Responsibilities of Indian Classical Musicians

Responsibilities of Indian Classical Musicians

A lot of discussion is currently on at various levels through Seminars, articles and informed get together regarding the present state of classical musical  and the responsibilities of the Indian Classical Musicians.

Quantitative expansion and wide dissemination have admittedly raised the social status of artists, induced fierce competitive conditions, qualitatively changed the standards of presentation and led to some commercialization.

Movements are being launched to popularize classical music, to take it to the masses which are just not possible in case of any classical art. Something, however, can certainly be done to improve the appreciation and understanding of classical music largely because many educated classical musicians have come into prominence and the educated youths are being drawn to classical music.

The main forces in the field are:

  • The music organizers including corporate bodies which have assumed the cultural responsibility of propagating classical music in different ways
  • The vast body of listeners most of whom are not fully trained to be good listeners
  • The Government with its vast patronage machinery for the promotion and sustenance of classical music
  • The perfor­ming Musicians of various levels and description and lastly
  • The Media symbolized by music critics, press, All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Each of these groups has some obligation and responsibilities towards Indian classical music. Amongst them the performing musicians together with the “Star System” have become a fairly powerful force to reckon with. Except the box office, the organizers and so some extent the media, there is practically no controlling influence over them. At the same time, the future of traditional classical music depends upon how the performers today and in the years to come conduct themselves both on the concert stage and outside. We have lately been hearing a lot of complaints and a lot of demands raised by the performing musicians.

Now music is always a two way process, between the performer and the listeners of music. Action or stimulus is recipro­cated by response from listeners. Leaving out the agencies named above, a time of reckoning has perhaps come for the performing musicians.

There has to be some introspection, some inward thinking.

Are the musicians aware of their responsibilities and obligations?

There are values and principles in music as an art which are far deeper than earnings, fame and the none too uncommon desire among the more successful musicians to perpetuate themselves in various ways. This is a matter which definitely merits a separate discussion and the present discussion is an effort in that direction.

Without digressing further, we have to spell out the responsibilities of the performing classical artists in the interest of the future of classical music. Our musical heritage is a sacred trust for the performers because, however great they may be, they are really the torch bearers of a tradition which has stood the test of centuries. They have no moral or prescriptive right to distort or break that tradition which has given them the largest measure of flexibility in the matter of projection, presentation and even creation of music. If we agree on this basic premise, the responsibilities of performing musicians should be easy to spell out.

  1. The first and greatest responsibility is total and unqualified commitment to Indian Traditional classical music, come what may.
  2. The second is loyalty to one’s Guru/Gurus.
  3. The performing artist of some standing should consider it to be his responsibility to transmit his knowledge to disciples and learners. Our tradition has survived very largely though the system of oral transmission of learning or the Guru Shishya parampara.
  4. Another dimension for the artist’s attention is maintaining purity of ragas presented and the integrity of the structure of classical music irrespective of whether it is vocal or instrumental music. Improper portrayal can do immeasurable harm by corrupting the understanding of the youngsters who are prone to take the performance and portrayals by established artists as gospel truth! The artists must realize that they have responsibility towards the youths and posterity.
  5. The next vital dimension is the duty and freedom to innovate, to find fresh horizons. This activity has formed part of Indian musical culture down the ages. Indian Music cannot be static because the very law of art and life is change.
  6. New compositions in existing ragas should be encouraged. They must be musical and artistic creations. While presenting them the artist must take the audience into confidence and explain to them what is being presented and in what respect the ‘chalan’ or movement of the ragas differs from some of the existing or Analogous ragas. This will give the artist celebral satisfaction and the listeners will have greater listening pleasure.
  7. One important responsibility of artists is to perform seriously and to the best of their ability. It is true that the best of artists have off days. But there must be no let us in their effort to make the best possible presentation irrespective of whether it is a high fee concert, a radio recital, or a recital for a charitable cause. It is the art and not the forum which is really important.
  8. The classical art art demands a sense of tolerance, a spirit of give and take and a spirit of giving and forgiving. No artist however great is perfect. There is always room for improvement and so there is scope also for constructive criticism which has to be taken sportingly in one’s stride. These values are getting eroded and urgently need to be revived and practiced religiously.

These are perhaps a few issues which must constantly engage the attention and thinking of the performing artists in general and the star performers in particular. In the transmission of any tradition it is in one form our “heritage”. For the future however what the performing musicians would leave behind will be a legacy. We are absolutely certain that all performing musicians would like to leave behind a legacy which is in keeping with their heritage, training and the great labour and toil through which they have risen to fame. In any test or reckoning to which the posterity may put the great artists of today, we fervently wish that they come out well, in glory and good grace. This will be possible only if the performing artists to today live up to their responsibilities in a spirit not only of grace but in a sense of humility and dedication.