Saturday, 16 February 2008

Mission Statement

At first sight it is difficult to appreciate why Hindustani music is in doldrums. It is accessible to the masses today as it had never been before. The advent of democracy squeezed it out of palaces and stately homes, while radio, television and commercial recordings have disseminated it across regional, social , and economic boundaries. And yet it is manifest that our musical traditions are in serious trouble. While new entrants disappoint, many established performers are content to let pyrotechnics substitute for in-depth introspection of aesthetic values. Star progeny of indifferent to downright abysmal musical competence are marketed as geniuses. And all this occurs without much protest, which is perhaps the most worrisome portent of all.

Much of this is linked to the deep paradigm-shifts at multiple levels that Hindustani music is undergoing today. While royalty and feudal nobility, the traditional sources of patronage, have given way to governmental and now corporate institutions, the Gharana system of pedagogy is slowly being replaced by aesthetically homogenised and sanitised music 'schools', university departments, and other bodies of formal instruction.

While the older institutions were far from perfect, they at least functioned. This cannot be said of their successors, not a single one of them. And at least one very significant factor is common to the failure of them all, namely an abrupt decline in informed critical appreciation. In patronage, in pedagogy, and just as much in the audience. Maharajas and Nawabs are famous for foisting their own idiosyncrasies on hapless musicians, but they had to at least pretend to a level of learning. Neither the bureaucrat nor the business executive aspire to this pretence. They don't even feel the need to do so, as long as their wheeling-dealings and profit margins are satisfied. It is a portent of the times that the petty government official and the corporate apparatchik, the two custodians of our glorious musical tradition, display a level of arrogance even the royalty of yore baulked at.

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar created his Gandharva Mahavidyalayas to produce Kaansens, individuals equipped to appreciate if not produce great music. In this, his efforts have been a signal failure today. Students memorise and reproduce reams of note-sequences without the slightest idea what they are there for. Worse, some institutions even stifle critical appreciation. When the bureaucrat and the executive push a third-rater (star-progeny?) as the next genius, they expect us to accept their claims without demur. To that end, to fabricate public opinion, even the media contributes through 'embedded' music critics.

It is imperative that every effort must be made to revive a culture of informed critical appreciation if our music is to remain a living entity. To this end, some of us set up the 'Debating Shastriya Sangeet' (or DSS) community on the networking site orkut. com, expressly with a view to fostering uninhibited but constructive discussion on music-related issues. This blog is an extension of this effort. It houses longer articles usually but not necessarily leading from debates that have originated in the DSS comm. Readers are encouraged to post feedback, and also contribute articles themselves if they feel strongly about an issue, and provided certain broad parameters of quality, relevance and decency of expression are satisfied.

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