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Contemplation at Sawai Gandharva Festival: The Dangerous Trend in Indian Classical Music

Going with the trends is not always the best thing to do. Be aware of the trend; whether to walk with it or not, should be a decision and not a habit.

Not all trends are worth following. These days, not all trends are trends, most of them are just rumors which people believe to be a trend.

This came out through a contemplation of few moments, while listening to a flutist performing at the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival.  The flutist, was of course highly skilled, and played Raga Maru Bihag. The excellent Riyaz allowed him to explore Raga skilfully across the octaves. Almost all of the audience appreciated his music. He got claps at every ten minutes. I personally thought, he was following the trend which is common in young as well as a few elder artists- play for the claps; play to delight the audience, play to impress them and win their hearts.

sawai gandharva

In the same festival, a Sitar player also performed. The first Raga was played well- because it was played not as per the trend of getting more claps. The second composition- was absolutely as per the trend- fast, loud and with little music value. It got a lot of claps.

The more I listen to the classical music these days, the more I realize how everyone is trying to sell his music and attract more fans. The melody is and musical value is compromised for the claps and praises. It works, because it is a trend. Everyone does it, so why not me?

Indian classical music is a perfect balance of skills and aesthetics. The notes are approached in a graceful way and not to amuse or thrill the audience. When I go back and listen to the records of Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Nityanand Haldipur and other artists, who chose not to follow the trend, I realize their love for music and Swaras.

It is quite easy to play fast and loud and kill the aesthetics. Murdering a Raga does not take a lot of time; one arrogant note kills the Raga in the fraction of a second. I listen to the artists mentioned above and the tremendous efforts they take to not to heart and kill the Raga they are playing. I salute them for their love towards the music and the difficult choice which they made /make while performing in each of their concerts.

There is one more trend in the musicians around today which upsets me- they try to play same patterns in different Ragas; sometimes it sounds good, sometimes, it damages the Raga and its flavor. But, many artists can be observed doing this. Again, this must be a trend.

I think, classical music is going through a delicate period where the artists who are in charge, in a position of getting heard and are looked upon as role models, are walking as per the trend. I am not against artists trying out new things, creative outbursts in the Ragas. Creativity is always welcome, even along with the mistakes. I have listened to great maestros committing mistakes while trying to come up with something new and creative, which I do not find something to worry about at all. The problem which I see is, artists are following trend. They settle for what earns them praises and claps and just keep on repeating that. I would be much happier, if artists, for some time, close their ears to what audience is demanding and try to bring on surface the music which is yearning to come out from their hearts.

Indian classical music is able to transform souls simply because the fact that it is not played to please the listeners but because the artist looks at music as way of self-transformation. If classical music loses this touch, it will lose its magic.

By Mandar Karanjkar

Mandar Karanjkar is author, motivational speaker and consultant based in Pune. Mandar works with handful of organizations helping them with strategy, communication and culture. Mandar is trained in Indian Classical Music over a decade. He is a classical singer and flute player.

Mandar has written columns for many reputed newspapers. Engineer by profession, he conducts workshops and delivers talks on subjects as wide as strategy, innovation, online marketing, spirituality, Kabir, Zen etc.

Mandar is a published author.

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