On a ‘competent’ music review


Like the heads of an Hydra or Ravana, examples for the competence of the Hindu Music Critic refuses to die out. The Hindu yesterday carries music reviews done on the Tyagaraja Aradhana music festival in Srirangam. Here is a screen-shot of an excerpt from that “competent” music review.


Even for novice Carnatic musicians or listeners among you who are reading this, the glaring “competency” of the song and raga lists in the above screen-shot would be befuddling. For others, who can read English, I am sure, the prose would be equally benumbing. Read on, if you are in the mood for me to elaborate. At the end, I am placing a request to Shri. N. Ram, esteemed patron of music critics — and not musicians or listeners.

First a quick list of errors in the song titles and ragas.

  1. Sogasujooda not Saha su su
  2. Thyagarajaaya namasthe – not Shri thyagaraja mahathe
  3. Accompanists – R.K.Shriramkumar not R.K.Shrikumar
  4. Etula brothuvo – chakravakam not Yathuna Pol and not bhairavam
  5. Vaachaamagocharame – raga kaikavasi – not Vasaka Kosalame and not hamsanadam
  6. Bavanutha in Mohanam and not Baranutha in Mohanam
  7. Thappagane in shuddha bangala not Thathbathane in Mohanam

Update: According to the review,

Sikkil Gurucharan accompanied by Ganesh Prasad on the violin, Ganapathiraman on the mridangam and Tiruchi Murali on the ghatam was different and enjoyable.

His ‘Thathvamariya’ (Ritigowla), ‘Shyamasundara’ (Dhanyasi) and ‘Vinatha Sudha Vahana’ (Jayanthasena) were pieces of sukham and his treatment of Kalyani for the kriti ‘Suthari Ki,’ rendered with sweet swarams and sargams, sans frills, was a pleasure to listen to.

while confirming it from Gurucharan himself through another musician who was present on the occasion, Sikkil Gurucharan actually sang Thathvameruga in garudadhwani, Vinatha sutha vahana in harikamboji and Sundari nee in kalyani. Again, novice musicians and listeners would know the names of these kritis and the enormity of the “competence” involved in citing them otherwise.

(Disclaimer: I haven’t attended these concerts so I don’t know whether these songs were actually sung; But since they are printed in the review, am placing these errors from my prior knowledge of these songs and from comments by those who attended this program. I shall stand corrected of any of my additional “transducer errors”)

And to top this, the same review in the main Hindu site (the above one is from the beta Hindu site) has other fresh errors. For instance, it says TM Krishna sang SHri raga thyagaraja mahaaadvajaaroha when he had actually sung, thyagarajaya namasthe in begada ragam.

Such level of “competence” is not in Nature. The Hindu Music Critic should sincerely have been at it for years. At this rate, I should allude this re-review task to the cleaning of the Augean stables.

But I don’t mind this at all. If the Hindu Music Critic writes these songs and ragas this way, then the Trinities and others should stand corrected. And if T. M. Krishna writes, “it is not about only negative reviews; even positive reviews are bad.” why should I, puny abecedarian listener/reader, bother? We have already been admonished by N. Ram, in self-reflection-less gall, about the competence of his Hindu Music Critics thusly:

[music] critic was an individual expert rasika and writer on music and The Hindu chose “its critics and respected their musical knowledge, integrity, independence, judgement and writing style.”

Who am I to doubt Caesar’s Wife with my plebeian thin skinned ululations? Hindu Music Critic Sogasu jooda na tarama?

Second, observe this sentence from the screen-shot

Sanjay Subramanian (vocal) with Nagai Muralidharan (violin), Neyveli Venakatesh (mridangam) and Rajaganesh (ganjira) established his expertise by fearlessly travelling into the unexplored paths of Carnatic music.

Now read this

Sanjay gave a good concert.

The “visuals” of the supposedly “evocative prose” of the reviewer should fuel your imagination to sympathize with the reviewer’s delight (or plight?) during the performance. Does that reviewer’s sentence provide you with any further information or insight about the music concert than my later “bland” sentence? To sympathize the brilliance of the delivered music, am I as a reader supposed to imagine Sanjay delivering a Carnatic music concert, decked in a shining garb of jangling armory, brandishing his Arthurian sword and charging fearlessly into that tumultuous and treacherous Unexplored Paths of Carnatic Music, ably accompanied by Nagai Muralidharan brandishing his violin bow and Venkatesh performing a thani in kanda nadai to announce the successful passage of Shri. Sanjay, Knight Karnatic, into Unexplored Paths (and got lost)?

As George Orwell cautioned in his Politics and the English Language, “writing at its worst […] consists in gumming together long strips of words that have already been set in order by someone else, and making the result presentable by sheer humbug.” As a writer when one tries to only impress, it is tempting — as George Orwell cautioned — to say In my opinion it is not unjustifiable assumption that… than to say I think.

Vacuous hyperbole by a critic insults the music performer. If you have got nothing original to write about the music, don’t write anything. If that means you have nothing to write as your review, quit.

Now take this other sentence from that review:

It was a star-studded performance by T. M. Krishna (vocal), whose power-packed deliverance sent the audience to raptures. Starting with a pacy ‘O Ranga Sayee’ (Khambodi) […] he touched the high and low of every kriti to the pleasure of the listeners.

High and low? Seriously? Do you mean to say TMK hit the good spots — highs — and the bad spots — low — of each and every kriti (song)? Does this mean, these kritis are designed this way — with good and bad parts — by the Trinities and other composers?

Or is it the swaras you are alluding to? May be you mean “he touched the high and low swaras of every kriti”. But then, how one is supposed to normally sing those kritis; without touching those swaras? Why state the obvious as your review?

Or, extending another benefit of doubt to the reviewer, should I assume by that sentence TMK had a off-color day today (which is possible) and sang well each kriti only in portions but also slipped in other parts without fail? If that is right, then why such a performance is “to the pleasure of the listeners”?

And notice the usage of star-studded to describe a performance. Granted the star/s the reviewer alluding to is perhaps TMK and his accompanists, since they are sitting on the stage where the performance is, performed (duh!). Why not say that correctly? Why confuse with “star-studded performance”? Like our domestic cow gave today a star-studded performance of daily ablutions or my kid gave a star-studded performance in her exam today.

Muddle is a habit easily learnt but hard to dispel. Like an unclaimed public fart, they are endured. If the music critic asks me how else should one review, remind me why I cannot reply with a string of evocative expletives designed to propel the critic fearlessly into the unexplored paths of able communication.

We know from recent proof how Shri. N. Ram, could respond to all this. He would maintain all Hindu Music Critics are competent and above re-critique from thin-skinned musicians and listeners/readers. I am not trying to hold these reviewer-mistakes against such “rational belief”. Everyone has a right to their delusions. My only request to him, in the language of the above and other reviews, which is our beloved Victorian English lineage (a.k.a. my leave-letter-language):

I hereby humbly request you esteemed Mr. N. Ram to grant these competent-yet-clueless music critics leave of absence for three days before the day they need to submit every music review they perceive, in order to get a Rapid-ex treatment only for the English language inadequacy they are perennially suffering from. Although the effect of such treatment is only ephemeral, I assure you of its efficacy, immediacy and sufficiency in a social cause of fighting against “sweeping dismissal of the competence of our music critics” by “thin-skinned” musicians and listeners/readers. Last but not the least, I also hereby promise that the fee for such language treatment can be deducted from the richly deserved emoluments they could earn for their Godly Musical Knowledge and Competence. By the by, Ta Ta.

For the rest of us, the above paragraph means: I request the newspaper to train several of their critics, at least in readable English.