'Artists Won't Survive Pandemic Without Patrons or Govt Aid': Music Maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia

·4-min read

Music maestro, Hariprasad Chaurasia, is all set to make an online appearance tonight at the Parampara Series -- a Delhi based music and dance festival, that took the virtual route this year, to cope with the restrictions placed by the government because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event hosted by famous Kuchipudi dancer, Dr. Raja Radha Reddy, can be watched online, for free, on Reddy’s YouTube channel as well as on the channel of the United Nations.

This, however, isn’t Chaurasia’s first online appearance since the pandemic started. He has already performed online on 2nd October, during an NCPA event, in which he paid a melodious tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday. However, the musician claims that using technology to connect to music lovers, isn’t something he likes, or can get used to anytime soon.

The relationship between the audience and a classical music performer is organic. Often the mood of the audience decides what performers play on stage, and sometimes, it is the rhythm of the performers that bind the audience in a spell. But, Chaurasia claims that during this pandemic that relationship has been snapped.

In an interview with News18, the world-renowned flautist said, “Our relationship with our audience has been interrupted. The audience does not recognize us, and we don't get to see them anymore. It feels like we are walking through darkness and there is no light at the end of the tunnel."

“Of course, there are technical and logistical problems in getting the acoustics right while performing from our living rooms for the internet. But, more than that, the whole process doesn’t sit right even if those problems can be fixed. It’s no fun if you do not know who you are playing for or if they are listening at all.” He added.

Struggles of future artists

Chaurasia took the Indian bamboo flute to the world stage and introduced many new techniques to the instrument that modern flautists have imbibed over the years. One of the most revered and loved musicians of India, in any given year, his schedule is packed with performances, both at home and abroad. However, this year has been different and rather difficult for the musician.

He is currently at his Vrindavan Gurukul in Mumbai, which is one of the two unique music schools he has set up in India. The other one is in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. In both these schools, the pedagogy harks back to the traditional style of teaching where a guru (teacher) imparts education to his kul (family or clan of musicians). Chosen purely on the basis of their merits, students from across the world, and a varied economic background come to learn music here. However, since the pandemic began, Chaurasia had faced many difficulties in imparting the education that he believes his students deserve.

“The aspiring artists from abroad had been sent home because we do not know how things are going to pan out during this time and we do not know when they can come back. But we do have students staying with us here, especially women students are still in the Gurukul," said Chaurasia. While for the time being both the institutions are coping, Chaurasia says that financial difficulties are likely to crop up in the future.

"Government help is nowhere in sight. Besides, the government itself is struggling to tackle the economy. And, the same is true of art and music patrons. Before, individuals who could support artistic endeavors were forthcoming with their donations, but now their own businesses are also incurring heavy losses. So, at the moment no one is in the position to offer help for institutions such as ours,” he added.

Currently, Chaurasia doesn’t have any travel plans, and all the set-up for his online appearances are being organized by his Gurukul students. “I don't even know how to make these online set-ups. My students help me a lot in setting things up. But this is not what I want them to do. This is not what they are here for. They are here to learn music. I am very worried about their future. " said the maestro.

The future of Performing Arts

A Padma Vibhushan awardee, Chaurasia said that this pandemic has jeopardized the future of performing arts. " What perturbs me most is that the future generation will be afraid to take up performing arts because they would not see any future in it, and that could result in many important artistic forms -- be it in the field of music or dance -- being lost. For centuries, our predecessors have worked so hard to build these genres and gharanas with their efforts, but that legacy would all be at risk if we do not see an impetus to protect performing arts now," said Chaurasia.

What governments and societies care for and nurture, only those things survive. Therefore, it is important to care for and nurture performing arts even at a difficult time like this, when it may not appear like a priority to support arts and music, said the maestro.