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On classical music and its current status…

Classical music is the rich tradition of India, which has evolved over generations. It is unmatched in its scope, its depth, its aesthetics and its impact. It is a heavenly experience; something completely out of this world.

There are myriad of classical music festivals and events taking place, and people come in large numbers to catch a glimpse of the artistes and their music. Some of these people also turn up because they would like to be seen in the circles as the aficionados of art, literature, and music; and not necessarily because they have any special liking or understanding of classical music!

Yet, there is always a debate on the future of classical music, what with the new generation often preferring something more popular and contemporary. I am myself a part of this new generation, and as it is said, you should not make comments on something, of which you are yourself a part! But as a part of something, one often tends to get a better perspective of certain trends and phenomena, and understands things which cannot be understood from outside. Being a part of the so-called ‘new generation’, I would definitely like to share my views on this oft repeated debate.

A lot of my friends and contemporaries are either singers, musicians, or performers, themselves, or are simply music lovers, and I have often had interactions with them about classical music, its different schools, ragas, bandishes, and so on. When I see my students also having a keen interest in classical music, I feel that it is not just my generation, but even the next, and the next, that is going to carry forward this wonderful legacy of our nation. At some famous classical festivals, each year, the previous year’s record of the number of people who attended it, is broken, and tickets are sold out on the very first day itself! When I think of all this, the whole debate on classical music, sounds meaningless.

But then, I have my other set of friends who feel that classical music is something for the ‘classes’, which the masses cannot understand and hence cannot appreciate. They feel as against popular (pop) music, which is very easy to connect with, classical music requires even the listener to be well-informed to be able to appreciate it. Moreover, in today’s fast track world, who has got the time to listen to a bada khayal for 30 minutes? Add to it that many renowned artistes show up hours late for a concert, and when they do, they get so lost in their renditions, that they often end up presenting one raga for an hour and a half, or at times, even more. The listening pleasure also diminishes when the words of the bandish are pronounced in such a way, that one cannot decipher their meaning.

True! They too have a point, don’t they? How does one resolve this conflict? Well, I would like to address all these points one by one. First of all, I would like to quote a famous Sanskrit saying ‘Ranjayate iti ragaha’, meaning, whatever sounds good to the ear, is Raga, or music. One does not necessarily have to understand the science and dynamics of a waterfall to appreciate its beauty, nor does one have to be a botanist to feel the colour and fragrance of a beautiful red rose. Is it so difficult to appreciate something one does not understand? Of course, if one does have an understanding of classical music, it definitely increases one’s pleasure as a listener; but not having that knowledge is certainly not a deterrent. Tastes build up and grow with time and I know hardcore hard rock fans who got completely addicted to Hindustani classical music, once they kept their prejudices aside and listened with an open mind. “We know nothing of the technical nitty gritties of classical music; what is sur, taal ,sam, but when we listen to it, it takes us to a completely different level of experience”, is what they tell me. Also, one need not exclusively devote oneself to listening to classical music. I am myself a fan of most of the rocking dance numbers our music directors of Hindi films churn out so wonderfully!

About their concern on the length of classical music and the time constraint in today’s age, I feel that it is a rhetorical question: the answer lies in the question itself. Due to rising stress levels, thanks to modern life, one should take time off to connect with one’s soul, something which we hardly do in our everyday routine. Classical music transcends worldly barriers and takes one to a higher spiritual level, giving one the benefits of meditation. Classical music, its healing powers and music therapy are all well-known.

Having said all this, however, I would also like to say, that classical music need not be always viewed in its mysticism and spirituality aspect. That also is overdone at times, taking away from classical music, its basic role of being music! Music is music, after all, and classical music has the same pleasing effect on one’s mind as any other genre would have. So, in the narrow sense, it is plain music, it gives one joy, melody, rhythm. In the broader sense, it connects one to oneself, and finally, to Him!

Now we come to the final argument; artistes showing up late, over-stretching the duration of the presentation of one raga, and hmm…finally that so typical criticism of classical singers: their diction and pronunciation. I agree there is no defending all of this. Artistes should respect the time of others and maintain a ‘sense of proportion’ in their presentation. I agree that a bada khayal cannot be cut too short, and it also should not be; as that is, in fact, its beauty. But stretching too far, in today’s instant coffee and fast food times, is also not recommended. Shorter forms like the Chhota Khayal, Tarana, Thumri, Dadra, Tappa give the best of both the words: the majestic depth of classical music, and the instant appeal of pop music.

As for the criticism that pronunciation of the words of the bandish should be clear enough, I would only say that a singer should make a conscious effort towards pronouncing the words correctly, breaking them at the right points, and expressing the emotions which the words portray. Classical music is the highest form of music, which does not need the dependence on words; the notes (sur) and rhythm (taal) are sufficient. Generally, artistes get so involved in the sur and taal that they often disregard the lyrics (bol), which is the second thread which constitutes the warp and weft of the fabric called music. Rich poetry and lyrical content which embellish the sur and taal even more, should be given their due importance. I was so pleased to receive a compliment from a friend, who on attending one of my concerts, said, “What I liked most in your presentation was that the lyrics of your bandishes were so clear. I never knew that this could ever be the case in a classical concert. For me, so far it was a given, that the words are not to be heard in classical music. Your presentation gave me a different listening pleasure, which I had not got earlier while listening to classical music.”

I feel that one needs to change with the changing times. In today’s world of aggressive marketing and media, we cannot keep sticking on to outdated concepts. Indian classical music has so much aesthetic value in itself that it is not dependent on any marketing or packaging. But if we only adjust ourselves and our music a little to the modern age, there would be no stopping for our music, and its future will be secure, not just amongst a small group of aficionados, but in totality.

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