The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things” has contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, photography, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. Though the guest posts are not always by fellow bloggers, the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.
Today’s guest post is by Srinayan, the infrequent blogger of The Random Walkaround. Srinayan, however, prefers to be known as a lethargic blogger who is long on intent, but somehow falls short on delivery. An engineer by profession, he writes on many topics, but always with sensitive insight and understated humour. Today’s guest post is on something that readers attending classical music performances would be familiar with.
Performing artistes of today — especially classical dancers and musicians — often speak about the necessity to connect with their audiences. The ability to do so decides the difference between recognition (and a healthy bank balance) and obscurity. Audience tastes and receptiveness is no longer taken for granted.
A generation-and more-ago this approach would have been dismissed as pandering to the audience. Concert-goers were generally knowledgeable and came to the performances fully aware of what to expect. A well-known artiste knew that he (or she) had to live up to expectations. A less well-known performer knew that this concert could be another step forward in his (or her) quest for wider recognition. Fulsome praise or damming criticism — the artiste had to be prepared for both.
There would the occasional misstep or the wrong note which made the performance more memorable.
In late 1981 or early 1982, Chitra Viswesaran was performing in a smallish auditorium in Bangalore. She had just matured as one of the outstanding dancers of her generation and her dance performances drew large, appreciative audiences.
Chitra appeared on stage at the scheduled time and proceeded to explain Bharatanatyam to the audience, its origins and development, the various movements, and so on. In a South Indian city like Bangalore, this was akin to selling ice to the Eskimos for the audience was largely knowledgable and did not need to be told the basics of Bharatanatyam.
Soon, the audience became restless and fidgety. An elderly man sitting in front of me could not take it any longer and muttered in Tamil, “Aadi Tholai”. Politely translated, it meant, “Dance, and go to hell!” .
The gentleman probably did not intend his words to carry, for he looked very embarrassed. But carry they did and Chitra’s composure slipped. For a few moments she appeared at a loss for words. Then, she quickly gathered herself and began her performance. When it ended nearly three hours later she was given a prolonged standing ovation. All was forgiven.
A few weeks later, the boot was on the other foot. The renowned violinist, Lalgudi Jayaraman was performing at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The concert was held in the Institute’s gymnasium which filled up quickly. The concept of VIP seats had not gained ground and one was free to sit anywhere one liked. Not surprisingly, there was a scramble for the front row. After all, it is necessary to sit as close as possible to the artiste so that you are noticed, and the artiste appreciates your appreciation.
As it happened, a group of middle-aged ladies garnered the best seats. They were quite conspicuous in their Kanjivarams, diamond nose studs, flowers in their hair and, above all, by their animated chatter. They fell silent when the concert began and soon their palms rose high above shoulder level and fell on their laps in unison as they tried to keep beat. This was accompanied by a vigorous nodding of heads. It was impossible for the maestro to not have noticed it; it most certainly made for an amusing spectacle for the audience sitting in the rows behind them.
During a particularly lengthy alaap there was a considerable amount of whispered discussion among these women, puzzled frowns and shaking of heads. It was obvious that they were unable to reach a consensus over the name of the raaga. The alaap ended and, during the short pause before the varnam, and with the slightest of smiles, Lalgudi glanced up at the women and said, ”Poorvikalyani” (a fairly common raaga in Carnatic music).
There were several pairs of beet red ears in the front row that evening.