New to Indian Music

How to attend an Indian Classical Music Concert Safely and Ethically

  • Author: Aysha Imtiaz

Live Indian classical music is a transcendent and transformative experience like no other. And while Darbar has made a repository of high-quality content available online—with over 400 videos uploaded on our YouTube channel since 2007 and full length Director’s Cuts on the Darbar Concert Hall—the in-person experience is difficult to emulate. During the pandemic and otherwise, Darbar has continued to deliver the magic of Indian classical music one concert, one story and one raga at a time.

Now, we’re ready to resume delivering it in person. But is it safe? Here’s what you need to know.

As of writing this, legal Covid-19 restrictions have now been lifted, due in no small part to heartening statistics that all adults in the UK have been offered a first dose of a vaccine, and over 65% percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Social distancing and masks are no longer required by law. From as early as June, researchers assessing risks by randomized controlled trials have said that indoor concerts may be safe to attend.

How attending an Indian classical music concert is different

A live musical experience can be, “...the most visceral and memorable form of musical engagement...” one can possibly have—as proven by science and the passion of concert-goers alike. There’s just something so compelling about being part of an audience united by a shared passion, seeing the artistry and flairs of the performers up close, feeling the music reverberate within your soul and witnessing the way things organically unfold. When these aspects are combined, attending a good concert can elevate the music and the entire event into a spiritual experience.

But as proponents of the Indian classical music artform will quickly tell you, if attending a live concert makes you feel connected to the music and the artist, attending an Indian classical music concert is a different beast altogether—the audience is privy to everything and an active participant, a co-creator, if you will, of the event, exemplified in everything from musicians tuning their instruments on stage to an intuitive code for listeners that Darbar first spelled out. Each performance is customised by the energy and vibrations the artist reads in the room to improvise their melodic structure or raga. By definition, no two Indian classical music experiences can ever be the same. Because for an Indian classical music concert to be scripted would defy the very nature of the millenia-old artform. The maestros engage with the audience, exchange energy, make split-second decisions regarding what to pull from their inimitable reservoir of music, feed off the patrons’ reactions and intimately paint the concert hall with hues of your own emotional state. Serving as the musician, composer—everything—the Indian classical musician lets the purity of his or her notes shine through with gravitas, intuition and immediacy.

What Darbar is doing for your safety

But while energy and feedback can be willfully exchanged, germs don’t have to be. The only infectious thing at the Darbar Festival 2021 should be enthusiastic love for Indian classical music.

The Darbar team will practice universal masking, and you will see visible reminders to continue using face coverings while attending the concert. Such measures may seem unnecessary in the aftermath of such wide vaccination, but we are mindful that the science about asymptomatic carriers of the delta variant remains uncertain.

As such, Darbar will not be taking any risks with the health of its patrons, and the entrances to our venue, the Barbican Centre, will offer concert goers a free facemask provided by Darbar. 96% of visitors have reported feeling safe or very safe at the Barbican centre. Artists flown in from India will quarantine if needed as per UK government rules. In every way possible, we are striving to make this as ethically conducted a festival as possible.

What Darbar is doing to become zero carbon

And our responsibility doesn’t end with Covid. In our conscientuous journey towards becoming carbon neutral, Darbar has partnered with Ecologi, and we are pleased to announce we are currently 6 months climate positive, have planted 317 trees in our forest and reduced carbon by 21.19 tonnes. For every subscriber or ticket purchased, Darbar will continue aligning with this responsible reforestation initiative and plant one tree.

Because if the pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us the dramatic changes we can make with reduced carbon emissions. In keeping with the holistic nature of Indian classical music, we at Darbar believe that respect for the environment, demonstrated by sustained action and honest reverence, can create a ripple effect for a greener and happier tomorrow. So while you feel yourself transported to a different era and epoch, know that your contribution is aiding wider goals of social service and environmental awareness.

What you can do

The relationship between the artist and audience at an Indian classical concert is sacred, owing to the vital historical context of the artform as devotional chamber music in a royal court or darbar, in praise of the creator. As such, it is a divine experience, and it is treated with the sanctity it deserves.

In keeping with our respect for the rich historical roots, Darbar concerts have a no-drinking policy. Indian artists have been known to school audience members for sitting cross-legged, Pandit Ravi Sahnkar was particularly vocal about feeling unsettled by people arriving late or being distracted during a concert, and once said he felt, "rather cheated” when his audience was already high (referring to an intoxicated state) when he was hoping to elevate them through music.

And yet, the symbiotic relationship—as all such relationships are—is two-fold. The maestros are just as discerning of the audience’s praise as they are of the decorum being upheld. And they go through one of the most rigorous training regimens known to man to please the audience; to please all of you. And perhaps just as eagerly as listeners, they, too, have been anxiously counting down the days to the festival so they can experience this close proximity and divine alignment once again.

For the well-being of people more susceptible to the virus, living with elderly members of the family or suffering from autoimmune disease, we strongly recommend taking an easily available rapid lateral flow test, further details of which can be found here. As communicated at the outset, we will also be requesting you to stay masked during the event.

With all of the safety precautions in place, don’t hesitate to join us on this journey with iconic names in the Indian classical music realm. These fine musicians...your musicians...are waiting.

So get ready to feel the power of applause and experience the magic of live music. Let your mind wander. Let yourself go.

And find your rhythm, once again.

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Festival 2023

21-29 October 2023, Barbican Center

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