Here are some suggestions from a rasika, who has been attending the Season for years now
The music season has just begun - some start early or with pre-festival concerts. This happily coincides with the Christmas holidays. After soaking oneself in music for at least a fortnight, one returns to work. As someone said, it is an interesting period particularly if you are staying at a nearby hotel or serviced-apartment (many now in Chennai) and the numerous canteens at the various venues and one's sugar-level going up, this is enough for one year. The Chief Minister had, last year, suggested a Global Festival as elsewhere in the world. The festival, in the present form, itself is a global one with rasikas coming from different parts of the world. Some of our musicians also stay abroad. Hindustani music and Western music are also featured by different organisations. It is better that all these happen in a decentralised form with visiting rasikas fending for themselves without governmental interference in any form as of now. Perhaps the Music Academy or the Federation of Sabhas could call this global festival and play a coordinating role wherever their help is sought.
Coming back to the music festival, one wonders at times whether it is the ‘loud-culture’ of the pop-music or our own ‘loud-culture’ that has crept in. The loud or high decibel-level is noticed in concerts, by even stalwart-singers. Some lec-dems are also not free from it. Is it due to the artists themselves or the mike-system?
During some of the concerts that this writer attended last year, at one or two venues, the performer – vocal or instrumental – was good enough to check with the audience in order to control the decibel-level. In any case, Carnatic Music should not go the loud pop-way.
The sabhas should try to close at 9 p.m., with an appeal to the audience not to leave before 9 p.m., in order to avoid the ‘mandatory walk-out’ at 8 or 8:30 p.m. Many Sabhas have already brought it down from 10 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. It could be adjusted to 9 p.m., with a specific request. In any case, ‘concert-behaviour,’ with this constant moving in and out, leaves much to be desired.
The Prayer song could be short, not more than a minute or two. It is not a time to do a kutcheri, as many tend to do trying the patience of the audience!
The Music Academy has the good practice of publishing the list of kritis to be performed by the artists. This certainly helps the lay-rasikas. The dancers invariably explain the meaning. Some instrumentalists also do this by singing one or two lines. Of course, there were times when even at the Music Academy, stalwarts and crowd-pullers did not give the list; perhaps they wanted to perform impromptu or improvise on the spot. In any case, I was glad to read from “A Comprehensive Dictionary of Carnatic Music” that “raga-identification is not an essential skill to appreciate Carnatic music. Music appreciation is a wholesome experience.”
Many lay rasikas take a pocket-book of songs to know the ragas and the name of the composer. I do not know whether the book on Tyagaraja kritis by T.S. Parthasarathy, A. Sundararamier's on Dikshitar kritis and T.K. Govinda Rao's on Syama Sastri's i.e., transliteration of the Telugu and Sanskrit kritis and translation exist on the Internet. It is difficult to carry the books to the hall. So if these books are made available on the net, the contents may be downloaded into a smart-phone or iPod, as we do with films. This will also help the audience avoid clapping at wrong places. One of the Hyderabad Brothers showed a sign to stop this clapping at the wrong juncture.
This naturally takes us to the question of language since most kritis are in Telugu or Sanskrit. It was pointed out to a lec-dem by a well-known vocalist that splitting at wrong places takes place because of the non-familiarity with the language. I was told that even the stalwarts are not free from this defect. The late C.V. Narasimhan, I.C.S., pointed out that knowledge of Telugu certainly helped. So the young musicians, particularly youngsters, could do well to learn Telugu and Sanskrit for at least three months – a crash-course – before embarking on their musical journey. Language may not strictly be a handicap for playback singing in films because the songs are short. So, knowledge of Telugu and Sanskrit are a must for Carnatic music singers.
Finally, many critics are too general in their critique of a concert. Critiquing requires deep knowledge. However, one should remember what Oscar Wilde said: “It is the job of the critic to educate the public; it is the job of the artist to educate the critic.”