This refers to the exchange between musician T.M. Krishna and N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu (March 4). A music critic's view is a reflection of his/her liking of a particular presentation, pattern and style, which is very subjective. In publishing such reviews, the media help an artist receive specialist feedback.
I wish to share my experience as a rasika and a music organiser in the U.S. Many in the audience expect sukhaanubhava and soukiyam (solace, peace) when they leave the venue. It takes years of study and in-depth knowledge for any listener of Carnatic music to understand a critic's point of view about an artist and his/her performance. Every musician should spend a few minutes to explain to the audience what he is about to sing, what it means and what one should expect.
A difference of opinion between critics and musicians has always existed. At the same time, one cannot deny the positive contribution made by a good critic to classical music. While The Hindu is doing a great job of publishing good music reviews, I must point out one aspect that requires improvement — the reference to accompanying artists. In most reviews, they receive a one-liner that sometimes even omits their names.
The Hindu is the only newspaper that dedicates space for the cause of music week after week. However I agree with Mr. Krishna that most critics are more of reporters. They merely give a list of songs and composers. What is the need to do this? They can instead review the level of the artist's performance. The review of a concert includes the performance of accompanists too. Often what we see is the standard phrase “the accompaniment was adequate.”
Obviously, no musician or sabha will relish robust or harsh criticism. It does less harm to established musicians but negative criticism does have an impact on the career prospects of junior musicians. This is probably the reason music critics avoid fiery criticisms. But all said, it is ultimately the rasikas who make or mar a musician, irrespective of what is written about him or her.
While I would agree with Mr. Ram's defence of The Hindu's music critics, I also believe that there is a general lack of knowledge among many critics. Having a fairly sound knowledge of the basics of playing the mridangam, I can vouch for Mr. Krishna's views. First of all, the space given to the accompanying artists is minimal. Second, the reviews are of a very general nature, spilled with clichés without any discrimination. No reference is ever made to the varying tonal rhythmic patterns which only the mridangam can bring about.
A general apathy most Indian dailies display towards the publication of art reviews is perhaps the reason that has given shape to the healthy exchange, in which one cannot but agree with Mr. Ram's views. That The Hindu has published Mr. Krishna's views, although they are divergent, is laudable.
I am a great admirer of Carnatic music. I equally admire The Hindu's role over the decades in promoting classical music and other arts. I claim absolutely no knowledge of classical music but over a period of years, I have developed a liking for the art, so much so that I have become very selective in my choice of singers. With all due respect to today's crop of young artists like Mr. Krishna, I think it is wrong to expect reviewers to be experts in the field.
I had the opportunity to cover the prestigious Soorya Festival of Music held annually in Thiruvananthapuram from 2005 to 2010. Except for a few musicians (veterans and youngsters), all others want us to give them favourable reviews. They even find out our mobile phone numbers and call us. At all musical venues, I have found many commoners coming in to listen. So, when critics file their reports or reviews, they keep the layman in mind.
Mr. Krishna's reaction to Mr. Ram's views clearly shows that artists are very sensitive, if not thin-skinned. On many instances, I have wondered how reviews help musicians since they keep performing irrespective of the reviews they receive. It is true that a good review makes an artist happy and a bad one make him or her sad.
Strictly speaking, all those who attend a concert turn critics and although they do not put down their views in writing, they talk about it to their friends and fellow listeners. That is how a musician becomes famous. Anyone who climbs on to a stage for performing will be subjected to both positive and negative comments.