Creative Restlessness vs Complacency in a Musician

I am making bold to share or unburden a very personal experience of mine with my young friends who are into music. I wish they will take it in the right spirit for their own good in growing further in musical Gyana. I have always talked and discussed this subject with all my disciples and they seem to have grasped the intent that lies behind it.

I started giving public performances since 1980,the first one being Alladiya khansaheb Punyatithi organised by my father-guru in Dharwad. He continued to organise it for many years and I have worked for the organisation for three to four years as its Secretary. With the fond persuasion of my friends and other disciples of my guru, I asked him if I could perform at one Punyatithi and he readily agreed. I was to begin the two-day festival. I still remember vividly what I sang and how I sang. It was Sawani “Dev,Dev,sat sang..” in Jhaptal. On tabla, was Shri Basavaraj Bhendigeri, my guru’s favourite tablist. ( Incidentally, he accompanied me on my first trial performance on my First year at college-day and had persuaded my father-guru to teach me music and my father became my guru from then on. May his soul rest in peace.) I was allotted half hour to perform. I had requested my guru not to be seated in the auditorium and he had obliged. Before I started my performance I went out and touched his feet and came to the greenroom and practiced the raga for a while. With ‘flies and butterflies’ running riot in my stomach, I sat on the stage with two tanpuras, tabalji and harmonium player( With apologies, I forget who he was.) I was a greenhorn in performing to such a knowledgeable audience as the Dharwad listeners who had listened to many,many great artists. But I was not deterred by them. In my entire singing career, the one person I was afraid of was my guru. What would be his response,would he be pleased or displeased with my performance ! That’s because, he alone was my guide and my conscience keeper in music till the end. I sang Sawani for half hour and made way for the next artist. There were claps which I could not hear! (I was told there were loud claps,but they din’t matter to me) I went straight to my guru who stood outside smoking a beedi and I touched his feet and waited for what seemed to be eons for his response. What he said then is interesting because he did not praise or over-praise my performance. He simply touched my bowed head and said ” That was ok, but you must do better.” Oh,that was sweet music to my ears and more than enough for me and I was in the seventh heaven.( Various other people praised me to my face. That didn’t matter to me).

That was not the end of my performance. It was only the beginning of a strange and inexplicable turmoil inside me. The whole night I was sleepless, agitated, toss and turn however much I may. I was all the time rummaging into my singing, piece by piece, right from my first “Sa”. Sawani had not ended for me, it only began again and again at night, Swara by Swara, phrase by phrase, Laya by Laya. I was thinking and critically analysing my singing in minute detail. Had I made any mistakes? Were my swaras correct to the point,or was there something wanting in them? Did I take a particular phrase in the right place? Had I employed all the angs appropriately? Was the badhat moving in the right direction, did I employ bols and bolbaants,were my tans clear…. A million questions about my performance kept me wide awake. I don’t know if I slept at all the whole night. This kind of turmoil continued to happen to me after every performance for many years and it still happens to some degree.

The important questions here are what is this,why does it happen and is it good or bad. I began to wonder if the same phenomenon happened to other musicians and I asked a few musician friends of mine. Some said they didn’t experience such turmoil or agitation. Some said after the performance they drank and slept off with exhaustion. Then I wondered if something was wrong with me alone. But it kept on happening. Years later in my profession of teaching English Literature and especially literary criticism from Aristotle to Eliot, ( taught criticism for a number of years ) I had to read a lot of commentators and critics. Then I came across this phenomenon in a few writers. I learnt that a good and growing writer is not satisfied with what he has achieved. He looks critically at his own work and tries to build or improve in all ways – technique wise, content wise and expression wise. If he is a growing artist wanting to outdo himself,write better than his previous works, he begins to analyse his previous works. And that causes a certain turmoil, agitation, in him. He seeks newer pastures. Not that he is unsatisfied with what he has done or achieved, but wanting to do more in all ways. This, I discovered, is what is called CREATIVE-RESTLESSNESS which causes the phenomenon of turmoil,agitation and it sets every creative person to find limitations and good points in his previous works. Armed with this kind of self-scrutiny, he would want to break new paths. With this strategy, not deterred by what his critics have said and not overwhelmed by praise, he goes ahead with what he intends to do. ( For me too, praise doesn’t go to my head, criticism doesn’t go to my heart ) The artist then becomes ‘sane’ irrespective of his critics or laudators and tries to go where nobody has gone. Not that he becomes “successful or popular” all the time. Success and popularity are many times limiting factors to artistic creativity and growth. One tries to repeat what one has already done to remain successful or popular. One could become a caricature of oneself . This could explain my turmoil and agitation. I try to scrutinize my performances with a magnifying glass, put them under a powerful microscope. ( In order to alleviate such trauma, my well-meaning disciple, Dr. Chandrika Kamat, even suggested that I should take it as “creative fulfillment ” and sleep soundly. I told her “Wait until you grow up musically and see if you will not experience this creative restlessness”. And she is now experiencing something of this kind in her performances too!)

What I want to convey through this experience of mine to my young musician friends is that without such intense self-scrutiny,there is no growth in your music. Good reviews, laudatory and pleasing comments you may get aplenty but if you don’t do such analysis of your own music, you may not grow despite ego-pleasing comments, thunderous claps, standing ovations and good reviews. Review yourself, first and foremost, is my humble suggestion. For me, this creative restlessness is most welcome because it gives me a chance to improve.

Many of my readers may not believe that as a performer I keep a diary of my performances wherein I have commented on my singing a particular raga at different occasions. What were the shortcomings in a particular performance, which Swara was not accurate, where did I slip and also what new phrases I made, how I came to the sum in a novel way, how and in what different ways I presented the raga,etc,etc. I have asked my disciples to read this diary so that they can benefit from such self scrutiny. On the opening page of my worn-out bandish book, I have etched the following sentences just as they are etched in my musical being: