participants may bring out their reviews. These reviews can be openly discussed and the artists on whom the reviews have been written should be invited to attend and react to the comments. We do not want any verbal duels, challenges or counter challenges but only a free and frank exchange of ideas. This would at least remove lot of doubts, confusion or suspicions and a greater feeling of understanding might grow. The idea certainly deserves a fair trial. This type of workshop discussion has not perhaps been seriously attempt in our country so far, although we have workshops galore on many subjects.
- Music critics must also not be used for omnibus purposes. A music critic on classical music should not be asked to cover a folk or light music or devotional music concert as this leads to dissipation of effort and the situation is not also fair to the artist performing in such concerts.
- The most ticklish issue, however, relates to the selection of music critics by the news paper managements. No norms appear to have been developed on this issue. There is perhaps also no clear policy of the newspapers regarding musical criticism. This matter also deserves careful consideration since a few performing musicians of standing are clearly seen to be enjoying the support and blessings of some of the Press Barons and also of industrials tycoons. Much depends clearly on the policy of press managements on musical criticism and coverage as also on the quality of persons picked up to work as music critics by the newspapers. Perhaps much more thought has to go into this entire subject than seems to have been done so far.
- It would be a splendid idea to regularly invite and encourage active participation of music critics in seminar discussions on different facets of classical music. Their interaction will be useful with both performing musicians and musicologists and other interests connects with the teaching, propagation and evaluation of music such as the U.G.C. the Universities, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, All India Radio, Fm Radio, Doordarshan and a host of other prestigious institutions.
The subject of musical criticism and assessment by the press is indeed far too complex today and it would be highly impertinent for anyone to prescribe a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for the music critics. It is really a question of developing norms of functioning, a free play of honest and objective opinion, a sense of fearlessness, in other words a standard and pattern of reporting which can be called balanced, fair and neutral. These are the qualities which were should cherish and cultivate so that food, traditional and creative music can be encouraged and the listeners may gradually bed helped to develop a higher taste in our classical music. It is not that some of our music critics are not living up to these responsibilities. Many of them are doing very well indeed and to them we give our salutations. For the rest, all we can hope is that the qualities we are looking for will develop in them over a period of time on the basis of experience and self introspection. The artists and listeners have great expectations from them. Let us conclude with our deepest regards and felicitations to all our music critics’ friends for the difficult job they are already doing under quite trying circumstances and wish them god speed and support from all quarters.