It was a Sunday in the Fall of 2010 and Toyota Theater; the Downtown Houston arena was bursting with hustle. A top Bollywood musician was scheduled to present his New Age music there. The show was making waves across the globe. We reached before time and watched in amusement the excited tinsel crowds pouring in. The show began late – no one noticing it, let alone minding it, maybe it was fashionable! – and quickly started dishing out glamor and glitter, dynamic sets and fancy lighting thrilling the audience as the host of musicians and dancers performed live on stage. The hero belted out his hits one after another, some of them truly unforgettable from the recent decades. The audience of over 5000 waved, whistled and screamed rocking the arena. In the end, the theater exits were crammed beyond belief, the parking lots looking like oceans of cars, turning the jammed roads into a nightmare.

And then, on immediate next weekend Houston’s Jones Hall (University of St. Thomas) hosted a vocal Indian Classical recital by an accomplished India-based female artist who was touring the United States. Top notch music, rich in nuance, structure and study! … Sadly, the audience had a sparse headcount of a hundred in this premium venue in the fourth largest metro in America. Such was / is the Indian Classical music disinterest, appearing in stark contrast of Pop music! I attended both concerts enjoying them thoroughly for the entertainment / enrichment the different genres offered, but what stuck with me was the dual experience of contrasts, leaving me restless.

Where was the gap? Why such disparity in the audience response?

Our rich legacy should not be spurned, ignored, overlooked such! ….

The cold, indifferent, unaware view of Indian Classical music MUST change.

The blissful musical wisdom is free, free for generous taking.

Do people need a prompt, a push, an invite….?

…. The Renu mission of Audience Development was slowly coming clear in my mind.

I had seen in the western Developed world ethos that art entered the stream early, kids learning about Picasso and Tchaikovsky (The Nutcracker!) before they turned five or six. Kids in the west grow up seeing art appreciated, loved, patronized. They grow up learning that art is a dignified vocational option. Yes, there are challenges there as well but speaking broadly, the system succeeds both in creating artists, and audiences.

Classical music in India on the other hand is faced with a biased social psyche. For one, arts are not introduced in early education in a worthwhile way. Secondly, Classical music has been historically seen as elitist, its popularity restricting to connoisseurs. Thirdly, barring a few examples of generational legacies, Classical music is rarely viewed as a respectable career option, lack of audience support being the perpetual difficulty. Good literature on music is not freely available or accessible; and in instruction, music is rarely broken down to smaller concepts via standardized, affable methods. Consequence? … Our beautiful Indian Classical music, universally acclaimed for its spiritual essence and charm, remains untapped for its full joy-giving potential!

Renu’s Gandhaar, Pancham and Padanyas workshops teach music appreciation in an unconventional, engrossing, and participative way. Appreciative intelligence is systematically introduced to people to turn them into spirited and studied audiences. It is not so much about how to sing or dance, it is about how to listen, and what to watch. It is about appreciating the art form by knowing about its background, history, evolution, present-day mode and designs through interesting bits of theory and demonstrations by talented artists. It is about exploring the beauty, the meditation, the joy therein.