Imagine that I were scheduled to perform an extremely complex surgical operation on you, your mother, or child, or spouse, or any loved one.
Imagine that I didn’t prepare adequately for it, didn’t make sure that the operation theatre, the instruments, sutures, needles, swabs, mops, gowns and drapes were properly sterilised, that there was blood cross-matched and waiting in case the blood loss was excessive, didn’t ensure that there was sufficient staff (assistants, anaesthetists, scrub nurses) on hand, or brought novices along. Imagine I too were a novice.
And then… surprise surprise: it’s a disaster. Morbidity or even mortality.
And then I came up to you and said “I’m really really sorry, but there was just not enough time, you see. I made do with whatever I could. I hope you don’t mind”.
To say that you’d be livid is an understatement. Litiginous or even murderous, more like!
So why is it that when it comes to music, we are so much more forgiving in India?
Whenever an orchestra or choir is cobbled together for some crazily ambitious project or the other, or even when chamber or solo concerts are put up for performances, one constantly hears apologetic excuses like:
“We really put this together at very short notice, you know”.
“We had absolutely no time to prepare or rehearse!”
“It was my brother’s wedding, so I couldn’t attend rehearsals. Plus I had exams. And then my cat died. Did I mention that I’ve recently developed hay fever as well?”
“I hope it sounded good” (Unspoken subtext: If it did, it’s despite the above excuses. If it didn’t… read above excuses again!)
What I’m trying to get at is: Let’s try and look at music as coldly and unforgivingly as we regard the life-and-death world of medicine, at least when it comes to preparation.
This is not to disparage our attempts at music-making. Simply to say that we collectively are capable of so much more than even our eventual ‘best’ on concert night.
We know we can do a much better job if we took more time, so let’s give ourselves that time. So: no more starting orchestral or choir rehearsals just days before a concert, with just three or four 2-hour sessions thrown in. A lot of the time the music is being looked at for the first time at the first rehearsal, and very fleetingly if that, between rehearsals. This lukewarm preparation would never pass muster in medicine (or engineering and several other professions for that matter). Why should it do so in music?
Let us give ourselves time for sectional rehearsals so that we can focus on intonation, phrasing, bowings, breathing, etc etc.
Let us spend a little more time on the work, when it was written, who wrote it and why, with what intent. Not doing this is the medical equivalent of attempting a hysterectomy without knowing or caring why we were doing it, and what benefit we were hoping to offer the hapless woman under our scalpel, what problems we could encounter along the way and how to safeguard against them, etc.
Let us only take on what we are capable of playing or singing that matches our own technical level. If a work is too demanding and we just do not have the technique to match, let us not attempt it, and then ‘hope for the best’. It does no justice to the music, and is hurtful to discerning listeners when music is shoddily performed. It puts the performer(s) in a bad light, and unnecessarily so, for they could have chosen something that would have showed off their strong points instead.
And worst of all: It misguides the new or uninformed listener or concert-goer into thinking that this is ‘good’, and lowers the benchmark of their expectation for future concerts. This last is in my view the greatest ill of all.
As someone once said to me: “At least nobody dies” if a concert doesn’t go according to plan. Perhaps not (unless you count the murder of the music, regardless of whether its composer is already dead or not).
But death is not the yardstick of measurement, we hope. Whether in medicine or music.