SESSION : BUILDING BRIDGES WITH THE AUDIENCE
WHAT IS NEEDED ? - A Flexible Approach
Ms. Purvi Parikh
When you talk of bridges you assume that there are two sides which need to be connected. The connection should facilitate better communication, better understanding and, perhaps, eventually a seamlessness which would make the two parts into an organic whole.
In this context, the two sides are obviously the musician on the one hand, and the audience on the other. The imparting and receiving of musical performance is the bridge. The question is, which is the best way in the contemporary scene, to build a bridge that would make the musician and the audience participate and enjoy the highest level of aesthetic pleasure produced by the music created by the performer and heard by the listener?
Tradition & Change
An Indian classical musician is by temperament and training, a traditionalist. Our music has deep and strong roots going back to ancient times. Moreover, the tabric of our music is rich, subtle and very sophisticated. But tradition does not and cannot close its doors to change. If we look back in history, we see music changing form and expression, musical thought flowing in one direction, dividing, rejoining and evolving. Evolution is the keyword. It is the law of nature and everything and everyone is subjected to it.
The contemporary scene
It is true, however, that today, the pace of change has quickened. The dynamics of change are all pervasive, overwhelming all areas of life. Technology has made the, world one. Our musicians no longer limit their arena of performance within the country but are world travellers. Likewise, the audience no longer is national, but international, no longer a class of connoisseurs but an undifferentiated mass. The amplification system ensures a crowd instead of a gathering at a performance; the T.V., a viewer ship where a broadcast of classical music could make for marginal listening; audio cassettes, CDs and videos, an audience of unimaginable numbers. Fame and commerce are two other factors that enter the playing field.
Dilemma of the Artist
Today's musician and performer is pitched precariously between tradition on one hand and his need to reach out to an undifferentiated audience on the other. After all, a musician cannot exist in a vaccum. He needs to communicate his creation to an audience. He also has to earn a living from his art. He cannot shut himself in an ivory tower of tradition and address himself to those very few who would appreciate the quality of his music. His dilemma is 'What does the audience want?'
Let us analyze the audience mix. There are basically three kinds of people in - today's audience. The 1st category is, of course, the very small elite group of connoisseurs who have a deep understanding of the music itself. The 2nd, which forms the major bulk, is what one may call "Kanrasiyas" who do not really understand the intricacies of raga and taal but enjoy the music. The 3rd category of audience is neither knowledgeable nor aware of music, but is there because they want to be seen, or because it is the fashionable thing to do. These are the culture-vultures.
The musician has to address himself to all these three categories. It would, obviously, be difficult to please all. If you try to please all, you end up pleasing none. At the same time good music has the qualities which can reach to various people at various levels. A good piece of music will appeal to a connoisseur at one level, a layman at another level and a knowledgeable person at a third level. When musical theory was conceived, it never talked of the elite as the only audience. The definition of raga was "Ranjko janachittanam sa raga kathitho bhavet". "Jana" is the common man. "Jana " is not elite. "Jana " is not sophisticated. It was always the intention that music should reach out to the common man.
Flexibility versus compromise
How does the musician then, reach out to his audience, today? How should he present his music? Every musical performance has two aspects - matter and manner, "babat" and "tarika ". The musician has to be flexible enough to tailor both "babat" and "tarika " to communicate successfully with his audience. But flexibility has to be monitored with caution. Flexibility is one thing and compromise another. A musician must reorient his performance to suit the audience mix, but never by compromising his values at the altar of popularity and commerce. The musician should make an effort not to give the audience what they want, but what they need. He must consciously put forth his music in a manner by which he would raise the level of understanding of the audience to his level. Public taste is what you make of it and it is the responsibility of the artiste to use means and ways to raise the audience understanding. In fact, if the artiste does not take that upon himself as a moral duty, it would spell danger for the future of our classical music. Never before was classical music made to face such an organized onslaught of popular taste and music. The popular has finally risen, as it were, against the classical. It is imperative, therefore, that the musician must be flexible, must reorient his presentation, must make a conscious effort to demystify, as it were, his music, to be able to retain his dwindling audience. But, of course, without compromising his music and his dignity.
The flexible approach
How does the artiste go about being flexible? The musician must firstly understand the pulse of his audience, and then reorient his performance to suit their level of understanding and aesthetic pleasure. Category three audience of culture-vultures should enter the realms of the "Kanrasiyas" and the "Kansens" to the realms of the connoisseurs. The musician should therefore, take great care in the selection of his items. He should also pay attention to the length of the items, keeping in view the audience receptivity. Some value-added explanations of the raga and taal and the intricacies of the music he intends to put before them would also be of great help. There should always be a judicious balance between content and expression. Further, the proper use of the amplification system can go a long way in making a performance successful. Stage presence is another important factor. All these considerations would contribute greatly in educating the audience to a level where they can enjoy the real flavour of our classical music.
In conclusion, we can say that it is imperative to be flexible, but without compromising tradition. On the other hand no tradition has all-time validity. Tradition is that which changes every moment and it is we, who don't step with it, that lag behind. Tradition, must and does, go ahead.
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