Monday, April 03, 2006

UNIVERSAL ILLS?

A few weeks ago, the Indian Classical Music society of Atlanta hosted a performance by Zakir Hussain and Shiv Kumar Sharma at Emory University. The perpetual Indian style of management appeared seeped in every facet of the program. I don't like to generalise and make sweeping statements about groups of people. But I have attended dozens of programs hosted by many different kinds of people here. How come bad management seems to suddenly materialise during events hosted by us?

First of all, following the time honoured Indian tradition, the program began late, in fact a full hour late. The auditorium was packed (actually it was a church) and about fifteen hundred people crowded in. My American friends graciously waited in line with me for almost one hour. After a late start, during the intermission, apparently we were supposed to be free to buy food from outside, from the food service that was arranged by the organizers. Do the math: fifteen hundred people, one long line for the food, 30 minutes intermission. Not logistically possible. Many people (including us) chose to wait instead till the end. By the time the awe-inspiring rhythms of Zakir and the transcendent melodies of Shiv Kumar said farewell, it was 10.30 p.m. on a Sunday night. Needless to say, my elderly American friends were exasperated and tired with the proceedings. It's going to be tough to convince them to come again with me for an Indian concert.

But bad management does not seem limited to us, although we may be leaders in the arena. Today, we had a symposium honouring Martin Karplus of Harvard, the last student of two times Nobel laureate Linus Pauling. Among other things, Prof. Karplus has done pioneering work on computational simulations of molecules and proteins. He has developed an important equation bearing his name, that chemists learn during their undergraduate years. Many think he undoubtedly deserves a Nobel prize for a long time now.
In any case, the lecture was held in a relatively measly auditorium away from the chemistry department. Usually we have such gatherings in our own fine spacious hall. Exam schedules inevitably clashed with the symposium timing. Couldn't they relocate undergraduate exams and make place for this big symposium, instead of the other way round? Or is this a funny perspective of implementing the American ideal of equality?
The program started with nobody knowing how to dim lights in the auditorium. There seemed to be an all-or-none principle operating; either you could have full lights blasting in your face, or total darkness that made it impossible to take notes. Finally, Karplus, I repeat, Karplus himself was successful in locating the correct switch to dim the lights.
After he started speaking, a strange static noise began to occasionally pop out from the speaker system. There was something wrong with the microphone. Nobody knew how to fix it, nor how to locate someone who knew how to fix it. So the entire lecture continued with this uncomfortable interference suddenly buzzing and materialising at unexpected times.
Last but not the least, the acoustics and construction was terrible. The auditorium seemed to have been built to specifically amplify every small and sundry sound that was around, except the voice of the speaker. People were climbing stairs and coming in late, they were standing outside and talking, and the floors were loudly creaking. Each one of these sounds was more than audible throughout the talk. It was only the talk and its content, and the stature of the man, that kept me from getting distracted by them. In any case, the talk was great. But bad management seems to be a univeral ill. Of course they can say that it's all too easy for me to sit here and complain. I would know how hard it is to take care of all these things if I were the organizer. I agree. But is it that hard to check for microphone malfunction, which is hardly a small thing? I guess the bigger the point, the more we seem to miss it, maybe because it's 'obvious'!

2 Comments:

Blogger Wild Reeds said...

Oh, and didn't people walk in and out at will, talk loudly on their cellphones and clear their throats continuously? If not then it wasn't an asli desi concert...

10:03 AM  
Blogger Hirak said...

I think people underestimate the effort and organization needed to arrange a good performance that does not humiliate the artist or the audience. The University Musical Society here the UMich does a fantastic job with having ushers who guide people to their seats, a very strict late-comers policy and as a result the audience in Ann Arbor has learnt to behave.
I have been to some really poor-organized shows here and I find that they are usually run by amateurs who manage to bungle things.

6:28 AM  

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