The two sessions of Samvada recently organised by Sampradaya had enthusiastic participation of musicians Vijay Siva, E. Gayathri (veena) and K.V. Prasad (mridangam) and critics Gowri Ramnarayanan, Seetha Ravi and VSV with the moderator S. Thyagarajan on the first day and on the second of artistes and Rasikas. The questions raised on the first session were: can a critic look at the artists objectively irrespective of their status? Do musicians and critics interact and discuss each others’ views? Do the two review their own mistakes?
Vijay Siva felt that artists should not try to influence the critics and it would be better not to become close friends with them; “Often many good things are not known outside; for instance, how many know that the Music Academy insists that only real Tambura be used in concerts?” while critics should be honest to the musicians as well as the target audience, the musicians also needed to be honest about what they took to the public and accept when mistakes are pointed out, as much as they accepted praise.
According to Seetha Ravi some journals prefer not to offend popular artists; she regretted that many Tamil writers used objectionable language; besides not many editors have a knowledge of music or dance. Senior journalist VSV said that generally critics tried to be objective, but musicians would rarely accept when they were informed of mistakes. He added that Tamil magazines carried the information to lakhs of people and dealt with only what happened on a particular day. Both confirmed that they had space constraint and needed to consider what their readers were interested in; besides there were not many writers in Tamil with a knowledge of music and dance.
In Gowri’s opinion there has been no change for many years; also reviews did not have any impact either on the artist or the public; therefore she would prefer to give a holistic picture of an artist through feature articles.
For Gayathri the press has always been kind; but she was ready to listen if her mistakes were pointed out; nevertheless just one concert should not be the measure of a musician’s talent, since he/she might be having some problem of which the audience was not aware. Critics too could have personal prejudices.
According to Seetha what mattered was whether the musician did well what he came to do; some basic issues had to be pointed out. She rued the fact that many a time counter reviews were manoeuvered. She also wondered if reviews were really relevant, as within minutes information reached all over the world thanks to internet. Were readers/rasikas interested in reading reviews?
“Several persons are writing during the music season; is there any qualification needed to be a critic?” Gowri and others agreed that not many had much knowledge of layam; but Prasad felt that one could express what one felt and not necessarily know about layam.
A heated argument ensued about referring to books and even laptops while singing in a concert. Seetha felt that if seniors did it, juniors followed suit and the standard got diluted in general. Vidwan G.S. Mani from the audience questioned why laptop should not be used for reference, since it was natural to forget.
VSV thought that it would be good if the tambura could be used even from the junior level; but many could not afford to pay the tambura artist. Gayathri observed that most tambura artists did not know how to tune the instrument.
According to Siva, Tamil magazines had to cater to both the uninitiated and the knowledgeable; but readers of English newspapers were better informed. It was generally felt that Sampradaya could conduct periodic workshops for critics in general and in particular about layam.
The participating musicians on the second day were Vedavalli, Sudha Raghunathan and Mannargudi Easwaran (mridangam) and rasikas Narasimhan, Kannan and Bharathwaj, with Aruna Ranganathan as moderator.
Narasimhan had many interesting and humorous anecdotes from the past. He said good rasikas inspired musicians to perform well. Vedavalli felt that there was no point in comparing; earlier concerts took place in villages, and the sense of insecurity was absent. But it was important to preserve the purity of our classical music. Music should elevate both the artist and the audience, she said.
Mannargudi Easwaran was irked about the behaviour of some rasikas who sit in front and read newspapers; also they did not care for the accompaniments. After all musicians also faced a lot of problems on the stage, but still tried to do their best; they could get recognition only with the support of the audience.
Kannan is a rasika, who makes it a point to attend concerts by all musicians be it senior or junior. According to him the major problem was over amplification. Narasimhan said that some listeners actually wanted louder output.
Sudha declared that “kutcheri dharmam” should be preserved. When a musician enjoyed his/her own singing, even if there were only ten people present, it was ok; discerning listeners expected a certain standard; innovation should be within that framework; an artist had to satisfy all types of rasikas and should feel the pulse. Rasikas too should follow certain etiquette and try to respect the challenges faced by the artist on the stage.
Even if sound is checked before a concert, things may go wrong when the curtain goes up. “Chamber music without mike is certainly more interesting,” Bharat summed up.
The conversation turned to thematic concerts. Whose idea is it? Both artists and organisers contribute. Sudha enjoyed the challenge of planning a thematic one. The place of thani in a concert, niraval and so on came up for discussion. Also mentioned was the audience habit of passing on requests.
How can children be attracted to Carnatic music? Bharat said that it was the duty of the elders at home to make the effort. Kannan and Bharat rued that there was not much response for instrumental music particularly for the veena. In conclusion Vedavalli said that it was audience enjoyment and not knowledge that should be given priority.
Keywords: Samvada, Sampradaya, iva, E. Gayathri, veena, K.V. Prasad, mridangam, Gowri Ramnarayanan, Seetha Ravi, VSV, S. Thyagarajan, Vedavalli, Sudha Raghunathan, Mannargudi Easwaran, mridangam, Narasimhan, Kannan, Bharathwaj, Aruna Ranganathan