December Music Season: Audience

Two incidents come to mind when I think of audience behaviour at music concerts. Both incidents took place in early January, in different years, at different sabhas. As far as I can recall, they were benefit concerts and not part of the music festival. However, the audience was representative and their behaviour can be understood as typical of any concert they attend.

The first incident was at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan where there were two back to back concerts that evening. Sanjay Subramaniam’s was the first and people were still walking in when he had started singing his opening song. There was a steady murmur for the next few minutes before the audience settled down and decided to be quiet. Sanjay’s one hour concert was followed by a dance drama, performed by Chitra Visveswaran’s group of dancers. There was a recess of five minutes before the dance drama commenced, enough time for any dance haters to clear the hall. But no, that time was spent in waving to other friends in the audience and chatting on the aisle. When the lights were dimmed and the invocation number started, significant numbers in the audience walked out. I thought such behaviour was awfully callous and ill-mannered. How hard is it to realize that one is being very insulting to the performing artiste?

The second incident was at Naradha Gana Sabha during an O.S.Arun concert. I am not sure if the organizers were to blame or if the audience was being insensitive but what happened was that many people rushed out of the hall a few minutes after the second half of the concert had started. The reason being that the snack, which was expected to be served during the recess arrived late and was being set out after the recess. Many people thought nothing of hurrying outside to eat while the singer was in rapture on stage.

That Chennai has a large number of musically inclined people is undeniable. That many people sit in rapt attention at concerts is equally undeniable. It is such a pity then that some numbers in the audience are people who just want to be perceived musical but are neither willing nor conscious of what it takes to be so.

8 Comments so far

  1. Nastikan (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

    Perhaps OSA’s rapture was not as good as the dosa. Is the test of being musical *never* liking any dosa better than any song?

    Walking is about the politest way that the audience can display their negative response to the artist. I’ve never done in it myself, but during an interminable self-choreographered self-indulgent Valli Sangam-poem-varnam, the only thing stopping me was the bulk of the mamis on either side.

  2. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 16th, 2006 @ 12:31 am

    I think I mentioned this elsewhere on this site…

    Chennai’s classical music audience are just badly behaved.

    They wander in late, and push past people to get to their chosen seats (of course, the organisers let them in late: they are not asked to wait until the end of the song).

    They sit and chat. A few murmered comparisons of raga recognition hurts no-one. Even a quick enquiry as to whether one might still be ok for the last bus doesn’t hurt — we are human, after all. But these people sit and talk, and talk and talk. And very often they don’t even bother to do it quietly. And very often it is the older ones who should know better, and who have to talk louder because they are deafer. Why, oh why, if they want to chat to music, can’t they sit at home with the CD player?

    2/3 of the audience rushes for the exit as soon as they get a hint that the thani (percussion solo) is about to start. It doesn’t, of course, occur to them that the other one third want to listen in peace, without their view being blocked and their feet being trampled. No; because they say they ‘do not understand the thani’ they cannot stand to let their ears be sullied by it.

    Then there are the real enthusiasts. Who insist on letting their neighbours know that their interpretation of the raga is at least as good as the violinist’s. No: I go to a concert to listen to those on stage, not my fellow audience. Quite often these people are out of tune anyway, and, should they decide to put talam, they are frequently not only wrong, but off beat as well.

    Even those who can put talam (great for guiding those of us who get lost) are often too enthusiastic, the slap of hands against thighs drowning out the music. Guys: adi tala. It has three beats ‘with sound’ and four without, OK? Not eight loud claps…

    Then there are the enthusiastic parents. The women who think that the concert is a music class for their girls; question and answer session for every note. The men who want to show that, not only is their son learning mridangam, but they also understand so, son, get this lecture on what the mridangist is playing just now

    Oh, I could go on. And On. And on. And regularly do on music sites, where many a fellow Chennai sufferer has been known to agree with me.

    And I haven’t even started about mobile phones….

  3. Nagesh Kumar (unregistered) on December 16th, 2006 @ 12:09 pm


    I am an avid carnatic listener, Or a ‘Rasika’ as you would call in Chennai. I am a newbie to this city from Bangalore. I have lived and loved carnatic music last 40 years in Bangalore.

    Many things are wrong in your City always called ‘haven for carnatic music’ compared to Bangalore and the rest of karnataka.

    Firstly, though there are very good auditoria, they are not kept clean, not air-conditioned properly thus making it uncomfortably hot( I have fought with Vani mahal guys) AND TICKETS ARE UNAFFORDABLY COSTLY…RS 100/- UPWARDS esp. during December season. They cheat on Music system ,AC and snacks are very costly too.

    The duration of the concers are less( about 2 to 2.5 hrs max) than what we are used to in Bangalore( During Ramotsava there , the same ‘Sanjay subramanian’, ‘Sudha’ and ‘Nithyasree’ give 3.5 hours concerts there for a nominal fee or mostly free at many venues.)

    Regarding rasikas who pay thru their noses to get in here, quite a few of them are a noisy lot and speak in high decibels (like most madrasis)regardless of any indignant stares and even angry gestures from neighbours. They spoil the mood of the listeners with chit-chatting incessantly through out the concerts.

    Organisers don’t want to know about it too….
    They have got that day’s collection, nothing else matters.

    Mobile phone menace is more in Chennai and unlike Bangaloreans they don’t talk in whispers, low voices or go away to a corner at the least. No one keeps their phone in silent or vibrate mode.

    How can you guys be so insensitive in a concert?

    We Bangalorean music lovers are not used to this type of uncivilised behaviour although you may argue we don’t get so many concerts in a year or have locally popular artistes like those chennai boasts of.

  4. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 17th, 2006 @ 12:38 am

    Thank you Nagesh, I’m glad to know that somewhere in India Carnatic musicians and audiences are treated with respect.

    I was comparing notes with a London-based Tamil woman visiting for the season tonight. London audiences are not without their occasional raga hummers, but really do lack chatterers and just-plain-nuisance makers. Music there is treated as something special, by concert goers of all ages — there are very, very many young students of institutes such as the London branch of Bharatya Vidya Bhavan and the many other music-teaching Tamil Schools and independent teachers.

    As for the organisers regulating audience behaviour: they are often the loudest of the lot!

  5. Desigan (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2006 @ 10:35 am

    I have also come across such abruptout-walkers during the midst of a concert. Anybody wants to leave the concert in the midst, the best time would be after conclusion of a song without creating much noise like dragging the chair, etc., so that it does not affect the other active listners nor develop a feeling of disrespect in the minds of the artist.

    Walking out during the middle of a rendition except of course for xtreme emergencies, is definitely a unpalatable act from the point of of view of the artists and the ardent rasikas.

  6. Srinivasan.k (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

    I fully agree with the postings of Shri Desigan. When people can sit for 3 hours continuously in a cinema theater why can’t they follow the same here. Owing to my official posting I am staying in Mangalore at present. We do have some carnatic programs organised by Sangeetha Parishat and dr.Mani Krishnaswamy Foundation in Mangalore. In one of the recently concluded annual festival it was, during one of the concert, the oraniser thanked the audience of Dakshina Kannada (Mangalore) for keeping up the tradtion of not leaving the concert during the thani avarthanam or concert . There should be some discipline amongs the Rasikas. The other aspect is the few Rasikas have the tendency of not keeping the mobile in silent mode, especially inside the concert hall/room.

  7. Rukmani (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

    I cannot agree more with Lavanya on her comments! Over the last 2 decades I have witnessed this utter lack of respect for the performing artiste, as well as the the unseemly exodus that begins as soon as the solo percussion rendering commences.

    Although we have been so quick to mindlessly follow the West in a hundred different unwanted things, we have totally failed to implement the discipline they enforce in the conduct of their music concerts. First, the exits are closed as soon as the concert commences and second, pindrop silence is maintained. Needless to say that cell phones are switched off and no one leaves the auditorium until the close of the performance.

    A small bit of advice for all those self-declared rasikas who believe they are the sole repositories of carnatic music knowledge – Your first duty is to respect the performer/artiste which you will do by maintaining total silence, while he/she performs. Your second is to keep your knowledge to yourself and not display it to the detriment of peace in the Hall. A third is to keep all the personal chatter under cap!

    Organisers – Please start doing what you must in respect of closing and opening exits only when required.

  8. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 25th, 2006 @ 3:26 pm

    First duty? — to you fellow audience members, who will be far more disturbed than the musicians on stage!

    But, if there is any respect for the music, it should be given to the performers, of course.

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