Training and teaching the youth to appreciate Carnatic music ensures its survival and enrichment.

India is a country of youth. Over 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 35. Yet, a look at the people attending Carnatic concerts seems to belie that statement. Although the audience is in the same age group, there is no diversity in the makeup of listeners. The middle class brigade from one community (to borrow from Valayapatti’s Sangita Kalanidhi acceptance speech) dominates. Will the situation evolve?

It is true that with a bit of active involvement at the beginning and gradual exposure, Carnatic music enters our veins. Other genres such as Western or film music make less demands on us. I believe that many of us have the ability to relate to Carnatic music, but unfortunate circumstances have fenced out the younger generation and robbed them of this right to musicality.

Radio as a past time has disappeared, except for listening to the inane compering by FM RJs. All India Radio did the trick of recruiting early listeners to Carnatic music in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Their programmes were thoughtful and, despite bureaucratic insinuations, had quality. What can AIR do to recreate the same passion for listening to Carnatic music ?

Schools played their roles too. We always had a classical music teacher, who would take classes for one or two periods every week. Competitions and concerts supplemented this training. In a class of 40 or 50, there would be about 10 who related to classical music. I am sure they form some of the core audiences today.

School syllabus

Many schools do not have classical music in their syllabus anymore (nor for that matter, visual arts or drama) and the cultural link is broken. I am not sure if the state or national syllabi mandate teaching of classical music. There are, of course, laudable private initiatives to take music to the youth. Given that Carnatic music takes time to sink in, can it be compensated by the two or three-day student-led events?

It is an irony of sorts that there is a lot of effervescent youth among the performers’ club. This includes a number of full-time musicians and many who have forgone lucrative alternative careers abroad to pursue Carnatic music. Western listeners have also started to attend Carnatic concerts in larger numbers. Are we waiting for them to teach us the value of Carnatic music as they seem to be doing with yoga and ayurveda?

The community of learners is large too. Apparently, one of the leading gurus from a prominent school has about 250 students. There are about 10 such gurus. That makes it at least 2500 students, perhaps more. Why are these students not attending concerts and what is the guru’s role in cultivating that habit? The pertinent question is, do the gurus advice their students to only listen to certain singers? For starters, gurus could take groups of students to concerts to facilitate guided listening. It will inculcate in them an understanding and appreciation of the art. Concerts need discerning audiences to survive. It is thanks to the older generation that Carnatic music is still vibrant and alive.