Engaging the audience

Classical music afficianados besides their love for music seem to share two other common interests. One is clearly food, given the roaring canteen business at many sabhas. The other seems to be the strong opinions that they seem to have on the state of classical music. There are several schools of thought such as “classical music is going to the dogs,” and “there is a new renaissance with a breed of young musicians” to “fusion music is a cacophony”. However all these schools agree on two things. That the audience for classical music, particularly Carnatic music needs to grow and we need to engage the audiences actively.

Recently I had attended Abhishek Raghuram’s vocal concert at the Tamarind Tree in South Bangalore. The artistes gave an evocative performance that evening in a very scenic setting. Just after the main song of the concert, there was a Q&A round where the audience was invited to ask questions. The questions which ranged from “how many hours do you practice” to “how does one improve the listening experience” resulted in a lively interaction between the artistes and the audience. It was an opportunity for the listeners to learn about the music and the musicians. In an effort to make classical music more accessible to people, such Q&A sessions have become popular. The artist fraternity goes beyond presenting two to three hour concerts as the core crowd that attend such concerts already has a reasonable understanding of the musical concepts. 

While some people feel that such Q&A sessions detract from the listening pleasure of a concert, others feel that a dialogue between artist and audience is a welcome change.

In an earlier generation stalwarts would sing, crack a joke or two during the performance and hold the interest of the audience in a three to four hour concert. Watch this video to see how Carnatic vocalist Madurai Somu engages the audience in his own inimicable style.

With the advent of YouTube and other forms of video entertainment over the internet and cable TV, it remains a challenge to draw crowds to the classical concert halls. Musicians are rising to the challenge by coming up with innovative presentations.

The movie “Margazhi Raagam” which was released a few years earlier featured a carnatic music concert as the central premise with popular musicians T.M.Krishna and Bombay Jaishree singing on a stage.

Svanubhava is a cultural movement that has artistes presenting lectures and demonstrations over two to three days to a wide audience, predominately students in different cities. Experts in varied fields such as harikatha, theatre, classical music and dance engage with their audiences in interactive sessions after their presentations.

Do let me know what you have seen and would like to see on stage from the artist fraternity.

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