An integral part of Hindustani music concerts is the continuous conversation that happens not just between the performers but also between them and the audience.
Audience responses can come as verbal approbation in the form of overt exclamations like “waah”, “aahaa”, “kya baat hai”, or “subhanallah” and “mashallah” that praise god for the beauty expressed in the music and in a sense ask for blessings to be showered on the performers.
While some of these expressions may be heard even to this day, particularly in smaller concerts organised by music circles or by individual patrons in their homes, audiences at larger music festivals seem to respond more with loud applause that comes not just after each raag or taal presentation but also appears through a single presentation. Of course, one can see a combination of both.
Conventionally, this appreciation is expressed for the spontaneity that this music demands in terms of elaboration on seed ideas, although for decades now, the speed and volume in the music also attracts applause. The kind of appreciation and the reason for it could consciously or subconsciously drive performers to dwell more on a musical idea, move ahead along the same lines or change course.
One might say that this amounts to playing to the gallery, and indeed in some cases it does because very rarely does one come across musicians who do not permit themselves to be carried away by applause and instead believe in an introverted performance. But even in the latter case, one can discern in audio and video recordings available to us that even these performers engaged with their audiences at some level.
Today, we will listen to a couple of tracks that demonstrate a lively audience response.
We begin with a dadra in the inimitable voice of Begum Akhtar recorded from a live concert hosted by Khatau Vallabhdas in 1957 at his residence in Bombay (now Mumbai). Listeners will note the immediate audience response to the musical elaboration in this intimate setting.
The last track in today’s column features a thumri by Patiala gharana maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. As is evident, the listeners are not just responding to the melody and rhythm but also to the couplets that intersperse the main composition. In fact, they also respond to the tabla accompaniment, which is equally integral to the concert.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.