T M Krishna's recent concert at Oosterport, Groningen, Netherlands March 2009
What is important when one presents carnatic music to a western carnatically uneducated audience? To baffle them with chaste carnatic complexity or to mellow the audience and elucidate the greatness through its manodharma? This is a veritably an interesting and important cannondrum many carnatic musicians face when they are performing to a chaste western audience in uncommon overseas locations. If the audience is well versed in the grammar of carnatic music, then the only way to present its manodharma to such an audience is through the very practise of it. But if the audience happens to be uneducated, then is it possible to invoke the manodharma of our music through a chaste presentation? Such a question occupied my head following a presentation of carnatic concert by T M Krishna to the Groningen audience in the north of Holland recently.
TMK's presentation accompanied by the redoubtable R. K Shriramkumar on the Violin, Manoj Siva on the mrudangam and Ludwig Pesch on the tambura was a majestic extrapolation our our art and deserves much admiration and ovation. TMK elaborated mainly, Karaharapriya and Thodi in its chaste glory and mathematical intricacy, how one would if they are being presented perhaps at the Madras Music Academy. The suprasensory perception of the beautiful was evident in both pieces and at some point, I was indeed in meditation. However to the vast carnatically unerudite audience, as I realised from the feedbacks I received, it was a mere spectacle of sound and rhythm. While I really appreciated the essence of the bhava of our music TMK wished to portray, I felt he could have drawn the audience a little bit closer to the soul of our music had he, at least presented one item that drew some parallels between carnatic and western classical music at the very end of the concert. Several of the members of the audience were from eastern european countries who are used to a chaste combination of baroque and western classical sense. Several others were my colleagues at UMCG who had little training even in western classical music, let alone the complexity of the carnatic world!
Though many of them enjoyed the concert, their enjoyment was instrumented by what a Hungarian cellist described to me as 'fireworks'. The audience, small in number and many of them present upon my personal invitation were at loss with exactly what was happening on stage. I am a stout defender of classicm of our art. However sometimes when we tread new ground or when we have to popularise our art to an audience of different ethos, then we have to integrate our art with theirs and draw their mind to a level of erudite sensory perception. This will not only provoke their interest but also would help promote the manodharma of our art in the times to come.
Upon request from a slovakian violinist and a musically untrained Neurologist who were sitting beside me, who wanted to know how the same raga or melody (because they couldnt really digest the heavness of Karaharapriya and Todi) if treated in a slightly western style would resonate, I requested TMK to render the Madurai Mani Iyer english notes as a concluding item. This simple item would have given the audience a perception of not only the extrapolation of the vocal, but also how the Mrudangam and the Violin would adapt, what exactly raga & swara mean etc. Such an exercise is not actually diluting our art, but explaining our art to a baroque audience. But TMK bluntly and aversely refused. That was quite strange to me, as I thought he would capitalise on the opportunity to draw the crowd even closer, following his extrapolation of chaste music!
Nevertheless I am not sure how the audience is in other parts of Hollanda are. But carnatic vocal music, in particular, is a hard act to follow for untrained audience here in Groningen. They may applaud on witnessing something different to the usual or being exposed to a myriad of sound and rhythm, but if the aim is more to propogate an understanding of the manodharma of our music, then there is more to be presented than chaste music. Perhaps as a suggestion it might be worthwhile to conduct a simple lecture demonstration before foraying into Todi and Bhairavi and at least contain one item which draws parallels between our Todi/Bharaivi in Hayden or Chopin, purely to explain the very Todi and Bhairavi, at least the next time in Groningen!
I recollect my manasikha guru Dr. Balamuralikrishna opine..."while my mind should meditate when I sing, my fingers should realise the pulse of the audience and modulate the meditation without diluting the art".
Indeed the modular brain system of music operate in different levels of syntax!
Dr. Hari Subramanian