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Music Festival To What Purpose?

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Music Festival To What Purpose?

GURUDEV SHARAN* wonders if the manner in which marathon sessions of music and dance are organized by the Sangeet Mehfil in Bombay promotes true appreciation.

The Times of India, March 30, 1969

The article as it first appeared.

The article as it first appeared.

59 - Music Festival to what purposeWhat have our cultural festivals achieved? Have they brought the musicians and dancers closer to the people? Have they fostered a real appreciation of our classical traditions? Looking at the ritualistic way these hardy annual events come and go, one wonders whether they serve their intended purpose.

If, therefore, there was anything that distressed me most at the recent nine-day festival of music and dance sponsored by Sangeet Mehifil, it was the woeful lack of listener participation. The audience literally played truant at the start of the session on almost all the days. As a result, the programme started late (and ended in the small hours of the morning) and an element of listlessness dogged the proceedings-at least till the interval.

Meanwhile, chairs rattled and silks rustled as the endless trickle of late-comers kept moving across the auditorium right in the midst of each recital, not to speak of several others who chose to move out whenever they liked. All this was as distracting to the discerning listener as it was disturbing to the performing artiste. Then, there was also that familiar ceaseless whispering. All this only served to vitiate the musical mood in the auditorium.

These are in fact the major drawbacks of most of the festivals of North Indian music and dance held in the city over the last decade. The pity of it is that while almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done to promote better concert habits, nobody seems inclined to do his bit.

The organisers apparently think that it is beyond them to enforce a rigid code of conduct for their patrons, while the latter, with their “he-who-pays-the-piper” attitude, persist in their ways with a nonchalance that is hard to beat. Come to think of it, concert-goers and organizers alike must share the blame. They should take a leaf from the highly disciplined and discerning audiences in the South.

It must, hoeever, be said that the Sangeet Mehfil festival, in other respects, had many redeeming features. The organizers did well to devote a session each to Hindustani light classical music and the stage-music of Maharashtra. The 15 participating artistes, most of whom were youngsters, offered us highly enjoyable fare. No less entertaining was the percussion trio, a novel experiment partnered by the tabla-wizad Shamta Prasad and his two teen-age sons, Kumarlal and Kailashlal.

The seven sessions of marathon music and dance were spread over 30 hours. The festival featured more than 35 artistes, only two of whom were established veterans. The rest were from the younger set and up-and-coming stylists. There were 18 vocalists, eight instrumentalists and three dancers (all young exponents of Kathak) besides six or seven accompanists. The preponderance of the younger element in the festival is laudable as it given new talent a chance to be in the limelight. But then the criterion of selection was not very clear.

The fare offered, especially in vocal music and dance, was not fully representative of the contemporary traditions in point of styles, forms or personalities. The vocalists featured were all Khayal exponents. Frankly I missed the dhrupad and dhamar as also thumri and other light classical variations from Uttar Pradesh. An item or two of the dance forms from the South would have lent variety to the repertoire. In solo instrumentation, although we missed noted veterans, the representation given to the sitar, the sarod, the violin and the flute was adequate.

As for individual performances, while the established artistes, both yonge and old, were up to the standards we have now come to expect of them. Mallikarjun Mansur, the 60- year-old scion of the Alladiya gharana, will long be remembered for his magnificent vocal recital, which was easily the best performance. Bhemsen Joshi, Basavraj Rajguru and Jasraj gave competent performances. The recitals of Malavika Kanan, Shobha Gurtu and Lalita Ubhaykar made pleasant listening whereas Niaz Ahmed and Fiaz Ahmed and Gulam Mustafa were less interesting.

Good recitals also came from Vijay Raghava Rao (flute) and Arvind Parekh (sitar) and Ramprasad Shastri (violin) Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan (sitar) and youngster Amjad Ali (sarod) offered a curious mixture of good and indifferent music. Vinay Bharatram (vocal) and Saral Mathur (sitar) sounded for too immature to qualify for participation in a festival that claimed an “all-India” character. It was heartening that Roshan Kumari, Gopi Krishna and Mandakini Malaviya gave a good account of themselves in their Kathak recitals. The accompanists too, played their parts exceedingly well.

Finally, one wonders if so much music offered in this manner really serves to promote true appreciation. Staying awake night after night cannot but include a feeling-even if momentarily-that interest in music cannot remain sustained all the time. One way out is to hold briefer if not fewer sittings. There should not be more than three sessions on consecutive nights.

*Mohan D. Nadkarni often wrote as Gurudev Sharan and Lalitmohan Dutta.


LETTER: Music Festivals

A BIG bouquet to Gurudev Sharan (March 30) for boldly coming out against the thoughtless waves of post-prandial Indian classical music concerts that assail Bombay these days. It seems that those who organize various music, dance and drama festivals do not have any consideration for those residing in North Bombay or in the distant suburbs.

Most of these gamelans and mehfils are not scheduled until after 8 or 8.30 p.m. Again, they never start on time but at least 20 to 25 minutes late! The audiences, too, take it easy and trickle in lackadaisically, chewing the cud. After all, they are allowed admission even after the first artiste is more than half-way through his performance. Why can’t the sponsors take a leaf out of the book of their Western music confreres who invariably start on time and never permit latecomers to walk in at any odd hour?

Besides, our Indian music festivals are so hopelessly jammed with a plethora of vocal and instrumental items which continue till the wee hours of the morning, that apart from the stamina and concentration required to sit through the marathon sessions, the distant commuter has half his mind focused on the last train that may leave any moment.

Having too many items cluttered together in one night’s programme is also unfair to the artistes. While those billed earlier take all the time in the world to unfold their ragas, those scheduled to perform after them have to hustle through their pieces. Thus, we have the unseemly sight of organizers frantically gesturing to the performers from across the footlights to expedite!

All this can be easily avoided if the programme starts earlier, say at 7 p.m. and the number of items per programme is either well-timed or curtailed.



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