Vidyaamagna: webinar & online lessons

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WEBINAR – THE AESTHETICS OF VARNAM IN KARNATIC MUSIC

Sat, 30 July | 2 pm – 3.30 pm (BST) / 6.30pm (IST)  | £10

STELLA SUBBIAH (Artist Development Lead, Bhavan London)

In conversation with

LUDWIG PESCH (Author of The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music)

VIGNESH ISHWAR (Musician)

Today, as in the remote past, India’s musicians and dancers share a vast and varied repertoire. Apart from facilitating oral transmission, the underlying vocabulary helps to convey feelings underpinned by aesthetic principles and values. So it hardly surprises that the best-loved lyrics are those endowed with scope for reflection and debate among listeners, critics, and the artists themselves.

Mystical Dance!—
—Mazes intricate,
Eccentric, intervolv’d, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem.

Milton’s Paradise Lost (AD 1667), the description of angels dancing about the
sacred hill as quoted by William Hogarth and discussed in the Chapter titled “Variety”:
Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music >>

For this webinar we focus on several key composers whose vision shaped South Indian music and dance as we know it today. We will consider the compositional form of Varnam or Varna, in Karnatic music which can be interpreted as not only colour, praise , or syllable but also as melodic movements. These melodic movements of Arohi, Avarohi, Sthayi, and Sanchari add to its structure and offer various musical possibilities for musical interpretations.

Free tala exercises to supplement this webinar

Adi tala = 8 beats (4+2+2 here simplified as 4+4)
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka dhi mi” = 4, “ta ka ju nu” = 4

1st speed: one beat (kriya) = 1 syllable (jati) = 8 matra per avarta
2nd speed: one beat (kriya) = 2 syllables (jati) = 16 matra per avarta
3rd speed: one beat (kriya) = 4 syllables (jati) = 32 matra per avarta

Ata tala = 14 beats (5+5+2+2, here simplified as 2+3+2+3+4)
“khanda jati ata tala”
trikala (3 speeds)
“ta ka ta ki ta” = 5, “ta ka dhi mi” = 4

Source: Tāla Anubhava: Experiencing South Indian Rhythm
Concept and audio © T.R. Sundaresan & Ludwig Pesch

Keeping tala e.g. for Adi tala (8 counts): a clap for the first beat (samam), followed by 3 finger counts starting from the small finger marks the first half; and a clap followed by a wave (twice) mark the second half; Ata tala (14 counts) differs as 4 fingers are used including the forefinger (twice), rather than 3 fingers (once) in Adi tala.
Art © Arun V.C.

Tips

  • Practice these gestures “silently” during a live recital or recording
  • Apply your practice while watching a video

More excercises: Practice four widely used Carnatic talas >>

Previous webinar

Find a copy of the Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music

  • on the publisher’s website: Oxford University Press
  • in a library near you via WorldCat.org
  • from one of several Indian distributors and online bookstores

Food for thought

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

Bharatanatyam
Historically, Bharatanatyam was mostly prevalent in Tamil Nadu, though traces of it were found in the 20th century in what are now Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Today it is taught and practised throughout the globe. The term ‘Bharatanatyam’ has been in existence at least from the 15th century but we do not know the compositions the dancers performed in the early years of Bharatanatyam. […] The repertoire added during the time of Tulaja and Serfoji II owes its credit to four brothers of Tanjavur who belonged to a traditional natyacharya family. They were Chinnayya, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Vadivelu, the ‘Tanjavur Quartet’ we know.

Read the full article by Bharatanatyam music expert BM Sundaram: The Tanjavur Quartet: Margadarsis of Bharatanatyam (Sruti Magazine, courtesy dhvaniohio.org)

Tip: safe-search: Bharatanatyam Serfoji Tanjavur | More search tips >>
(add other search terms in the present context)

Subbulakshmi and contemporary feminism: Sunil Khilnani on BBC Radio 4 Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

M.S. Subbulakshmi
Born 16 September 1916. Died 11 December 2004

Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (Tamil: மதுரை சண்முகவடிவு சுப்புலட்சுமி, Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi ? 16 September 1916 – 11 December 2004), also known as M.S., was a Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. She is the first Indian musician to receive the Ramon Magsaysay award, often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize, in 1974 with the citation reading “Exacting purists acknowledge Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi as the leading exponent of classical and semi-classical songs in the carnatic tradition of South India.”

Source: M.S. Subbulakshmi – New Songs, Playlists, Videos & Tours – BBC Music
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/613361fb-24bd-4bc9-ad63-85ac5bc79156
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:17:14 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of south Indian singer MS Subbulakshmi

Subbulakshmi’s singing voice, striking from the start, would ultimately range three octaves. A perfectionist, she had the capacity to range across genres but narrowed over the years to what another connoisseur of her music has called a ‘provokingly small’ repertoire. In time, the ambitions of those who loved and profited from her combined with her gift to take her from the concert stage to film to the All-India Radio to near-official status as an icon of independent India.

But, as Professor Khilnani says, “what was required of Subbulakshmi, in moving from South Indian musical celebrity to national cultural symbol, is deeply uncomfortable when considered through the prism of contemporary feminism.”

Source: BBC Radio 4 – Incarnations: India in 50 Lives, Subbulakshmi: Opening Rosebuds
Address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b073b5cb
Date Visited: Mon Apr 11 2016 14:12:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary

Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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A lesson (thought experiment) inspired by Gandhi’s understanding of music

Mahatma Gandhi stamp set | Mahatma Gandhi and music >>

The challenge of going beyond a “narrow understanding of classical” music has long been debated among performers and musicologists; whether for the sake of creativity and self-expression or ideals like “serving society through music”, even harnessing the healing power of music where most needed.

So what about reconsidering all of this and more in the light of the following quote:

Mahatma Gandhi often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’

Arun VC >>

Let us, for a while, experience the joy of music in the light of a common ground, namely that of personal aspirations (like wanting to excel in a playful if not competitive spirit) and the quest for a shared “moral compass” Gandhi is known to have advocated all his life (what binds us together as responsible world citizens). 

This seems a thought experiment worth performing, so here are a few suggestions for teachers, students and lovers of Carnatic music willing to take up the challenge:

Set some time apart in order to (1) explore and grasp the deeper meaning of each of the words and concepts marked bold in the above quote, first from a musical point of view; (2) jot down your findings and thoughts; then (3) discuss them with your teachers, parents or peers; (4) all along keep asking them and yourself whether Gandhi’s intuitive, personal understanding of how music in general should play a role in our lives, while actively engaging with a music that’s time proven as well as meaningful in our modern, hectic lives and rapidly changing societies; (5) possibly being exactly that in the sense of “healing through music”; (6) prompted by Gandhi, consider any one (or all) of these ideas in terms of a “response”, considering the extraordinary stress and tension faced on a daily basis (caused by the multiple crises some of us have to cope with).

It’s up to you to explore all this and more in the spirit of free thinking (*) and – if you like – share your thoughts with me >>

(*) inspired by the BBC Free Thinking podcast about ideas shaping our lives today – with leading artists and thinkers in extended interview and debate >>

For Gandhi, music — whether it was a bhajan like Vaishnava Janato or a patriotic song like Vande Mataram — was a means of development of the “moral self” – Basav Biradar in The Hindu >>

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Mahatma Gandhi on “music of mind, of the senses and of the heart”

“There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart” – Mahatma Gandhi >>
Photo © Ludwig Pesch

Very few people know that Gandhi was extremely fond of Music and arts. Most of us have been all along under the impression that he was against all arts such as music. In fact, he was a great lover of music, though his philosophy of music was different. In his own words ‘Music does not proceed from the throat alone. There is music of mind, of the senses and of the heart.’ […] 

According to Mahatma ‘In true music there is no place for communal differences and hostility.’ Music was a great example of national integration because only there we see Hindu and Muslim musicians sitting together and partaking in musical concerts. He often said, ‘We shall consider music in a narrow sense to mean the ability to sing and play an instrument well, but, in its wider sense, true music is created only when life is attuned to a single tune and a single time beat. Music is born only where the strings of the heart are not out of tune.’

Source: “Mahatma Gandhi – A unique musician” by Namrata Mishra (Sr. Asst. Prof of Vocal Music, R.C.A. Girls P. G. College, Mathura)
URL: https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/mahatma-gandhi-unique-musician.html
Date Visited: 17 July 2022

Gandhi is a universal figure. […] He is affirmed and avowed in many parts of the world while Indians might of course forget him or scorn him or defile him as they are doing now.

Source: Historian Ramachandra Guha in conversation with sociologist Nandini Sundar, The Wire, 21 March 2022
URL: https://thewire.in/history/ramachandra-guha-history-gandhi-mentors
Date Visited: 22 July 2022

“A historian points out the Mahatma saw morning prayers as a way to inspire discipline and that he used community voices to mobilise people. […] For Gandhi, music — whether it was a bhajan like Vaishnava Janato or a patriotic song like Vande Mataram — was a means of development of the “moral self” which was essential to become a satyagrahi.” – Basav Biradar reviewing ‘Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism’ by Lakshmi Subramanian in The Hindu | Read How Gandhi adopted music on the way to freedom >>

Arun VC >>

Tips

Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method – free mini course

Have you been looking for a fun way of memorizing the 72 melakarta names and numbers, finding them “mind bending” rather than “mind boggling” until now?

Here’s one method that may work – if you are ready to practice it for a few minutes every day; like passing time while waiting in queues or commuting, or unable to fall asleep. Silently so … such is the beauty and usefulness of the melakarta system.

STEP 1
Take today’s date (or your favorite musician’s birthday) in the format you commonly use (DD-MM or MM-DD, here we’ll use DD-MM)

12-07 for 12 July

STEP 2
Pick the corresponding mela numbers from the list available here (a special gift for all motivated learners):

There you look up the number pair for any given date, for instance:

12 = Rūpāvati R-P=21><12
07 = Sēnāvati S-N=70><07

Tip: if interested, find more explanations on page 2 to understand how the Kaṭapayādi sūtra is being applied to the names of 72 mēḷakartā rāgas (“melas”).

STEP 3
Remember how “yesterday … your troubles seemed so far away?”

11-07 for 11 July … so keep moving forward and backward after getting today’s numbers and names right, to start with.

You got it, all ready to go for days and weeks to come: because that date, too, is another day; one bound to become a memorable one with the help of the Boggle Your Mind with Mela (BYMM) method.

STEP 4
What’s next? Here are some suggestions:

  • find the actual DD-MM date in the Western calendar which corresponds to “72 October 2021”
  • or any other DD-MM date you consider booking a ticket and attend the Chennai December Season
  • if motivated to do so: memorize the entire list of 72 melas in batches of 10 (rather than 6): you’ll spot the patterns more easily
  • apply mela numbers in order to remember daily matters: birthdays, holidays or passwords – you name it
  • print the above PDF-attachment, then fold the sheet along the lines “accordeon style”: this yields a neat, visiting card size BY-MM paper-app (battery free for 24/7 use)
  • use it as a gift for fellow music lovers interested in this subject

Just one more thing as regards general well being
Although it seems unlikely you didn’t know yet: remember how good walking is for both, one’s mental and physical health? For our brains and moods … even for learning all the 72 mela ragas by heart in a stress-free manner.

So I gladly recommend listening to the following podcast episode by BBC Crowd Science:
Why is standing more tiring than walking?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct1pqm

So keep walking, and rather than talking, boggle your mind through mela memorization whenever you are out there – enjoy!

Ludwig Pesch on Ratnāngi-Sēnāvati-Kharaharapriya Day (02-07-22)

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“The tambura is back. But where are the players?” – Interviews in The Hindu

Gaining prominence

Despite the many alternatives available today, fortunately we still get to see the tambura player on stage. In fact, the first thing many musicians do after accepting a concert date is to book their preferred tambura player. As more musicians show a renewed interest in the instrument, the tambura is experiencing a resurgence. Paradoxically, though, the number of dedicated artistes playing it is declining. […]

[Eminent violinist] RK Shriramkumar laments the fact that one needs to refer to the instrument as an acoustic tambura to distinguish it from its electronic version. “It’s a tragedy that musicians have brought upon themselves by settling for electronic versions. Just as instrumentalists are expected to bring their own instruments to concerts, vocalists must be instructed to bring tamburas. Students should be encouraged to play the tambura for their gurus on stage to experience the constant give and take.”

Source: “The tambura is back. But where are the players?” by Lakshmi Anand in The Hindu 2 December 2021

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-tambura-is-back-but-where-are-the-players/article37806267.ece

Date accessed: 29 June 2022

Bhava enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions – Narayana Vishwanath

CHENNAI: We are aware that the ultimate aim of every composer and musician is to achieve the coalescence, the essential factors of classical music namely bhava, raga and tala. We know bhava literally means, expression, the expression of existence. In a composition, bhava encompasses the aspects rasa, raga and laya and for a musical composition  to be meaningful and beautiful, it should be rich in bhava. In short, bhava is that which enables the transmission of experience of thoughts and emotions from the composer to the musician and from the musician to the listeners. We understand that bhava has to be experienced by every individual, in a personal and subjective manner and devotion is the pre-dominating aspect depicted in a musical composition. I am  sure it would be of immense value to study the aspects of bhava, expressed by the musical trinity Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri, who were contemporaries in the 18th century. […]

Source: “Efficacy of Bhava — An Evaluation” by by Narayana Vishwanath, The New Indian Express (21st September 2015) >>

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Gandharva-Sangīta: On the origins of Sangīta (vocal, instrumental, and dance music)

The non-sacrificial, musical counterpart to Sāma-Gāna in ancient times was Gandharva-Sangīta, later Sangīta, which has three divisions; vocal, instrumental, and dance. Performed by “Gandharva” musicians in Indra’s heavenly court, earthly Gandharva-Sangīta was a replica of this celestial music. […]

Gandharva-Sangīta was also associated with pūjā, a form of worship with non-Aryan or indigenous roots that eventually replaced the yajña as the cornerstone of Hindu religious life. Instead of oblations into a fire, pūjā involves offerings of flowers, incense, food, water, lamps, and conches directly to deities or symbols on an altar. In pūjā, singing and playing instruments are conceived as offerings that are integrated with the other elements. […]

The association of religion with the production of the arts, while present in Western history, is paramount in India. Currently, the content of artistic production is largely taken from Hindu religious texts, with many performance genres derived from religious rituals. […]

Source: Historian of religions and musicologist Guy L. Beck in Ch. 26, “Hinduism and Music” in The Oxford handbook of religion and the arts
URL: https://www.academia.edu/37849233
Date Visited: 13 November 2021

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All craftsmen in Miraj are musicians – the wonderfully resonant Tanpura (Tambura)

tambura_workshop_miraj_thehindu_1907012
A view of the shop where tanpuras are made. Photo by Lakshmi Sreeram – courtesy The Hindu

Miraj is famous for tanpuras made by its craftsmen, who honed their skills by first becoming trained musicians.

How did it ever strike someone to stick a piece of wood on a dried pumpkin, build this bridge and that and twist some strings on it, to make this wonderfully resonant thing one calls the tanpura? […]

“Musical training is the basic foundation for an expert tanpura maker. There are about 500 craftsmen in Miraj and all are musicians.” […]

As much as Miraj is associated with the tanpura, it is also associated with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb, the founder of the Kirana gharana of Khayal. It was after listening to his record, playing in a shop, that Bhimsen Joshi decided at the age of 11 to run away from home to learn music. Music can become as obsessive as that.  […]

All great musicians of the Kairana gharana have sung at this festival such as Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Badodekar and Suresh Bhau Mane. “We have a tradition of ending the three-night musical offering with a concert by a Kairana gharana vocalist. This year it was Ganapati Bhat,” said Mirajkar.

Abdul Karim Khan saheb’s music was uncluttered and deeply moving. He could tug at hearts with his plaintive and sharply etched swaras, and the power of his music lay mostly in that. Sheer mastery over swaras, what Bhimsen Joshi once spoke of as ‘swara siddhi.’ Veena Dhanam, who was hard to please, had great regard for his music. He was probably the first Hindustani musician to seriously study the Carnatic system and the first to be invited to sing all over the south. He even recorded a Tyagaraja kriti.

Source: The Hindu : Arts / Music : Strings of purity by Lakshmi Sreeram, The Hindu, July 19, 2012
Address : http://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/article3657463.ece

“Tambura is my constant companion – a bridge to my past, keeping the memories of my childhood alive.” – Bombay Jayashri >>
Learn more about the tambura (tanpura) >>

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Appreciating the beauty and importance of the nagasvaram: “Carnatic music grew because of the nagaswaram” – S. Rajam

In this part, I quote from my recording with S. Rajam on T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, done in early 2007 [brief excerpts]

“Carnatic music grew because of the nagaswaram. Our art originated in the temples — especially, dance and nagaswaram. During the daily three-time worship at temples, the nagaswaram would be played all the times.

Source: “Tribute to the genius T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai, whose nagaswaram melodies are timeless” by Rupa Gopal The Hindu, December 27, 2013
URL: https://thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/our-own-pied-piper/article5505258.ece

Related information

Mallari played by ‪Sheik Mahaboob Subhani & Kalisha Bee‬ Mahaboob

With the disintegration of feudalism, Carnatic music, once confined to the precincts of temples and royal durbar halls, stepped out and started filling concert halls. While some music forms such as Mallari, inextricably linked with the rituals of temples and festivals, are still in vogue, others such as OdamYecharikkai and Odakkuru have more or less disappeared. […]

Yecharikkai is also played in Vishnu temples when the deity is taken inside the sanctorum after the procession. In earlier times, the devadasis of the temple would perform the ritual of warding off the evil eye after which the nagaswaram player would play this musical form.

Yecharikkai is played in Saveri set to tisra nadai,” said Mr. Subramaniam. Mr. Chinnathambia Pillai said it could also be played in Yadukula Kambhoji and Ahiri. […]

But in many temples, these rituals are no longer followed,” said Mr. Subramaniam.

Source: “Ancient sounds of temple music fade” by B. Kolappan, The Hindu, 22 December 2013
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/ancient-sounds-of-temple-music-fade/article5487577.ece
Date Visited: 1 February 2014

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