The tambura – also known as tanpura – has long served as India’s most important accompaniment. It accompanies vocal and instrumental performers as well as dance musicians. It has embellished the salons of nobles, merchants and courtisans long before its arrival on the modern concert stage.
Its present form with four strings has been known since the 17th century. It combines the properties of two types of instruments, namely the ancient zither (veena or been) and the present long-necked lute (Sarasvati veena, sitar). Its function and manner of playing distinguishes the tambura from similar instruments used in neighbouring countries. This is because Indian musicians have used a fundamental note since about the 13th century.
Hundreds of melody types – known as raga (lit.’colours’) – have since been created, rediscovered and analysed. They all arise from a fundamental note, known as ‘sadja’, which is articulated as ‘Sa’ during a lesson or vocal performance.
The fundamental note is continuously sounded as the tambura’s ‘supporting’ or ‘base’ note (the bourdon or drone of western music). It is freely chosen in accordance with the vocal or instrumental range of the main performer.
With these basic elements composers, musicians and dancers are able to evoke any conceivable mood or aesthetic experience (rasa). This requires no more than a few additional notes, usually arranged in a particular sequence by which they are readily recognised by discerning listeners. The notes heard in any given raga are drawn from among the proverbial ‘seven notes’ (saptasvara). A competent musician also knows which notes need to be modified by means of embellishments (gamaka) and subtle shades achieved by intonation (sruti).
Listen to the tambura played by Ludwig Pesch
Photo of the instrument heard in the present music example
For this musicologist and author, there are good reasons to believe that Carnatic music matters, perhaps more than ever and almost anywhere in the world. So why not perform and teach it in the service of better education for all, for ecological awareness or in order to promote mutual respect in spite of all our differences? And in the process, get “invigorated and better equipped to tackle the larger issues at hand”.
“Thinking and learning in South Indian Music” by Ludwig Pesch, chapter 4 in:
Markus Cslovjecsek, Madeleine Zulauf (eds.) Integrated Music Education – Challenges of Teaching and Teacher Training Peter Lang Publishers, Bern, 2018. 418 pp., 29 fig. b/w, 2 tables
MOUSIKÆ PAIDEIA Music and Education/Musik und Bildung/Musique et Pédagogie. Vol. 1 pb.
This book was presented during the 33rd ISME World Conference for Music Education (isme2018.org) on Wednesday 18 July 2018.
About this book
Schools are generally oriented towards discipline-based programmes and therefore students often accumulate fragmented knowledge, disconnected from real life concerns. The eighteen contributors to this work suggest that music offers a highway to developing a more appropriate integrated education. They present a range of views on Integrated Music Education rooted in various cultural traditions, based on several interdisciplinary models and integrated arts curricula, inspired by psychological concepts and referenced to recent teaching experiments as well as original research.
In this innovative book, the reader is invited to go beyond the dichotomy between ‘education in music’ and ‘education through music’, exploring the opportunities put forward by Integrated Music Education thanks to a constant movement from the theoretical roots through a precise description of teaching activities to the benefits for students in terms of integration of knowledge, personal development, and social and cultural belonging. Lastly, there are some new and interesting ideas for training teachers.
At the invitation of Christine Urand (Director, Rietberg Montessori School) Ludwig Pesch took the full assembly of teachers on a musical journey across South India: exploring a wealth of rhythmic and melodic motifs suitable for young learners while enabling parents, teachers and care-givers to enjoy music making themselves (even as “lay people”, musically speaking).
This event was also an occasion to explore and discuss the scope for actively participating in an intercultural dialogue, something the presenter has long been known for, while paying homage to Maria Montessori (*): be it as contributor to ISME World Conferences or in association with educational and cultural institutions across the entire spectrum: teacher training, kindergarten, schools, rehabilitation just as staff integration programmes; conservatoria and universities in several countries; and creative projects developed in association with the Goethe Institute and exhibition makers at internationally renowned museums.
Date: 1 March 2018. Events on similar lines have been developed in conjunction with Museum Rietberg (Zurich) on the occasion of exhibitions of rare Indian art (in collaboration with art education staff).
* From 1939 until 1947 Dr. Maria Montessori worked closely with Rukmini Devi, founder of Kalakshetra (est. in 1936 in Adyar/Madras, now part of Chennai), an institution established for the integration of India’s cultural heritage and learning. Kalakshetra stands for an integrated approach to education all realms education – social, economic, crafts and performing arts, being both inspired and guided by India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore whose pioneering concept for informal learning was first tested and further developed at Santiniketan (“abode of peace”).
These pioneering efforts remain as relevant today as in the early 20th century when Maria Montessori and her associates realized that true education is more than a tool for succeeding in life as an individual or member of one’s own society: it is the very key to world peace and social justice (see, for example, her 1932 “Peace and Education” lecture published by the International Bureau of Education, Geneva).
“The effect of music on our body chemistry is particularly fascinating to me. Our bodies effectively contain an internal pharmacy that dispenses various chemicals to help us deal with life’s challenges.” – John Powell
More about this book
In “Why You Love Music,” John Powell, a physicist who has also studied musical composition, offers an array of answers that mainly reflect his scientific background. He conveys some basic musical information painlessly, including tuning and scales, the construction of melodies, and elements of timbre and key. His writing is chatty and unpretentious; he is informal and down-home, at times quite funny. If you have ever felt intimidated by music and its terminology of whole and half steps, scales and chords, this book will put you at ease. – Peter Pesic, Wall Street Journal (£)Buy the book
With chapters on music and emotions, music as medicine, music and intelligence and much more, Why We Love Music will entertain through to the very last minute. A delightful journey through the psychology and science of music, Why We Love Music is the perfect audiobook for anyone who loves a tune.
Sanskrit is among the oldest languages, of all our Indo-European tongues. Now [Frits] Staal* says mantras, rhythms of sound that do not quite make sense, may lie at the roots of Sanskrit. Here’s an ancient song from the Vedas to be sung in the forest: Ayamayamayamayamayamayamauhova. Literally all it means is “thisonethisonethisonethisonethisonnnnnne …”
You are supposed to sing it when you consecrate an altar out of doors. Staal believes such resonating, repeating measures of sound may be older than human language itself. It may have worked like this: Our ancestors chanted rhythmic patterns of sound long before we ever thought that sounds should signify specific things. Sound came before sense, before we had history, back in the time of birds. Language came out of ritual rather than the other way around.
“The many dimensions of the musical persona of Berlin-based Manickam Yogeswaran of Sri Lankan origin are not easy to fathom just from hearing him sing at one recital. […]
However, a conversation over coffee at Chamiers, days after a performance for Tamil Isai Sangam at Raja Annamalai Mandram, gave a glimpse of the different facets of the disciple of T.V. Gopalakrishnan and his exposure to Hollywood. […]
Yogeswaran’s forays into western classical ensembles, and his key role in global music forums for nearly three decades is a career graph, perhaps, typical of the wider scene in the performing arts these days. At the same time, it is the emotional need to stay anchored to the cultural milieu of one’s roots that probably explains Yogeswaran’s crucial engagement with Carnatic music. […] The challenge now, he says, is to nudge current generation of South Asians from a false sense of security about the future of this traditional art form. The conveniences afforded by technology, in terms of access to the treasure trove of recordings of great masters, ought not to breed complacency in the search for creativity, he argues. The key lies in continued reliance on the rigours of relentless individual ‘sadhana,’ a hallmark of classical music.”