An exchange on musicians and music critics

I was extremely intrigued by the comments of Mr. N. Ram published on the 28th of February in The Hindu regarding critics and musicians during a recent function in Chennai. While he has been quite scathing in his criticism of musicians, saying that we are thin-skinned and want only favourable reviews, it is quite sad to note that there has been absolutely no self-introspection in his speech about the quality of critics in The Hindu. Barring a few critics, I can say as a student of this art form that the knowledge of the critics today is abysmal. It is not about understanding very complex technicalities, even at a very necessary level it is lacking. I can back this with numerous reviews published in The Hindu itself.

The situation during the music season is even funnier. Suddenly a dozen people who don’t write through the year appear and start writing reviews. Often the reviews are only reports and any semblance of criticism is very mediocre. Let me even say that many reviews of even mine, which have been lavish in praise, have been extremely poor in content and quality.

Therefore it is not about only negative reviews; even positive reviews are bad. Some critics find it necessary to display their knowledge of music by trying to quote some technical aspects like derivatives of the raga etc while the real lack of musical acumen is very evident. Therefore while there are musicians who have not accepted harsh criticism there is also that the fact that The Hindu can no longer believe that its reviewers are of a quality to be respected. Comparing this with the detail and knowledge expressed in a review in, say, The New York Times is totally wrong.

Let me add that Mr. S.V.K. [S.V. Krishnamurthy, The Hindu’s chief music critic], for whom this function was held, is a very rare breed. I have myself received both positive and negative reviews from him but never has this affected our relationship. There are people who have completely disagreed with him but we all know that his opinions are based on his personal perspective backed by knowledge of music.

While I will be the first to accept that we musicians are not an easy lot and do find it difficult to accept criticism I think there is also an urgent need for The Hindu to introspect on what the qualities of a critic should be and how they select the same.

No amount of guidelines will help unless the right people are found. I completely agree that robust criticism is very necessary but it can be robust only when people are chosen very carefully and at the same time I do agree that musicians need to understand the role of critics. But one is not going to happen without the other.

Originally written for The Hindu