It was a Sunday and the venue was Toyota Arena in Downtown Houston where a high-flying Bollywood musician was scheduled to present his New Age music. The show was making waves among audiences across the globe. We reached the place before time and watched in amusement the excited tinsel crowds drifting in in flocks. The show began late, quickly propelling its glamor and glitter to next orbits, lavishly dynamic sets and fancy lighting thrilling the cheering audience as the host of musicians and dancers performed live on the gigantic stage. The hero belted out his hits one after another, some of them truly unforgettable from the recent decades. The audience of over 4000 whistled and screamed all along, finally cramming the theater exits and then the roads out of the ocean-like parking lot after the show ended. The event was like a mega ball game affair of celebrity players, excitedly patronized by sports lovers in thousands.
Immediate next weekend saw Houston’s Jones Hall (University of St. Thomas) hosting a marvelous vocal Indian Classical recital by an accomplished India-based female artist who was touring the United States. The music was absolutely heavenly with its nuance, structure and study. But the publicity had no aura or budget, and as such with the prevalent Classical music disinterest, a headcount of about a hundred sat in the audience in the fourth largest metro in America.
I attended both the concerts enjoying them thoroughly, and although this was no new information, was perplexed at the end of the dual experience. Where was the gap in popularity? Why such disparity in the audience response! I was analyzing the art forms, the social mindset, the history, the customs, and was also talking to people to collect their takes, all to form my empathy-based action that would soon spell the Renu mission of Audience Development. Here is a little background in the subject.
Classical, Baroque, Rococo, Renaissance, Modern, Contemporary – all refer to a period in history, all defining a form of art. As a function of the Developed world ethos with free education and art entering the curriculum early on, kids in the west have already learnt about Picasso’s Cubist painting style and Tchaikovsky’s music through The Nutcracker by the time they are five or six. They grow up seeing that art is appreciated, encouraged, loved and patronized widely around them. While the survival is free or easy nowhere on the planet, they also learn that Art can make a promising, dignified and respectable vocational path. The system succeeds both in creating artists, and audiences.
Classical music in India on the other hand, is faced with a biased social psyche. For one, arts are not introduced in early education in any worthwhile way. Classical Music – India’s premium and precious Ancient wisdom – does not command great respect among masses, and is rarely viewed as the primary career option (unless there is generational legacy!) lack of audience support being the paramount and perpetual difficulty. But there is something more to the story. The baffling-ungraspable-esoteric image of Classical music that got created and nurtured along the past! Exactly when and where was it born? Was it the unstable-destabilizing changing rules and ideologies over centuries? Missing enlightened leaderships? Insecurities of the gurus in parting with the knowledge? The Gharana confusions? The ‘unwritten’ musical improvisations that highly promote individuality…?
Be it what it may. The exceedingly beautiful Indian Classical music, universally acclaimed for its spiritual essence and charm, remains untapped for its full potential of giving joy, even today. Its popularity is limited to connoisseurs – the select few, with most other people distanced from it, owing to their difficulty in accessing or understanding it. Why is this music perceived as difficult?
It is possible that this beautiful music has not been adequately demystified. It is rarely broken down to smaller concepts in an affable, playful, inviting way, in the instruction. It is difficult, simply because it has not been made easy!
Audience Development is a big agenda at Renu. Our Gandhaar, Pancham and Padanyas workshops teach art appreciation in an unconventional, engrossing and participative way. Appreciative intelligence is systematically introduced to people in order to turn them into enthusiastic, spirited and studied audiences. It is not so much about teaching how to sing, it is about teaching how to listen. Our solo as well as collaborative workshops, performances, art shows and blogs are all intended to leave a lasting impact of knowledge and joy with the audiences.