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How to make chamber concerts worthwhile?

Written by – Dakshayani Athalye

The purpose of chamber concerts

For some it may be having fun with family and friends while for some it is about supporting artists and music. Some have intentions like specifically promoting younger artists or bringing maestros in an intimate setting or present certain themes. The purposes may be diverse but one cannot forget that house concerts/chamber concerts are a wonderful opportunity. Opportunity for whom and of what kind? What does this setting allow? based on our experience, here are some guidelines to ensure that we all are making the best use of the opportunity available. 

Promote un-amplified music: 

Use microphones for recording but not for amplification!

After the invention of microphone and the science of recording Indian Classical Music changed a lot. Artists no longer needed to scream, damage their voices and the gatherings became larger than ever. However we did loose a lot too. Resonances of human voice, the resonance of instruments, the eye-contact with the artist and the joy of connecting with your fellow listener and noting observations with a wink or a heavy nod. When you have only 20-30 listeners you have the opportunity to bring this experience back. Once we decide on zero amplification we also force the audience to actually listen. There is no choice but to hear carefully or else you will miss it!

We have sometimes seen artists skeptical about doing un-amplified concerts as they are mostly comfortable with the added volume, reverb, echo or filtering. (thankfully we don’t have flanger in Classical music, yet.) The setting allows us to work with the artist to experiment with natural dissemination and reception of music. After all; technology is a tool and like our forefathers said; ‘tools are impermanent and one needs to use them not become their slaves’. 

Support experimentation and expression: 

The basis of Indian Classical Music is self-discovery and self -expression and sometimes the practise and theory are contradictory. Mostly listeners like to listen to the bandishes in the same fashion; you change the teentaal to addha they will make faces. Sing your self-composed bandish they will enjoy it till you announce that you are the writer+composer. Funnily many will like if you add a tinge of vande-mataram or ekla chalo re in your Bhairavi (hardly Bhairavi). When its a ticketed concert/large public concert one may justify that the audience is seeking entertainment and the artist’s job is to provide for the same. So be it repetition, non-sensical jugalbandi – there is a demand and artist’s cater to it. 

House concerts are the opportunity to break this obligation and be connected not by the price of the ticket but by the music that we all seek whether as artist or as audience. Chamber concerts can become the safe spaces where artists can try without fear and the audiences can appreciate the effort than the final product. This can also encourage lively, candid and deep conversations which enrich both the artist and the audience. 

Bring back the acoustic tanpura: 

Let the artist take their time to tune tanpuras.

Well, I am slightly biased and maybe idealist here. My Guruji lived by the tanpura as if it breathed life into him. I have personally witnessed the energy that this instrument emits and the feeling of grace you are filled with when it accepts your request to be tuned. Concert stages, auditoriums etc. are never ideal for an acoustic tanpura. The AC creates a havoc and then the heat of the lights make it highly difficult to keep the tanpuras in tune. Thus most artists (especially younger ones) use electronic tanpuras only. Well, the constraints may be many but house concerts are definitely a good chance to use acoustic tanpuras. 

If you are a traveling musician you can request the host to organise for them. You may take all the time you need for tuning and re-adjustment even in the middle of the concert. Mostly you will have the freedom to say no to AC and I hope we don’t have halogens in anyone’s living room! Homes are the perfect setting to bring back acoustic tanpuras and they are bound to affect the quality of music created. This can even happen in mid-sized or small auditoriums which host not more than 100 people. Organisers/hosts/curators must also insist on this to ensure that they are maintaining an essential element of the Classical Music tradition which is becoming obsolete not because of its lost practical utility but because of negligence and disinterest in hard-work. (If some of you feel this is a strong statement, I am happy to elaborate in a personal discussion or a separate article.)

Dump the phone: 

Allow your hands to be mobile free!

These days haven’t you noticed the constantly ‘live’ audiences who are busy recording than listening. Chamber concerts can be strictly no-recording events. Nobody records, chats or sends live videos. If we are so happy with our phones why bother attending a concert? Switch off your phones and just listen for once! The host can deploy a person for video/audio recording which may then be shared with the artists and the audience with all the due permissions. 

I get the sentiment behind recording events but I fail to understand the obsession. It’s ok if once in a while we don’t record – we don’t always need to see videos to recall events. Memories are made without phones (sadly we believe phone marketers a lot)!

Encourage conversations: 

Let someone ask questions…

Allow artists to speak about their journey, share their stories and perspectives. Some musicians will not prefer this but some may be most happy to share if we ask them to. Maybe sit with your artists before and let them know your purpose behind organising the concert and ask them how they wish to contribute to the concept. Musicians can explain words of compositions the structure or the melodic thought behind something. At times the trivia can become interesting and enriching. Sometimes the host may give full discretion to the artist while sometime they may make specific requests. Together work to make the experience better for everyone. 

What are some of your suggestions to best utilise the opportunity provided by a house concert? Please share your opinions and suggestions in comments below!

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