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(From The Thyagraja Aradhana 2010 Souvenir- Complete Text)
Does audience behavior at music or dance programs depend on the type of concert, venue, city, or other factors? Perhaps. It varies from fairly casual to highly disciplined. Over the years, I have been troubled by the conduct of some patrons at SRUTI events. But before we discuss that, let us look at patterns of audience conduct in two different contexts: Carnatic music concerts in India and Western classical music concerts in this country.
Recent issues of Sruti magazine from Chennai, India have carried articles and letters to the editor regarding the lack of discipline exhibited by audiences at Carnatic music concerts in India, and particularly in Chennai. It is not unusual for patrons to walk in and out in the middle of performances, including an alapana or swaraprastharam. VIPs are wont to barge in as they please and jostle past other people to get to a seat in the front row. The artists are expected to acknowledge their presence even if it means disrupting a complicated swarakalpana. Perhaps the worst annoyance is the audience exodus when the thani avarthanam begins. [As an aside, I recently saw a cartoon in a magazine that showed the mridanga vidwan carrying his instrument while the Secretary announced that for the benefit of the audience, “today’s thani avartanam would be performed in the cafeteria”!] Frequent chatter, these days especially on cell phones, is another common annoyance.
By contrast, those who attend Western classical music concerts in this country know that doors close when the conductor begins the performance, and late arrivals (even if only by a few minutes) may not enter the concert hall until the piece being played has concluded. There is typically also pin-drop silence in the auditorium. The silence does not mean that the audience is not appreciating the music being produced on stage; on the contrary, the pin-drop silence allows the audience to be fully immersed in the music. In my observations, the conduct of SRUTI audiences falls between the above two extremes. Most concertgoers sit patiently through a concert, showing their enjoyment and appreciation with frequent applause. But a few people do wander in and out. It is understandably difficult to sit still for almost three hours, but one would hope that those who need to leave would do so (a) only after the alapana/swaraprastharam or between pieces, and (b) not rush back to their seats, or even consider remaining in the back of the hall for the rest of the concert in order to minimize their disruption of others’ enjoyment.
It is laudable that SRUTI audiences do not engage in mass exodus during thani avarthanam. In fact, the audience does applaud delightful mohras. Many visiting artists have expressed their appreciation of this characteristic. Unfortunately all this discipline seems to break down at other SRUTI (community oriented) programs like the annual Thyagaraja Aradhana and the SRUTI Day programs. These are events for which many youngsters prepare hard and give of their best. That is good. What is not good is that, almost immediately after some of them perform, their parents whisk them away and leave the auditorium en masse. I am sure the parents are proud to see their children perform to an appreciative audience but do not show a minimal courtesy of staying behind to hear other youngsters. This attitude can be observed among some adults also, so much so the later artists perform to a nearly empty hall except for the organizers and a few die hard patrons. In fact during the Thyagaraja Aradhana of 2009, there were less than about a dozen persons in the hall for the last singer and even less for the mangalam. This is indeed very unfair to the performers.
I would earnestly appeal to all patrons to stay on after they or their children perform and encourage others. This is the minimum that they can do in return for SRUTI giving them a forum to exhibit their talents.
About the author: An ardent admirer and lover of Carnatic music, Rasikan has been a regular contributor to Sruti Notes and other publications of Sruti.