Is it an activity that we do repetitively to entertain ourselves and others?
Is it a vocation? Where we sing or dance or play with a few stretched strings to make a living out of it?
Or is it a ladder to climb up the ever increasing heights of our own ego?
More importantly, can art be same for each artist? And is it necessary that it serves the same role in lives of the audience that it does in the lives of the presenters of the art?
When one looks at any art and especially Indian Classical Music in the light of above questions, one will realise that it is very difficult to realise the full potential of this art form, even for those who practice it for their lifetimes.
Let me give you an example. What is sun? For a little kid who knows nothing of the world, it is just a red ball; probably a lollypop. As we grow up a bit, it is the sun – which does the arduous job of defining day and night for us. As we grow up a bit more, we realise that sun is what drives us. It is our source of energy. It is the very foundation of our survival. Our experiences and knowledge decide how we perceive things.
In same way, art can be looked at from different levels. Many will say that Indian Classical Music is like a prayer for them. While saying this, many conveniently forget that we do not pray to get fame for ourselves or in a prayer, there are no rivalries. A prayer has absolutely zero scope to show our intelligence and knowledge.
Many artists will say it’s their passion; something which they like as well as something which earns them a living.
For many, whatever they call it is, it’s the only thing they can do apart from basic reading and writing.
While I do not want to choose which answer is right and wrong, as it is an impossible task in itself, all these answers are from the perspective of the performer or the practitioner of the art.
What is Indian Classical Music, or rather, what role could Indian Classical Music play in the life of its audience? What’s in it for a kid whose parents barely manage sending him or her to school? What’s in it for a new born baby? for a coder who spends ten hours of his day in an artificial and stressful environment? What’s in it for a parent?
For any art, especially when it is a performing art, audience is as important as the performer. While artists spend so much time thinking about what role art plays in their life, do we really think about what our art has to offer to each of these audience members which at times cluelessly come to concerts?
It was quite a controversy when someone tried patenting turmeric. Indians suddenly woke up; we have been using turmeric for thousands of years may be. How can someone patent it?
Quite often, due to conditioning – by media, by peers, etc. or because of abundance of something, we start underestimating it.
Thanks to my mentors, as I get properly introduced to Indian wisdom, let it be about food, exercise, medicine, music or anything in general, I realise that our forefathers rarely discussed ‘why’. They just told us what to do but never told us why do it. In the age of science, reason and logic, lack of why was conveniently equated to absence of substance. As westerners take more and more efforts to study Indian wisdom, interesting things are surfacing up. Sadly, even now, when someone is throwing the ‘why’ right on our faces, we are unable to realise the significance and value of our own tradition. The same applies to the art of Indian Classical Music.
While so much research is popping up which clearly highlights the impact of music on brain development like this Swiss Study, we see a stark lack of awareness about all these things in young and even senior musicians who have been practising Indian Classical Music full time.
What happens in your brain when you are singing? Which neurones get fired up? Which centres are activated? How they communicate with each other? While western researchers are putting their best to study and document all these effects, the musicians will turn blank if you ask them these questions. I do not expect musicians to know about neurology but in today’s age, they should at least know how practising their art form helps the practitioner.
Through Baithak Foundation, we have been lucky to host more than 60 talented artists in schools and construction sites and thanks to community support, the work is expanding; but, as my general observation goes, most of the artists look at themselves just as performers and not as agents of transformation. Have they ever tasted the experienced the transformational power of music?
We have been taught by our Gurus that this art can change the life; it can bring about an instant transformation. We theoretically know it. Yet, hardly a few artists truly believe in the transformation quality of their art form.
While artists are happy to perform in small venues, as we interact with more artists, the subtle aims and objectives of the artists are quite defined – performing in famed festivals, at large scale events which bring huge publicity and money. There is nothing wrong about it; everyone is free to decide what they want in their lives.
But, more than justified focus on ‘eventizing’ Indian Classical Music is leading to another problem – there are hardly any artists in India who have first hand experience of the transformational power of music and are interested to take it to more people in that manner. On the other hand, a large number of western students and practitioners are getting increasingly attracted to Indian Classical Music and its transformational powers. Many are actively involved in integrating it with Yoga and other branches of Indian wisdom and are working towards creating valuable experiences. What happens if there are attempts to patent certain musical practices which we have been doing for years?
As the society matures, shift from entertainment to mindfulness is logical. As more and more artists get caught up in the rat race of concerts, unexplored opportunities exist for artists to absorb the practising aspect of Indian Classical Music and taking it to more people.
We should stop underestimating our own art form!
About the author
Mandar is a co-founder of Baithak Foundation. He is a passionate believer in the power of music as a tool for all round human development. Mandar brings his formal education in engineering and has many years of consulting experience with start-ups and MNCs. He is a published author with two books to his credit. He is a student of Indian Classical Vocal Music.