Raga, Tala and Pedagogy: On the First Steps in Carnatic Music

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Raga, Tala and Pedagogy: On the First Steps in Carnatic Music by Jeremy Woodruff

The system by which any music is taught is the key to what is preserved, and how, in a musical tradition. I chose to research the basics of instruction in South India,both as an entry point for some practical knowledge on the South Indian flute, and as away of examining basic tenets of karnatic music. Using advanced knowledge of a foreign music without having prior knowledge of its basic pedagogy is a bit like attempting to build a chair without a seat for one’s backside. Only by studying the basic assumptions of the music, may we identify what techniques are useful to us, or not, because only then we carefully consider for what they were originally intended. […]

All melodic instrumental training in karnatic music is focused on reproducing subtleties of vocal performance. As imitating singers was the main way that instrumentalists from the time of ‘the Trinity’ updated, preserved and greatly enriched what is now known as karnatic music, it is natural that it is considered the greatest means to accomplishment in instrumental training. Where schools mainly disagree is on how (and how far) these vocal subtleties should be imitated. […]

Gitas are the first pieces to be learned after the rigorous basic exercises outlined above. The Gita, ‘Sri Gananatha’ is the first of these Gitas to be learned by any student. Maybe it is the ‘Für Elise,’ or ‘Minuet in G’ by Bach of karnatic music. It is therefore a special case, but it can still serve well as a concrete demonstration of how gamakas of a single raga, on a single song can differ radically from teacher to teacher. The gita is given in fig 2.1 in Indian notation.

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Read the full paper A Western composer’s view of early music education in Carnatic music on Academia.edu >>

A storm of songs: India and the idea of the bhakti movement

by John Stratton Hawley

  • Review by Vinay Lal (Professor of History & Asian American Studies, UCLA) in Canadian Journal of History: A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement by John Stratton Hawley: “The idea of a ‘‘bhakti movement’’ has long been one of the largely unexamined verities that have played a critical role in the idea of Indian civilization and, more specifically, the notion of a composite culture. Bhakti is usually rendered as ‘‘devotion,’’ and in the generally accepted narrative encountered in Indian histories and popular Indian opinion alike, a devotional movement originating in the Tamil country in the eighth century gradually made its way north and eventually engulfed the entire country. […] The fundamental achievement of John Stratton Hawley’s A Storm of Songs is to probe how the idea of a ‘‘bhakti movement’’ came about and what Indian scholars, inspired by nationalism, might have contributed in giving rise to a canonical narrative about bhakti’s place in shaping an Indian sensibility. […] Hawley has succeeded in gifting us an exceptional study of India’s much lauded bhakti movement.” – Read the full review on this author’s blog or here:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315532465
  • Interview in The Hindu (January 10, 2016): “A Storm of Songs examines how devotional songs such as padams mingled with the abhangs, how the Dalit narrative and Sufi music found an outlet in creating the network called the Bhakti movement. In a conversation, he maps the mystical journey which knits India.” – Read the full interview here:
    https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/bhakti-challenges-communal-religion/article8086253.ece

“In this comprehensive book, Hawley traces the 20th-century history of the notion of the bhakti movement the idea that there was a significant, unified, pan-Indic turn to devotional religiosity in medieval India. The author argues that the invention and promotion of this idea was a key aspect of nation building in that it offered a narrative of Hindu unity despite the vast and disparate set of religious processes ranging over different vernacular languages, regions, and time periods.” – Learn more or find a copy in a library near you:
http://www.worldcat.org/title/storm-of-songs-india-and-the-idea-of-the-bhakti-movement/oclc/893099156

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Custom search for related press reports and interviews: https://www.carnaticstudent.org/service/google-custom-search-carnaticstudent-org

Video | Interview with MD Ramanathan

Clip from interview with Dr. Amy Catlin and Dr. Frederick Liberman, Dec 1977 MDR talks about his background and he was initiated into Carnatic Music

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“Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary”: Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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Video | Carnatic Wave: A journey into the Karaikudi tradition


Carnatic Wave is an aural journey into the Karaikudi Veena tradition, a centuries old practice of Southern Indian classical music being carried on by a group of musicians in Portland, Oregon. This short documentary offers a glimpse into their world of Carnatic music, highlighting the importance and challenge of teaching traditional art forms in our modern society. – Documentary maker David Van Auken

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“Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary”: Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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Audio | What Makes Indian Music Unique – Kennedy Center Education

To listen to the educational resources shown below, click here >>

Source: Music of India, An exploration of Indian music
URL: https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/media-and-interactives/media/international/music-of-india/
Date visited: 2 August 2021

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“Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary”: Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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Vidyaamagna: webinar & online lessons

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

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 >>
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Perceptions of “Guru” now and then

A teacher teaches music – the curriculum, the techniques, the methods and so on, but a Guru teaches how to approach music: how to understand it, how to internalize it and how to enjoy it. […]

Music is a lifelong pursuit and its emotions start sinking into you with more internal growth of the self (for which the Guru is an enabler). At a certain phase in this pursuit, you become your own Guru.

Vasudevan Ram in Learning Music – A Guru Is More Than A Teacher >>

The word ‘Guru’ in the Indian context of learning places the person on par with or even higher than God.

Pantula Rama paying tribute to her violin guru Ivaturi Vijayeswara Rao of the Dwaram tradition in “Architect of Vizag’s music scenario” (The Hindu, 19 February 2013)

Note: gurukulavāsam refers to the practice of living as member of a teacher’s household >>

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Why Carnatic Music Matters More Than Ever

by Ludwig Pesch

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”.

Published by Shankar Ramchandran on behalf of Dhvani Ohio | Read or download the full article (PDF, 800 KB, updated 19 June 2021):

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License

Related post: A brief introduction to Carnatic music >>

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Video | The idea of classifying ragas – Akshara & Kiranavali Vidyasankar

Akshara Samskriti is the daughter of Carnatic musician Kiranavali and scientist-philosopher, Vidyasankar Sundaresan. This video was recorded on Nov 1, 2013, when Akshara was 4 years old. It was originally in multiple parts for educational video compilation, and has been put together as a single video here.

The 72 Melakartas are regarded as the parent scales in Carnatic music and serve the purpose of grouping similar sounding ragas/scales in the same category. It also helps create new scales which can then potentially evolve into full-bodied ragas.

The idea of classifying ragas that sound similar has existed over many centuries and were taken to a more definitive stage by 17th century musicologist Venkatamakhin. It was fine tuned further by Govinda to its present and more popular form. Nevertheless, the Melas propounded by Venkatamakhin continue to stay in vogue primarily through the compositions of well-known Carnatic composer, Muttuswami Dikshitar.

More on and from Kiranavali Vidyasankar: www.kiranavali.net >>

Rabindranath Tagore sketched by Dutch artist Martin Monnickendam during a lecture tour in September 1920 © Stadsarchief Amsterdam

The world of sound is a tiny bubble in the silence of the infinite. The universe has its own language of gesture; it talks in the voice of pictures and dance. Every object in the world proclaims in the dumb signal of lines and colours, the fact that it is not a mere logical abstraction or a mere thing of use, but it is unique in itself, it carries the miracle of its existence.–Rabindranath Tagore quoted by Dinkar Kowshik in

Doodled Fancy, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan 1999, p. 8

Related post
“Sampradaya is like a broad river and the bani is a tributary”: Umayalpuram Sivaraman on his 75 years of performance >>

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There really is no such thing as a ‘learner’ raga

Image © The Hindu

Gouri Dange, The Hindu, 11 May 2019 | Read the full article here >>

Every kind of music has a protocol for ‘beginners’ or ‘learners’. Students must practise paltay, alankaras, scales, études, tonalisation exercises, depending on the kind of music they pursue.  […]

However, here’s the rub: for many learners, these ‘early’ ragas get translated in the mind as something very basic, or ‘shikau’, with a novice ring to them. They are seen, most misguidedly, as mundane, without the strut and stature of the ‘larger and later’ ragas that are taught after you are deemed fit to learn them.  […]

It is surely a disservice to a raga and to those who lift it to its best potential, and even more so a disservice to the young student, to allow the mental stamping of some ragas as ‘learner material’.  […]

The novelist, counsellor and music lover takes readers on a ramble through the Alladin’s cave of Indian music.

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/column-can-there-really-be-such-a-thing-as-a-learner-raga/article27093490.ece

Purandara Dasa (1484-1564), a prolific poet-composer and mystic of Vijayanagar, introduced a music course that is followed to the present day. Since the 17th century, hundreds of ragas (melody types) have been distributed among 72 melakarta ragas (scales).

Learn more here: