I often come across a lot of enthusiastic parents and children seeking my advice on various aspects of their musical journey. For a long time I have wanted to jot down my experiences as a student and performer since my childhood.
Unlike other professions such as Engineering, Medicine and so forth, the demand for south Indian music has been disappointingly low. It is a matter of concern that even highly talented musicians need to solicit opportunities from concert presenters. This trend has not changed in the last three decades. The reason is not so much the artiste or the concert organisers, but the limited number of people who patronise the art. Classical music is predominantly supported by a few communities and there are too few members belonging to these communities. Even these numbers are dwindling by the year.
Against this background, it takes much courage and determination on the part of the parents to encourage their children to pursue music as a profession. Many issues haunt them and students — right from the point of acquiring skills to finding a deserving place for their hard earned musical assets. Thanks to the intense shortage of performance slots and financially viable platforms, nepotism, favouritism, corruption and other unfair practices creep into the system.
A time has come when everyone involved in the system needs to wake up to the realities and reassure those who embark into this very uncertain and risky career.
Dance and music, once entirely patronised by temples and kings, evolved into professions with the creation of “sabhas” or music organisations. Those who loved the arts contributed money to enjoy these art forms.
It is now over a 100 years and perhaps time to review the working pattern of this system in relation to the democratic and constitutional status of many other professions administered by the State and Central governments.
I must mention at this point, the practices followed by most Western countries and other advanced nations.
A need for unions
Governments of developed countries have encouraged performers and composers from all art forms to form unions and set down rules and conditions for the conduct of performances. There is an urgent need in India for the formation of such artiste bodies so that every organisation is bound by rules and brings in absolute accountability and transparency in the conduct of professional events.
At present, the whole environment is rather chaotic, random and guided by no particular rule. Seldom have artistes agreed to come together to form unions and to conform to a degree of professionalism in India. If we could follow the west in such aspects related to the music field, it would project a just, clean and professional image of the arts and help eliminate exploitation to ensure a respectful livelihood for every artiste.
Art of any kind is a product of hard work even when it is a gift at birth. The generations to come, and particularly, the parents who support their children for extensive training, certainly deserve such a change. It would also prevent the rapid rise in the number of organisations which cannot boast of the minimum infrastructure necessary to conduct performances.
Merit be the winner
Mediocre talent is often promoted, unfairly at times, in the name of musical lineage, or because of ‘connections'. It isn't uncommon to witness poorly-equipped musicians lacking a basic understanding of pitch and rhythm, patronised beyond what they deserve, while truly talented performers from other geographical locations have been ignored.
The numbers attending a performance is not quite indicative of the quality of the artiste. An ideal situation would be to have institutions or bodies that could evaluate performances with absolute sincerity and promote artistes in proportion to their talents.
In this context, we need to draw examples from the practices in the West wherein records and performances are evaluated and published in reputed magazines dedicated to various genres of music such as Rock, Pop, Folk, Country, Jazz and World. It is noteworthy that people attend performances of artistes and buy records of those whose works have been reviewed in such trend-setting magazines.
It is my dream to witness people from various communities and walks of life starting to appreciate this great form of art, making way for increasing the number of opportunities for aspiring artistes and thereby reducing the scope for unfair practices that exist now.
One may wonder why the number of specialised musicians is on the decline. The reason is not the paucity of talent in a given society.
The reasons are more to do with the limited venues, unscientific teaching methods, lack of financial support and consequent manipulation of the field by those at the helm of affairs. Moreover, the ready availability of enormous sponsorship funds has resulted in the mushrooming of organisations where many a time, the prime intention is anything but the propagation of good music.
It is time that the funding agencies did some introspection to ensure whether generously donated funds are reaching the deserving musicians.
The need of the hour is to establish organisations that can monitor and evaluate artistes and performances genuinely, and provide some sort of benchmark for sponsors and concert promoters to implement. This is bound to infuse confidence in parents and children wanting to pursue music professionally akin to other fields where possibilities of a dignified survival is assured.
All our efforts should be channelised towards making this sacred art form, and the industry, more transparent, fair to everyone and a scenario where organisers and artistes coexist with dignity, equality and mutual respect.
(The writer is a well known Carnatic flautist.)