S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Essence of time

By Madhavi Ramkumar

Time and timelessness have formed the basis of many philosophical, spiritual and scientific discussions down the ages. in the present world, which we are part of, time is indeed of the essence. Beginning and ending on time is crucial to the success of any venture including a music concert or a dance performance. While the wider reach of, and appreciation for, the classical arts, and the emergence of a crop of talented and committed young artists augur well for the future, certain aspects of the present state of the cultural milieu need to be looked into with an unbiased view. Lack of punctuality, and inadequate attention to organisational details, form the crux of a few of today’s problems in the conduct of programmes, affecting not merely the quality of the performance but also audience appreciation and enjoyment.

Classical performances in the West are marked by an extreme sense of decorum, rectitude and formality, and whether that can and should be adapted to Indian conditions is a matter of debate. However, the casual manner in which we often treat a performance by virtue of not adhering to time schedules smacks of a lack of respect for our arts in general. Though there may be exceptions, by and large a half hour this way or that seems to be of no consequence to us. There is really no justification for the organisers and artists arriving after the stipulated time. The preliminary tasks like setting up of the sound system and balancing have to be attended to well in advance. Valuable time is often spent adjusting mike levels and quality, and tuning the instruments, further delaying the entire process. While the informality may be a part of the Indian ethos, it is the performance itself that suffers. The concert veers off track, and more often than not the main item is cut short leaving a sense of disproportion and dissatisfaction. Very often the niraval in the main item has to be scrapped, or the ragam-tanam-pallavi has to be rushed through, negating the importance and relevance of the entire exercise.

On many occasions, lengthy speeches form part of the proceedings, creating further chaos and disrupting the flow of the concert. To specify the length of the speech in advance would, in fact, entail no disrespect to the speaker, however senior or celebrated. Also, at least some members of the audience are left bewildered by the number of people speaking and a further few called up to the stage to be honoured and felicitated. In music and dance performances featuring more than one artist, those scheduled towards the later part are forced to curtail the duration and number of items. It would be a great service to all concerned if such functions are not combined with a music concert; or if necessary they could be completed at a stipulated time before or after the time specified for the concert. They could also be held separately as in-house functions which are not publicised at large and sprung on unsuspecting art lovers and members of the press who have come to listen to or witness a recital. The primacy of the art, over all else, has to be established and maintained at the performance venue.

Further, it is only a matter of courtesy to everyone concerned, including the audience who have spent valuable resources just to be present at the venue, and without whom the entire exercise would be meaningless. Making them wait endlessly, in some cases for more than an hour, amounts to taking them for granted, and according scant respect for their time, energy and money. That the audience, too, have to keep their end of the bargain by maintaining silence and not distracting the artists in any way, goes without saying. That is the least we can do for our glorious legacy, for which we profess the utmost reverence.

(The author is a freelance critic and writer)


  1. This is so, so relevant...I have been very frustrated waiting outside concert halls when the artist arrives late and spends time testing for sound with everyone locked out of the hall...I thought this happened only in concerts held in India, till I found it happening in classical concerts by Indian artists held in the so called 'West', too...Likewise disturbances during a classical music performance...When I listended to Sanjay perform at Wigmore Hall, I noticed members of the audience stifling a cough so as to not to disturb others...Contrast this with young children performing their own 'alapana' (crying)in the middle of a concert...Ditto for walking out of the hall during the 'thani'...I don't know whether it is part of our 'culture', or, that a lot of folks go to these concerts 'to be seen'(not something unusual in other cultures, too)...Even if you are going 'to be seen' please observe the etiquette...Remember that in most Western performances including theatre you will not be let in to the hall if you arrive after the starting time...You will have to wait for a gap in the performance to be seated...Thank you for highlighting this point. Can the Music Academy, for a start, start enforcing some of these ? Lock the canteen during performances ?...

  2. VK Madhav Mohan8 August 2013 at 13:12

    Respect for time is conspicuous by its absence in the contemporary classical arts scenario in India. Congratulations to the author for identifying this serious problem and having the courage to write about it with such finesse!

  3. Punctuality is a very important aspect of professionalism. This professionalism is what we are falling short, be whatever the field. Becoming punctual carries implicit and explicit gesture of concern and consideration to others effort and time. It calls for a cultural change to address this matter.