A musical chess

In a recent article, there was an interesting debate about the role of music critics. A front-ranking musician opined that there weren’t many qualified to take on the role as their knowledge of classical music was limited. I am not an expert on what constitutes a review, though I do know that the critic plays an invaluable role in the field of classical music and dance.

Let us explore the roles played by four key players in this genre — the artiste, the audience, the critic and the organiser and draw parallels with the pieces of a chess game. On the chess board, even though his power is de jure, the king has a limited role. The goal of the players on both sides is to checkmate the enemy king thereby signalling the end of the game. When the lead artiste exhibits his talent, he is the undisputed king on the stage aided by supporting artistes whose main job is to strengthen his position for a successful programme. The supporting artistes can be likened to the bishops and rooks of the chess board.

Whether its upping the ante or pointing out areas for improvement so that the artiste can grow, the critic moves like the knight on a chess board. A knight can challenge the king, queen or any of the other players without being reciprocally attacked. In the classical arts, the critic can challenge the musician’s acumen, push the envelop with sound critique and overall raise the performance level.

Who is the real power behind the throne? The queen is the most powerful player on the chess board and makes bold moves based on strategic planning and intelligent decisions. I would compare the queen’s role to that of the programme organiser.

Without sabhas or cultural organisations, there would be no classical programmes, certainly not in an organised manner. The organisers are the ones who bring method to the madness and facilitate an enjoyment of the fine arts. Their task is unenviable as they work with people whether its the sponsors or artistes and deal with numbers when handling the finances and logistics.

“Ultimately we need to get the cash registers ringing” reveals a sabha organiser in Chennai during the famed December music season. “Sponsors need to back us at all times and they like to see a good turnout” he continues. Which brings me to that crucial player, the pawn who votes with his feet, has strength in numbers, and can make a difference to the game. Who else but the discerning audience?

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