When people paid and kids played
Apart from being a musical magnet, Shujaat Khan Saab’s concert in Gurgaon (Feb 8th, at Shiv Nadar School), pointed at hope in 3 ways:
1. People bought tickets(thank goodness, I did too).
The eminent Sitarist, Shujaat Khan saab, opened his concert with the customary note of thanks to the organisers (Aravalli Centre for Arts and Culture). He thanked the audience for actually buying tickets to be there, which is an uncommon thing that all of us are not just aware of but also guilty of. He stated the bitter truth in a light-hearted and humble opening address to his performance; in Lutyens Delhi(Gurgaon, being an extension of Delhi), people are not used to paying for Classical Music. Classical music performances are supposed to be free for all! He shared that even his friends and acquaintances who are eager to watch him perform live, usually shy away from paying for tickets. Instead, they organise a private dinner and invite him in anticipation of the obvious, live music. When he arrives and gets off the car, they exclaim, “Arre, Sitar nahi laaye? Ooho. Chalo thora gaana hi gaa dena”. I loved his opening address. I am sure that musicians at any level can relate to it.
2. A Promising Average age of the Audience
Reasons could be many, but the sizeable lot of 20 and 30 somethings at the concert, shone bright. At times, I have felt a loss of hope to see only a handful of young people at Classical Music(not Fusion) concerts. Of course, proportions change in hubs like New Delhi due to their long standing culture of College/University/Schools centred activations along with the Ministry of Culture. However, in Gurgaon, without any such legacy, it probably indicates that the 20 somethings are not closed to explore good quality classical music shows that are managed well, which means, not every classical music performance will receive this audience here.
3. Children were fidgety in bits but were ultimately inspired.
The 10 year old girl:
I was sitting in the second last row from where I could see only one child, a 10 year old girl with her parents and close family. For the first five minutes of the performance, I could see her engaged. Soon, she started getting restless as the next twenty minutes were going to be dedicated to the Alaap and Swar Vistaar (slow and non-rhythmic development of notes) of Raga Jhinjhoti. I could see the father trying to sustain her interest by talking it out with her. He also took her out for a break.
Soon, she was back and expectedly fidgety again but only after a while. However, this time she took the initiative of engaging herself. She settled down on the wooden step-seating alongside the wall nearby. Nobody sat there and it had lots of colourful cushions- cylindrical and square. Her neck would stretch outwards once in a while to catch a glimpse of the stage. The rhythmic runs of the Jhaala section kept her ears and eyes engaged. Her parents joined her happily, leaving their chairs. She snuggled them and played around till the performance reached the first Tabla solo of the evening. Now, she couldn’t take her eyes off the stage and her fingers off the bolster cushion. Her fingers were miming the bols (syllables) of Arunangshu Choudhary ji’s tabla. Of course, the cushion didn’t make any audible sound. So, in about 20 seconds she switched to foot percussion on the wooden steps. I didn’t mind the sound and neither did any one else I think; it was better than the volunteers buzzing continuously behind our row. It was a pretty impressive initiative on the family’s part, in my opinion, to provide an experience of ‘the taken for granted’ classical music to their child.
The family left after the Vilambit Gat (slow paced classical composition). One and a half hour of serious classical music was enough for the child in one day, anyway.
The Children’s Corner:
Soon-after, I too shifted to the front end of the wooden steps. That, looked like a special corner. It housed around 30 children of the school, almost glued to the performance.
I saw them head bang to the drut gat and the fast paced taans as if they watched a guitar hero solo like never before.
I saw almost each one of them air drum on the cushions placed on their laps. They air drummed harder on tihayis and rolls of Shri Amjad Khan’s Tabla. It didn’t seem like they sat there out of compulsion. Naturally, they too had their phases of passivity but each other’s company gave them creative options to engage. They chatted, gestured and played with the cushions but, in the environment were series and layers of notes and rhythm. There was a certain musical cheer in their play and talk, far from being a disturbance for anyone around. After a while, they did wait for the performance to end but also got mesmerised with the pure skill and genius of the performers at the same time. As we know, the taste for the classical arts is an acquired one but once acquired, it only grows and does good.
This corner had 2 gleeful twin sisters too, about 7 years old. Their mother ensured that she played with them, arranged and un-arranged cushions while they soaked in the celebratory sounds of the Sitar. She took her daughters’ hands in her own and clapped to the tempo. The twins seemed to enjoy this game quite a lot and passed another 15 minutes happily in the resounding zone.
We all know, children will always get bored of the anything stretched over 10 minutes unless it is a video game, their favourite TV show or a visually dynamic act. Think about an acquired personal trait that we have and are proud of. Inmost cases, it was patiently instilled by our parents, family and teachers in one or the other way. The special corner in the hall spoke of the efforts put in by the teachers and parents of those 30 children, who, in totality did enjoy more than half of a 2 and half hour long Indian Classical Performance, which, I think, is really commendable.
That people pay for classical music more often, that the youth mark their vivid presence and that children continue to receive this environment, are the three potential hopes that this concert generated and pointed towards better times ahead.
(Published in Eternal Times, April 2015 issue)