The indecent rush to the canteen for coffee when the concert is in full flow appears to have become a malaise

It was at an early 1950s Ramanavami concert in Alleppey that the legendary Ariyakudi Ramanuja Aiyangar briefly expressed his appreciation of the audience for maintaining “pin-drop silence” (his own words) throughout the proceedings. He quickly added with his own brand of humour how wonderful it would have been had none moved out of the hall during the thani avarthanamas a mark of courtesy to the accompanist.

In those two punchlines, Aiyangar clearly spelt out two of the most important aspects of observing concert decorum. It would be a good idea to take the cue from the West, where during a classical concert or opera, the audience is not expected to move out or shuffle around except in an urgency. In our country, the indecent rush to the canteen to down a quick cup of coffee or pump some nicotine into the bloodstream when the concert is in full flow appears to have become a malaise at every concert.

Yet another raucous practice that has come to stay is the audience bursting into applause at the end of every song and whenever the artist ties himself in knots with an eyeful of contortions, a flurry of endless swaras andkanakkuand flails his arms in wild gesticulation to explain away the higher reaches of his imagination. In the heat of the rising crescendo, the quintessential nature fades into the background and cacophony takes over from sukhabhavam.

Talking of sukhabhavam, many an artist and his accompanist look askance at the sound recording technicians and keep goading them to increase the amplification; the hapless recipient of unwanted attention juggles the knobs in gay abandon; the treble frequencies begin to screech in agony, while the bass notes threaten to tear open the diaphragm of the speakers and send vibrations even through the floor! Ultimately, a sage member of the audience pins the blame on “poor acoustics in the hall!”

Occasionally, it does seem that the loud amplification is a silver lining in the cloud when one has to suffer the agony of endless chatter of gossip and other trivia in the background when the concert is in full flow. Intermittent exchange of stern glances and hushed appeals for silence fall on deaf ears. To add to the babel, restless infants begin to wail and children run up and down the aisles to break loose from their claustrophobia!

Thanks to modern technology and the new generation of smart phones and the extended family of I-pods and camcorders, a constellation of twinkling lights from these nano-gadgets seems to light up the enveloping darkness as many a “rasika” is surreptitiously canning the music instead of living out the moment with the music flowing into him. Frantic appeals by the organisers to the audience to refrain from recording the concert falls on deaf ears. One recalls an occasion when Ustad Zakir Hussain, in the midst of a breathtaking tabla solo, stopped and asked a member of the audience to stop videorecording the proceedings before he resumed.

Yet another source of distraction is the identification of the ragas. The knowledgeable are asked to “whisper” it across a distance of three rows, while the more argumentative ones pull out their reference books and have a look at their notes. Heated debates in undertones throw up points and counter-points. “Is it Bhairavi or is it Manji?” “I am sure this kriti is in Poorvikalyani and not Panthuvarali.” “Is it Sri or Manirangu?” “Neither, silly, it is Madhyamavati.” “I can't for the life of me make out the difference between Bowli and Bupalam,” says a young lady clad in jeans and flaunting a Louis Vuitton bag. By the time they settle down, they have already missed the wood for the trees! At a concert a year or two ago, the debate on the raga became too loud for comfort. The vocalist had to finally solve the mystery and announce it aloud as “Karnaranjani”!

Transcending these minor aberrations, the flow of music during the “Season” will continue to entertain, inspire and enthral people as it has done down the ages.

(The writer's email ID is vkalidas@gmail.com)

More In: Open Page | Opinion