The Anatomy of a Disengaging Audience.
Being dad to a toddler doesn’t give me many options to experience all the cool things about Bangalore, except the weather. So, when an opportunity presented itself, I promptly checked Indian Stage and found this one happening close to my home.
Now I am a big fan of Fusion music. Anyone experimenting with Hindustani and Carnatic classical music with other genres will find an eager audience in me. So Classic Beethoven meets Thyagaraja was as tantalizing pitch as one can make to have me scurry to the venue and grab a seat in time.
Let me quickly make a point here. I am not a music critic. I am just an average music lover, and a very ignorant one given that I didn’t know about the fine artists who performed until the concert day.
As the time for the concert approached, a bus load of young enthusiastic foreigners made their way into the auditorium. They were students from the Kelley School of Business. The stage was set. Arguably two of the finest proponents of western and carnatic traditions, on instruments that epitomize the two genres – the Piano and Saraswati Veena – coming together to present to an international audience right here in India. Oh boy, the foreigners are going to be mesmerized by what's going to come, I thought. I breathed in the silent expectation in the air and exhaled a calm pride.
2 hours later, the expectation lay waste and the pride dissipated. So what happened. Here is what happened.
In layman’s speech, Shri Anil started off with a lilting western classical piece on the piano and skilfully eased into a carnatic raaga. Dr. Jayanthi quickly matched the fine opening with her own presentation on the veena. It was a good beginning alright but then that was it.
Great concerts (the ones that we feel are more than our money’s worth) have a great beginning and go on to serve a smorgasbord of musical emotions in a rousing crescendo. Great concerts are also those that transform even the ignoramuses among the patrons into blithe performers, who joyfully foot tap or clap in (or out of) rhythm to the music.
Disappointingly this was not to be. All the elements presented seemed alike in their character. Like a string of many beginnings. Of all the pieces in the ensemble, the percussionist (Shri Pramath Kiran on the Tabla) provided accompaniment to roughly only half of them. When this happens, you know that the concert didn’t have the verve to make the nerves in the audiences’ feet tingle into life.
So when do you know you are losing your audience. I was sitting way back in the auditorium (yes, the cheapest ticket) which presented the anatomy of a disengaging audience as it happened.
First the spine slides. Then the neck tries to find the firm part of the back of the seat to rest itself, gingerly avoiding the prickly sewn ridges of the material. A while later, the eyes close. At this point, the audience is no more in the concert, but in an airport lounge listening (or just hearing?) to the piped music. They come back to life when they hear the sound of claps indicating an end of a piece. They join politely.
From the back of the hall, I could see that, for the first quarter of the concert, they were more alert heads per row. By half time, a quarter of them were leaning back. Three quarters into the concert more than half had disengaged. Yes, there were a few who flipped out their phones and merged into the online chaos too.
This said there were a couple of things that deserve a special mention. Firstly, the artists introduced their presentations with interesting parables. This was a nice innovation. Secondly, they involved children (apparently students of Dr. Jayanthi) into one of the last items. It was pleasant and broke the monotony. Below is a low quality phone capture of that piece.
This reminded me of an item that I heard in an earlier concert of Shri Balamurali Krishna. He introduced it as a keertana styled in the western tradition by none other than Thyagaraja he said. Curious? Listen to that below.
The artists also presented a piece by Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman in his memory, which was touching. Another positive of the concert is that it was presented by Twaang, the mobile music library. On their website they say – We have an impressive collection of legends and contemporary artists of Indian Classical music. Explore, Discover and Enjoy!
Now that is already music to any lover of Indian classical music. It is currently an Android application only. It is also free and that really concerns me. Good things in life needn’t be free. I’d rather pay for the service than have it for free and risk it becoming an unsustainable business and therefore die. I am curious about the business model here.
We were told the two artists who performed would also make their oeuvres available on Twaang. I can’t wait for the iOS version to come out.
As for the concert, artists have no obligation to please an uninvited audience when they are jamming, but for a concert, I hope they come up with a better selection of items in the future and keep the satisfaction of their audience in mind.
Soon after the concert, I rushed to catch Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The movie presented a much needed alternate discourse on fundamentalism and militarism. But the reason I brought up the movie here is the music. The movie opens to this mesmerizing modern rendition of the qawwali. Enjoy.