Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Concerts in The West and East

Raji Nagaswami


What struck me most at the hundreds of concerts I attended during nearly four years of stay in America and Europe was the perfect silence in which even thousands of people listened. The doors were closed when the concerts started, and were opened only in between songs. Consideration for others is highly developed in the West. At our Concerts even educated people talk audibly, and address others, while entering or leaving, during a performance. The audiences at night performances are often more attentive, as only people interested in music take the trouble to attend them. Moreover, concerts are held here during social occasion also, when naturally people come and go and want to talk with others. And they are not real social functions either, as people cannot talk freely or make new friends when the chairs are arranged only as for a concert.

One reason why so many people come late or leave early at our concerts is that our concerts are too long. It would be said that our people want a long concert. Then why do they not stay till the end when it is at its best? And how can working people attend at 5-30 P. M. on a week day? It is surprising that so many people are free to attend. Then the main performance in the Academy season goes on even after 8.30 P. M., while the next one starts at 9-30 P. M. Westerners cannot spend so much time at a concert, for time counts for them. A musician should make a person want to hear more, and should not satiate.

Our loudspeakers and radios shout music, and the fluorescent tubes and ugly advertisements in the concert halls jar the eye. When easterners adopt western innovations they do not seem to know how to see them artistically. Even before I went to the West I used to wonder why they were used so crudely in India. I never saw them so used during all my travels through hundreds of cities from Coast to Coast in America and Europe. Their acoustic arrangements, the mellow lights, pleasing colour schemes, the comfortable seats and the absence jarring elements are so soothing.

Our musicians can use their creative powers much more than Western musicians, as the prelude, pallavi swaram, ragam, thanam and pallavi are the musician’s own creation. So there is more stylistic difference among our musicians. And our musicians memorise much more than their western counter-parts. Orchestral, choral and community singing are much more developed in the West. I heard Mitropoulous conduct an orchestra and chorus of five hundred at an indoor stadium. Every Wednesday the music-students of our university held orchestral and choral concerts; students joined the school and college band which played at pep rallies and floats, and held band concerts. The college band which marched past in various formations at football games was more interesting to me than the game. People interested in music gather together and sing with scripts in hand; and in church the whole congregation sings.

Westerners are particular about stage manners; and the artists would not blow their noses, contort their faces or shake their bodies on the stage. Our listeners are also more emotional than Westerners and show their appreciation by nodding their heads and saying, “Ah, ah!” An artist’s popularity is measured in the West by the number of curtain calls, the audience clapping at the end, and the artist responding again and again. Westerners lay stress on outward forms, and the Musicians wear formal black and white, and tie and collar, if the concert is held outdoors. Some of our katam and nathaswaram players still play with bare bodies. Our women-singers dress modestly, though the Indian film stars and dancers, especially from the north, have started to imitate the Westerners, while our people boast about our culture. In America sex is introduced even in music. A musician would be described as sexy.

Our music festivals also include dance performances. In fact one sees a dance at so many places, at social functions and in movies, (a dance must be introduced in a play or a picture whether it is necessary or not), that it is surprising that people are not satiated with it. It is fashionable to teach dancing to a child, whether it has aptitude or not, and though there is no novelty about it. Our dance performances are also too long. One Westerner said she found it boring and repetitive, with stilted movements. And the whole audience has to wait while the dancer wants to show off her various saris. The lesser the talent the more the show. A dance could be appreciated better if its meaning was explained in the programme. All Western concerts, etc., have programmes. The dancers, as the Westerner said, wear too many jewels and display clashing many-coloured clothes. A few jewels and fewer colours would be more effective.

Our harikathas when included in the festivals would be better if the Bagavathars did not come out with their knowledge of English now and then. Moreover, while a modem analogy can tell a point better, anachronisms arise when a modem thing is introduced in an old story.

Our music and cultural activities, like other things in India, are permeated by an official atmosphere. Ministers and officials are asked to open or preside at cultural conferences. I did not hear any politician or Governor speak at any concert or opera during all the years I was in the West. And the famous Ravinia Festival Souvenir does not mention any outsider opening or presiding. It was all musicians and composers. Once I saw the President of our University sitting in a seat at our university concert. That was reflective of American democracy wherein, as one said, a grocery man was paid the same respect as a Governor. Our musicians even greet people they know from the stage. One would think that cultural organisations would want to be independent, but in India various associations want Government patronage. So long as they are not able to stand by themselves, they have not come of age. In India the Government has started to patronise the Sangeet and other Academies, and, since we did not have guilds started by the artists themselves, the people do not mind it. But so long as art depends on Government support, it cannot be independent.

Most of our music festivals are still held during the Christmas Season, though the Christmas holidays are curtailed now. Most Western music festivals are not held during Christmas, though there are more holidays then. If the festivals are held at different times more people could attend them. Experiments could also be made in various forms of music. Our orchestral and group singing could be developed further. Operas and puppet operas could be organised. Operettas are an old art form in India. The latent talent of many people could be developed further. Now, though musicians are honoured in our country, the artist’s profession is not considered as high as a Government job, though it is more difficult to master an art. Artists are appreciated much more in the West.

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