Music | Musics. Structures and Processes
15th International Conference of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Goettingen
Unity in diversity, antiquity in contemporary practice? A fresh look at South Indian music
The music of South India or Carnatic music is an amalgam of regional traditions and practices and became increasingly codified in the past five centuries. Today it reaches global audiences while ancient roots are claimed even by those who cherish its association with musicians from other cultures – from Messiaen to Menuhin, from jazz to rock-fusion – throughout the 20th century. But how to account for its intrinsic qualities in a manner that makes sense to “non-Indian” ears and minds?
Here we explore the essential features of Carnatic music as a means of achieving instantaneous immersion in melody and rhythm. This is facilitated by a precise yet flexible tonal and metric framework that enabled Carnatic vocalists, instrumentalists and composers to transmit their musical and pedagogical legacy across vast distances in time and space.
Lecture Recital (voice with flute, percussion and string instrument)
Both the preliminaries of a composition and the integration of voice and instruments in a modern Carnatic recital are reminiscent of a Minnesang performance such as described in Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan in the 13th c. CE (McMahon 1990:71-73 “An Example of Performance”).
While such similarities may seem coincidental, they point to shared concerns that bind practicioners and educators from different periods and cultures together. While these cannot be analyzed in the course of a lecture recital, there is scope for demonstrating some key features on unconventional lines. Some of the historical and intercultural undercurrents go well beyond the realm of mere wishful thinking, mysticism or Orientalism:
[A]ny attempt to maintain so-called cultural purity through the repression of what is considered harmful influences is doomed to fail. Cultures don’t do battle, they flow into one another. – Ilija Trojanow & Ranjit Hoskoté in “Kampf Absage”
- Mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran
The Hindu, 31 Dec. 2011
Tiruvarur to Texas, Carnatic musicians have transcended global cultures, echoing the seven notes to the West. Trichy Sankaran,to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi today, summarises Carnatic music’s history in America in a chat with critic Veejay Sai
While everyone is aware of how Hindustani music became popular in the West, especially America, with maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s early overseas concert tours, how and when was Carnatic music an active part of the American culture? “It was Tanjore Viswanathan, the brother of Bharatanatyam legend Balasaraswati, who went on a Fulbright fellowship in 1958 to study Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Veena Balachander went in 1962 with Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam) and Vellore Ramabhadran (kanjira, for this tour),” says mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran. Balachander and flautist Ramani along with the aforementioned percussionists ideated a project called ‘Sangeetam Madras’ and extensively toured North America. By 1963, mridangam vidwan Palghat Raghu travelled as a member of Ravi Shankar’s ensemble. By then a slow process of institutional interest seeped in amongst the American academia. “It was ethnomusicologist Robert Brown of Wesleyan University who showed great interest in bringing Carnatic music to America. He was a student of T. Ranganathan, the other brother (and a senior student of my guru Palani Subramnia Pillai) of Balasaraswati They were invited as artistes in residence at Wesleyan University and that was the first ever such occasion for Carnatic musicians to go there,” adds Sankaran, in fond remembrance of his guru-bhai. Brown’s interest in Indian music grew from strength to strength and he would think up newer methods of spreading it to American music lovers. “Bob, as we called Robert, started an experimental project called ‘Curry Concerts’ which he would organise. These were a combination of a sumptuous Indian dinner followed by a concert and gained popularity in no time. He was one of the few ethnomusicologists who believed that the study of the art is important with its performing element. He put an emphasis on the performing artistes as well,” recollects Sankaran.
Brown later invited several other musicians like K.V. Narayanaswamy (KVN) and Palghat Raghu to Wesleyan. KVN, as an artiste in residency at the university, went on a coast-to-coast concert tour along with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and earned fame at the Hollywood Bowl music festival by 1967. Several vidwans left for American shores to take part in festivals like the Monterey pop festival and Woodstock festival. “Brown went ahead to invite Ramnad Krishnan and Ramnad Raghavan. But Krishnan didn’t stay around for too long as he was very homesick and wanted to return to his family in India. But while in America, he was recorded by a music company with T. Thyagarajan (violin) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam),” says Sankaran, with a chuckle in his voice. “The Western students were also not acquainted with our Indian manners. I had an initial culture shock with students addressing me with a “Hey”, but I slowly got used to it and we taught them Indian manners! Here, we were used to people calling us ‘sir”, “vidwan”, and so on. Ramnad Krishnan was in disbelief when students would walk up to him asking, “Hey Krishna, when is my next lesson man?” and he wasn’t used to being addressed in such a tone!” laughs Sankaran heartily, recollecting how many musicians took the effort to culture Western audiences to guru-shishya traditions. […]
Today, Carnatic musicians rub shoulders with world music greats and collaborate with music practitioners from every other genre. The seductive swaras have showed their triumph once again, reminding how great the power of Indian music is.
Source: The Hindu : Arts / Music : A brief history of star-spangled swaras and raga music
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/article2764012.ece?homepage=true
Date Visited: 1- July 2021
Probing the depths of Indian sounds and symbols both for their interdisciplinary potential and intrinsic value.
We pool musical, visual and numerical motifs. Sounds, hand gestures and movements link two school subjects within a single session; and more subjects wherever this approach lends itself to being integrated into a curriculum.
The “Musical Lotus Pond” is a biotope where beauty flourishes in unexpected ways. Each participant embellishes a sheet of paper containing numbers and shapes. These form the basis for musical activities. At the conclusion, the sheets are folded into small cones resembling the “school cones” traditionally used to entice European children to attend school. Children will spontaneously share their experiences with peers and family members.
Application for integrated education
Analytical thinking, self-expression and teamwork are cultivated. For this purpose, motifs derived from Indian music are combined with those belonging to subjects as diverse as visual arts, geography, biology, physical education and maths.
Pure maths is a religion and in the East, valued for more than merely its technical application – Novalis (1799)
Indian culture is permeated by synesthetic associations that make learning both enjoyable and (cost) effective. Moreover it fosters concentration and teamwork. It is therefore no coincidence that the ubiquitous lotus motif symbolizes the aspiration to rise above the ordinary and beyond predictability.
The presenters work with the motto “Adapting Indian Universals in Music Education” (AIUME); and this in response to the needs of children and music students. Contributions to exhibitions (e.g. Museum Rietberg Zürich and Royal Tropical Museum Amsterdam) complement their artistic and scholarly pursuits: one is a singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist; the other trained and performed as flautist in India, and authored The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music.
I surely know the hundred petals of a lotus will not remain closed for ever and the secret recess of its honey will be bared. – from Gitanjali by Nobel Awardee Rabindranath Tagore
Listen to Tagore: Unlocking Cages: Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the Bengali writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore: https://bbc.in/1KVh4Cf >>
The acclaimed BBC 4 podcast series titled Incarnations: India in 50 Lives has also been published in book form (Allen Lane).
Notes & references
“I was moved by how many of these lives pose challenges to the Indian present,” he writes, “and remind us of future possibilities that are in danger of being closed off.”1
- Sunil Khilnani quoted in a review by William Dalrymple in The Guardian, 14 March 2016