Stage is where the heart is!

Does venue affect the performance of an artist? Some leading vocalists and instrumentalists talks about their experiences

Traditionally, Indian classical music was performed in temples. Gradually, performances started to be conducted in royal courts, in the “darbar” of the ruler, in the presence of his courtiers and sometimes local populace too was allowed. Dr T S Satyavathi, eminent Sanskrit scholar and musician, has translated a very beautiful 12th Century Sanskrit manuscript “Maanas Ulhas” written by the Chalukya ruler, King Someshwara the Third, which has a full section on the arts. In this illuminating treatise, there is an exact description of a music concert in his court. Who sits where, who the audience should comprise, even an exact placement of where each artist sits – where the tambooras are to be placed, the accompanists at the back, the female artist next to the male, who is to be seated on the right and left. Such exact descriptions reveal how seriously classical music concerts were taken, even 900 years ago, and how the venue mattered even then.

From the start of the last century, a new concept of music concerts was introduced; music concerts were for just anyone, not necessarily linked with a religious venue, or a court. These were generally open air events, as the auditoriums that existed were perhaps too small to accommodate a general populace. These usually took place in British India, and slowly spread all over.

Favourite spot

Today, where one performs definitely matters to the artist. “Nightingale of the South” Bombay Jayashri feels the nicest venues for music concerts are temples. “Singing in a temple is a favourite thing for me. The vibrations in such venues are unparalleled. Audiences also come with a different mind set, to receive rather than to analyse. Some of my favourite temple venues are the Kapali temple in Mylapore, Sringeri Sharadambal temple and the Udupi Krishna temple in Udupi.”

On the other hand, a different type of experience was the concert in Dhaka, at the Bengal Foundation Festival (to take place in Dhaka from 25-30th December). This is in an open air stadium, with a built up massive stage, and a seated audience of upto 60000, all listening to North Indian and Carnatic music! The music goes on all through the night. It’s an incredible feeling – Jayashri avers “It was just splendid. Thousands of people waiting to tune into classical music, deep into the night. Amazing!”

Apart from the actual venue, the audience makes a huge difference to an artist, Jayashri confirms. In battle-scarred Sri Lanka, the erudite and culturally connected audience awes her – the receptive, discerning silence of that waiting crowd, acutely tuned in to the music they are about to hear definitely brings out the best in her as a performer.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan feels his best concerts are in closed auditoriums. “When there is so much pollution in Delhi, it’s unhealthy to have a music concert in the open; the planning of such events should keep in mind the air quality in the performance arena.” Also, he adds, the safety of the artist should be considered. “I think to experience, the tonal quality of my instrument (the sarod) and other instruments like the veena or sitar, and to pick up the finer nuances of the notes, it’s best to perform in closed auditoriums, which are temperature controlled. My humble request is that please stop organising music in parks. It’s also expensive, you have to erect pandals, temporary washrooms….”

Manjusha Patil who sang recently at the Capital’s Habitat centre, at an open air concert, has a different perspective. She feels singing in the open, notwithstanding the winter of Delhi, was a pleasure. As a vocalist, the cold did not affect her voice; what was more motivating was the responsive audience who seemed to be enjoying sitting in the warm sun, instead of being cooped up on a Sunday morning, indoors!

Ustad Irshad Khan, arguably the finest player of the surbahar today, says that venues with atmosphere do bring out the best in an artist. He recalled playing at the festival dedicated to Sufism at Nagaur Fort last year. Nagaur was the final resting place of one of the earliest Sufi Saints, Tarkin.

In the 12th Century fort, Deepak Mahal was chosen as the venue for the concert. Irshad recalled the entire palace was lit by diya lamps only, giving it an ethereal air. What made that concert really special for him was that he heard that both his grandfather and great grandfather had also performed there. The niche audience of around 100 listeners from all over the world loved his surbahar recital with pakhawaj as percussion, in the style of yore; he also played the sitar and was inspired by the ambience there, to sing too. He chose only late night ragas, he recalled; there was a lovely fountain in front of the stage which added to the ambience. It was “like a dream come true”. Such venues, with a history of music, inspire one to perform at one’s best, he said.

Wherever the venue, musically December is very vibrant with over 1000 concerts taking place all over India.

 – Shailaja Khanna
Friday Review, The Hindu.
22 Dec 2017