With the pandemic having brought all concerts to a grinding and indefinite stop, performers have longed for live audiences and the interaction with listeners that goes into the making of the most memorable concerts. Truly, the greatest and most magical of performances are often spurred by avid listeners.
But audiences too are as diverse as the music and the performers. Between the section of uninitiated listeners at Hindustani music concerts who are drawn inexorably to the beauty of the music or to the performers’ charisma on the one hand, and musicians in the audience who may evaluate the performers capabilities by the minute on the other, lies a broad spectrum of concertgoers who engage with the music at different levels.
For instance, one could come across those who have had some amount of musical training during their formative years but have had virtually no active association with music since then. Listening to a performance could rekindle memories of their early training and of aspirations to pursue music seriously. They may choose to reveal this to the performers after the concert and also inform them that their inability to continue with music was because of other commitments. Those who are inspired by the very idea of performance may even feel that they too could have shared the performance space if they had not been forced to grapple with other commitments.
There may be some in the audience who may inform the performers that they had previously heard their gurus. They might even advise the performers that they need to work harder in order to meet the exacting standards set by their gurus. They could very well have not been old enough to listen to the gurus, but the exuberance to prove their familiarity with music in general and with the performers’ styles in particular can obliterate such facts.
Another section in the audience consists of sponsors’ representatives. One of the listed deliverables from the organisers to sponsors is reserved seating at the concert for these representatives and their guests. The seats have to be in the first few rows and no one else can occupy them even if the corporate executives or their guests do not turn up for the concert. While some representatives may choose to attend and may even be interested in the music, there is no certainty that they may not walk out or scroll through their phones during the concert. Needless to say, there are many more who scroll through their phones and distract the performers.
We also come across aficionados-turned-critics who may choose to listen to the entire concert or may be the peripatetic type moving from one concert venue to another on the same day. Of course, there are those who may not attend the concert at all, and yet have their opinion about it published in one or the other periodical.
These are only some illustrations to demonstrate the wide variety of listeners in the audience and the range of expectations placed on performers. In such situations, should performers allow themselves to be swayed by various audience expectations, should they attempt to please each and every listener in the audience, or should they remain true to their musical conviction without treating audience response with contempt? This is a personal decision that musicians need to make, a decision that defines the contours of their creative endeavour.
We end this mini-series on audience response to Hindustani music concerts with a track featuring sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan recorded in a live concert setting. He plays Mia ki Todi, a raag prescribed for the morning. Accompaniment is provided by noted tabla player Mahapurush Mishra.
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.