In the music room

Poorna Kulkarni
Tuesday, 7 May 2019

What are the Baithak style of music performances? We meet artists and audience to find out

Baithak, also known as chamber style performance, is nothing but a small and intimate gathering of music lovers sitting close to the performing artists and interacting and exchanging notes over different genres. It is the traditional way of listening to the Hindustani classical music, when there was royal patronage. 

Monthly series
Dr Prabha Atre, recipient of awards like Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi award, hosts a monthly baithak series in the city. She says, “I could come this far in my career as a singer because of my listeners. I began this journey with baithak type concerts. I love singing in baithaks as I have direct communication with my listeners. I can see their expressions, body movements and respond to their words of appreciation on the spot.” 

Dr Prabha Atre Foundation has been conducting baithak programmes at Swaramayee Gurukul for 16 years now. It is a non-ticketed event and is open to all music lovers. The gurukul has organised nearly 200 such mehfils and the objective behind starting baithaks is to revive and rejuvenate the culture of the Bharatiya mehfils. It makes a lot of difference when an intent listener is conversant and well aware with the concepts and techniques of Hindustani classical music. Dr Atre adds, “In a live concert, listeners’ open response plays an important role in giving shape to music, especially when music is not written, not pre-composed. When it is extempore, music has unlimited potential to grow with amazing variety. In moments of inspiration, the artist often comes up with something novel, remarkable which s/he has not tried before.” 

In baithak, the artist first gives an introduction to his art, details of his training period, his guru and the compositions he would be presenting. Once the programme begins, it depends on the artist as to how s/he would take the audience through the performance. At the end, an interaction session is held between the audience and the artist. This helps the audiences to understand the art even better. 

Artist Speak 
Dr Vikas Kashalkar, Jaipur Gharana vocalist, who not only performed at Swaramayee Gurukul but also gave a lecture demonstration on ‘Aesthetics of Different Gharanas — An Overview’, says, “I feel that classical music is nothing but the chamber style music. This style works on one-to-one connection between the artist and the audiences. In big programmes or music festivals, there is one way communication. In classical music, the extempore is a surprise element and it turns out to be a beautiful listening experience for not only the audiences but also for the artist. I personally feel that there must be more baithak programmes conducted for the audiences.” 

Speaking about his experience at Swaramayee Gurukul, Kashalkar said he liked the atmosphere and the gathering. “In such programmes, the performer first explains his approach to the compositions or bandish and then he performs them. When the audience applauds an artist with ‘Kya baat hai’ in the middle of his performance, we can say that the artist is deserving.”

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar, exponent of the Rudraveena, an ancient Indian music instrument, echoes Kashalkar’s sentiments. Says he, “Baithak style programmes are very important as most of the artists in India have emerged through them. The audience comes to listen to the artists because they have been following them for a considerable amount of time. When someone from the gathering says, ‘This artist is better’, then it has more value because the word-of-mouth publicity holds more credibility over anything. One to one relation is created between the audience and the artist and there is also oneness in thought.” 

Audience response
Hema Deshpande, associate faculty at Lalit Kala Kendra, Gurukul, Savitribai Phule Pune University, has been regularly attending the baithak series at Swaramayee Gurukul. She says, “There are many baithak programmes that I have come across. But the one at Swaramayee Gurukul stands apart. They are held in the presence of Dr Atreji and she gives time for all these events, which is so inspiring. Also, for the artists to perform in front of her is a different challenge.” 

Deshpande says that she attends the monthly sessions to observe and learn different aspects of music like the thumris. She even attends the lecture demonstrations and considers the sessions a good blend of performing art and academic element. “From new age artists to well-established artists like Aarti Ankalikar-Tikekar, we get to listen to all. We get to see and listen to different artists from different places and also discuss with them the different styles of classical music which is a learning experience in itself,” she adds. 

Another regular visitor is Arati Pitre, who is an architect and is also learning semi-classical music. She says the frequency in the number of baithaks conducted today is very less and the programme she attends at Swaramayee Gurukul allows her to learn more about different ragas.

“We get to see and listen to established artists which is a blessing. A small group of like-minded people attends such programmes and that adds to the experience. Every performance teaches me something new. I take home the feeling of satisfaction and an enriching experience,” says Pitre.

For any programme to end on a good note, there has to be equal give and take of energy between the artist and the audience. Dr Atre says, “It takes many years of training, practice and contemplation to become a good artist. It takes even more years to become a good listener.”

ST Reader Service
Artist Gauri Pathare will be  performing at 6 pm on May 12 at Swaramayee Gurukul, off JM Road, Shivajinagar. Pathare is a well-known Kirana gharana musician. 

​ ​

Related News