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Gentlemen vs Players – A thin dividing line

Back in the early eighties I spent a considerable amount of time in the British Council Library in Chennai specifically looking for cricket books. One of my favorite authors was Neville Cardus and I always maintain that our own Sriram V is really the modern day Neville Cardus of Carnatic music. Anyway in Cardus’ writing there was always this mention of the Gentlemen vs Players annual cricket match at Lords every year. Now who were these. Gentlemen were the amateurs, while the Players were the professional cricketers who were employed by the counties for a salary.

The reason I bring this up today is because such a distinction also existed some decades back in Carnatic music. My guru and grand aunt Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan, who was also an A grade artiste at the All India Radio always called herself an amateur (in a cricketng parlance that would make her a Lady!) and she identified several such people like her in the musical community. These amateurs were all either family women who sang mostly only on the radio or corporate executives who also performed regularly on the radio.

As far as performing skill goes there was not much of a dividing line between these amateurs and the successful professional concert artistes. But the main difference was that the amateurs were very very happy being just that. They never aspired to sing in all the major sabhas or music festivals. They were very happy singing their radio concert once every 2 months. Those were the days when the AIR was not yet privatised. The managed made a concerted effort to present classical music very regularly. The top artistes gave atleast 5-6 concerts a year. These amateurs also would sing probably at the odd family kalyanam maybe after the muhurtham before lunch is served or just during or after the nalangu or after the nischayathartham and leave the main reception concert to the pros.

In today’s time also there are a number of such amateurs all over the world. Many of them live in places like the US for instance. They spend every minute of their spare time practicing. They teach a number of kids here and bring them upto a decent level before the more ambitious parents decide to send them to the pros in India. Some of these amateurs are involved in community activity also musically. The get a group to organise say a Tyagaraja Aradhana or a Composers day. They definitely get involved in the committee f some of the musical organisations and provide the expert angle when discussions happen regarding selection of the artistes for the next spring or fall season.

Some of them do try and compare themselves with the pros and know that they are so much better. I for instance know that there some excellent musicians who can sing an elaborate Narayanagowla or Balahamsa and put any pro including myself to shame. I have heard them and felt so depressed at my inability to sing as well. The only difference is that the pros took the plunge. They sacrificed a lot to take up music as a career. They may not be as good sometimes but they can definitely hold an audience. The challenge to a pro more than anything else is to get people to pay money to come and listen to them. So if the pros are dominating the concert scene it is because they are performers. They entertain. They keep people occupied for 2-3 hours. People are willing to spare time and money to come and listen to them. Afterall carnatic music today is competing with so many more alternate forms of entertainment including reading my blog at this moment or playing on the Nintendo Wii or watching a tear jerker on Sun TV. As I Player I take my hat of to all those Gentlemen and Ladies!


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