Presentation of Music
Independent India, almost inevitably, has thrown up a new set of music promoters, organizers, patrons backed by the might of government but more definitely and surely by the money power of the Corporate giants. Gone are the days of selective patronage of the erstwhile Maharajas and Nawabs. We have now huge concerts/Utsavs/Festivals which combine music promotion, public relations, product promotion, selective grooming of chosen artists, heavy media and press coverage, and above all “mass” listening by varied and motley audiences. Whatever the professions might be, sublime music cannot and is perhaps not meant to be presented and promoted in these huge functions. It has to be very clearly understood that presentation of music in such gatherings really calls for not only riyaz but preparations of a special type, music of a type that will be readily accepted and appreciated, music specially tailored to accommodate artistic and power packed tabla and rhythmic accompaniment. Catholicity, restraint and following time honoured traditional method of presentation including the choice of melodies are finally not of any great relevance. On one side we have the performers lined up for entertaining and innovative performances and on the other a vast group of listeners awaiting this presentation with almost a baited suspense and longing. At every turn, both sides look out for some suspense, some surprise, some twists and the inevitable bouts or better known as “spin offs” with the drummer. A discerning watcher must watch both the sides carefully to understand what is going on. The finale or concluding part is one of great speed or tayyari to which the performer has accustomed him by rigorous practice of years. The listeners have got so used to such endings that nothing else will really satisfy them. The long and short of the whole thing is a series of standardized and stereotyped recitals whether vocal or instrumental. The appetite for something new and exciting all the time has become so strong, that loyalty to silsila or tradition is becoming less and less relevant for both the performers and the listeners.
Earlier on, the artists usually trained the listeners to a higher taste, to the refinements and nuances of raga music both during vistar and layakari. With the passing away of very many masters, the few leading musicians cleverly sized up the new situation. They started titillating the audience with lighter stuff rubbing off the serenity of classical music to which we have referred in the chapter on gharanas. Later they said that the audience wanted all this, and still later the new promoters coined a new phrase on commercial analogy—”audience demand”. What a marvelous travestry of truth? Never, never in the long history of music the listeners wanted the cheapening or denigration of music and made such absurd demands on the performing artists. In this nefarious game, the clever amongst the performers had, what may be described as, a vast body of musically untrained illiterate listeners who were actually “defenseless”. They were new to listening of real classical music and the artists used them to their advantage and brought about a new style of music presentation. Such music was often good, intelligently devised, imaginatively presented, intermixed with new innovations and the open minded listeners accepted this music as authentic quite innocently and gracefully. We do not know if loud protests and opposition by persons highly placed in the music world could have arrested or reversed this trend. But apparently, by an irony of fate and circumstances, all opposition, all dissent fell silent. Thus it is how that neo-classicism gained the upper hand and within just 15 or 20 years of independence the really solid and trained band of musicians openly came to be described as “old timers” or “fundamentalists”. As a performing musician, I regret to have to say all this. But what answer can logically be given to the million dollar question “Since when has classical music ceased to be classical?” For a practitioner of classical music is it a sin or crime to be classical? No one now appears to be bothered with fundamental questions. The philosophy appears to be that nothing succeeds like success and that even classics must ultimately “conform” to what the public wants. This reminds me of the story of a well placed person in politics who was asked, during a controversy, which side he belonged to. After a small pause, he promptly replied that he was with the side which “would” be in the majority. In short, we are reaping the result of unchecked populism in classical music. Money has come into music with benefits of fame, wealth and awards for the artists. Which intelligent artist will take the risk of being introspective, inward looking except at his own peril?
A rather critical and pessimistic view has been presented above; in all fairness the brighter features must also be mentioned. Inspite of the changed atmosphere there has been the emergence of fresh and brilliant talent reminiscent of old maestros. Many highly educated musicians have taken to music as their profession. Quite a few of the celebrities who are old timers have stuck to the traditional norms. Only a few of the well known artists have tended to be excessively innovative and sometimes adventurist. One still hears really good recitals on the concert stage today. Nothing is lost in art and with its excellent resilience; classical music has shown and will show great retrieval powers. Every major change or transition tends to put our values in the melting pot but soon the forces of revival reappear and things again settle down on an even keel.