Hindustani Music Music

Performance should reflect theory: Prabha Atre

Prabha Atre

Prabha Atre

Dr. Prabha Atre is 86 but age has not slowed her down. When I arrive for our rendezvous at her Pune residence, she receives me with her characteristic radiance emblematic in her iconic Maru Bihag or Kalavati. She has reduced public performances, teaches very few senior disciples but her mind is still curious and agile. Few minutes into our conversation, she mentioned that one of the strengths of Kirana gharana singing is the sweetness of voice and bhaav/expression. She emphasised on the word ‘sukoon’ which could loosely translate into relief. Her music and its aesthetic beauty has been the source of relief for many.

Noted music critic Mohan Nadkarni mentions Prabha Atre amongst three avant-garde Hindustani classical musicians — the other two being Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva. However, Atre chose to remain within tradition or the shastras to forge new ways of seeing and thinking about music.

In December last, she performed at the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival, which is organised in Pune every year with great fanfare. Started by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, there is always a long line of musicians waiting to perform at the festival. Spread over five days, it features five-seven artistes every evening. Performance slots have been reduced to 45 minutes or so to accommodate more artistes and perhaps to indicate the diversity in music styles. Atre has seen it all over the years and agonises about the many changes that have taken place. She started singing at the festival around the time it began. Six decades or more have elapsed since. After Bhimsen Joshi stopped performing owing to failing health, it was incumbent upon Dr. Prabha Atre to present the concluding recital of the festival.

She recalls, “It started on a very small scale with a few people in the audience. It was like a mehfil . Over the years, it has turned into a giant. What can you sing in 45 minutes? One barely settles into a performance in that time. They should reduce the number of performances and allot more time to each artiste. I can no longer sit through other performances owing to my age. So I usually find out which ragas have been presented and try to sing something different during my concluding recital. But I also feel very few actually come to listen, the majority come to see music.” Atre thinks there’s no alternative to continuous and consistent listening and listeners could be trained over a period of time.

Changing scenario

While music festivals are aplenty, the growing corporatisation of these events is a cause for concern. Some artistes who are perceived as media-friendly or saleable to an audience are featured more than others. Besides, these events have also transformed into social jamborees with food stalls and other attractions to draw a crowd. Is music being compromised in the process? Atre says, “This is the situation everywhere. I feel like a misfit in today’s scenario. I don’t go out or network with organisers. I have never done that in my life. At my institution, Swaramayee Gurukul, we organise baithaks featuring artistes across gharanas. These activities are entirely funded by me and organised by our students. We have to create more spaces for musicians to have a dialogue and the exchange has to be unrestrained.”

A well-known composer, Dr. Prabha Atre has over 550 compositions to her credit. She writes her own lyrics and sings only her own compositions many of which are published in her books, Swaraanginee, Swaranjanee and Swararangee . She turned to composing to create her own niche and include subjects that remained unrepresented. “I did not want to take somebody’s compositions and mould them into mine. So, it was purely my personal need that that took me to composing. How could I sing something that did not match my style or temperament?” she reasons. Besides, her other writings on music are featured in books such as Enlightening the Listener and Along the Path of Music .

Atre wants more performers to write on music. According to her, that is the only way to evolve contemporary music theory. She explains, “Nobody talks about contemporary music presentation. Music has changed and theory has to change with performance. Performers ought to write. They are the creators and practitioners. Often theory is devoid of practical experience. Theory has to reflect in the performance. I am not suggesting that you deviate from tradition but you can find new paths in tradition. I tried doing that with Maru Bihag and Jog Kauns.”

And when I asked her how she would like to be remembered, she said afer a pause, “As a musician who was close to her listeners...”

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Printable version | May 17, 2022 3:27:38 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/performance-should-be-an-extension-of-theory-prabha-atre/article26203206.ece