Listening even as we perform

“Did you see how she did that?” I was lucky enough to attend numerous concerts, most often at the Bangalore Gayana Samaja, with my late guru Seethalakshmi Venkatesan. In every concert, we had attended together, she unfailingly pointed out nuances brought out by the performer of the day.


Recently when a friend shared a video of Carnatic vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer performing at a sabha in Chennai, I was reminded of this when I saw the audience at this concert. A virtual who’s who of today’s Carnatic music stars were seated in the audience listening to the stalwart sing. In this concert the maestro was accompanied by Balamuralikrishna on the viola and T.K.Murthy on the mridanga. All three musicians are giants in the field of carnatic music and trailblazers in their own right. The song is an emotive composition of Shyama Shastri in praise of the mother goddess. The melody is raga Anandabhairavi that is believed to evoke happiness and cure ailments of the mind and body. This article is not about the music but the audience seated on the floor.

For musicians to improve, it is important for them to attend concerts by other artists. Musicians stagnate when they stop listening to other musicians perform. In the current scenario where artists try to “bag” as many concerts as they can at the December music festival in Chennai, they lose out on the listening experience. They forget that a performer is a perennial student of music and that the learning never stops. The takeaway for a performer from a concert can be anywhere from a few innovative phrases of a raga alapana, or a dynamic swara pattern to an intricate pallavi.

The lessons imbibed in the classroom are only a foundation and musicians need to build on it with constant practice and listening experience.

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