An artiste creates and modifies his or her style for several reasons: “Let’s Talk Carnatic” by Mopachennai.org

Is tradition set in stone? Is not change even within a musician’s lifetime in the natural order of things? Does custom or convention in musical practice have to be held sacrosanct at the cost of organic modification or adaptation?

An artiste creates and modifies, subtly or otherwise, his or her style for several reasons – physical, emotional, intellectual, political or aesthetic. A stellar artiste preserves tradition not as a rigid, fossilized keepsake but as an intelligent amalgamation of inherited values as well as current inclinations. […]

Every episode in this series promises a volley of insights into the musical style and technique of the musician being discussed. A treat for students, aspiring musicians, lay as well as experienced listeners.

These conversations are not intended to conclude, merely to present points to ponder. […]

The Museum of Performing Arts (MOPA) Foundation was established in 2017 to document and showcase the history, content, periodic changes and external influences on every aspect of South India’s performing art forms, as also to look at existing trends and the impact on subsequent generations.

Through well-designed and curated exhibitions, documentaries, lectures, concerts and related events, MOPA aims to place South India’s rich cultural legacy on the larger map of world culture.

MOPA also aims to develop a museum in Chennai, for the performing arts of South India. By this, MOPA will serve one more purpose – a complete artistic and cultural orientation under one roof for anybody who wants to get a bird’s eye view or an in-depth understanding of South Indian performing art forms.

Source: “Let’s Talk Carnatic”, Digital Projects: a series that “covers interviews, talks, presentations, lecture-demonstrations and conversations on all things related to Carnatic music” & “About MOPA”
URLs: https://mopachennai.org/digital-projects.php & https://mopachennai.org/about-mopa.php
Date Visited: 5 September 2022

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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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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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Oral transmission vs. notation in Carnatic music: Pondering the “original pathantaram-s of kriti-s” 

One of the debated topics in Carnatic music is the deviation by musicians from the so-called ‘original’ pathantaram of kriti-s. This article is not an attempt to provide a conclusive answer to end the debate but a constructive provocation and an invitation for opening up the topic for a wider debate. […]

While in matters of art and aesthetics no rule can be imposed on either the artists or their audiences, some relevant considerations in the matter appear to be: Is there incontrovertible proof in all such cases that the ‘versions’—which includes the raga, its arohanaavarohana, mela and musical phrasing—touted as the original or authentic are really the versions composed by their authors? In the case of modern composers there may not be any problem because most of them write them down in notation which, in spite of the inherent limitations of any notation to capture all the nuances of Carnatic music, provides at least a defence against wholesale distortion. In the case of composers who lived during an earlier era of entirely oral transmission of music, there would be real difficulty in ascertaining the authenticity beyond doubt. […]

Read this valuable essay and more on Sruti.com >>

Source: “‘Original’ pathantaram-s of kriti-s” by PK Doraiswamy, Sruti Magazine
URL: https://www.sruti.com/index.php?route=archives/article_details&artId=98
Date Visited: 3 March 2022

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

The tambura’s role in perfect alignment to pitch: “The most beautiful way to discover music” – T.M. Krishna

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To sing just with the tanpura has been revealing: TM Krishna

M Suganth | Times of India | Nov 27, 2014 | To read the full article, click here >>

They had collaborated earlier for Margazhi Raagam, which was a first-of-its-kind Carnatic concert film and now, singer TM Krishna and filmmaker Jayendra have come together for One, a film that they say will be a peep into a musician going through the process of creativity. The two reveal how the project came to be, the challenges they faced and what it means to the viewer. […]

TM Krishna: To be able to sing just with the tanpura is the most revealing thing for me as a singer. It is the most beautiful way to discover music without becoming dependent on the pakkavadhyam or the mic. There is nothing to protect you. It was a very emotional and intimate experience for me. That depth of my experience is revealed in the film. […]

Source: To sing just with the tanpura has been revealing: TM Krishna – Times of India
Address: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/tamil/music/To-sing-just-with-the-tanpura-has-been-revealing-TM-Krishna/articleshow/45284656.cms
Date Visited: 25 July 2021

“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) >>

Perfect alignment to pitch, intellectualism and bhava make for great music

Widely varying styles have an equal place under the Carnatic umbrella. Is it at all possible to define a single aesthetic for a genre that ranges from the thrilling and electrifying rhythms of a Trichy Sankaran accompanying the late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer singing the Tyagaraja masterpiece Dinamanivamsha, to the subtle rendering of a padam by the late T. Brinda? Such contrasts, though they do exist in a genre like Hindustani music, are always less stark. […]

One common aspect of such artistes who were perceived as highly aesthetic in the earlier days of amplification is the scrupulous attention they paid to shruti shuddham or toaligning themselves perfectly to pitch. Arguably, such scrupulous attention to pitch alignmentmay well have had the effect of mitigating the jarring impact of imperfect amplification. Even where there’s a great struggle to maintain shruti shuddham, an exquisite secret leaps out of old recordings of ageing masters who had lost control of their voices. That secret is the pride of place they accorded the tambura and its overall audibility. The aesthetically pleasing aura created by a sonorous and meticulously tuned tambura has a way of gently embracing a singer’s shruti lapses and folding it into the overall sound. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is feared and hence a tendency to relegate the tambura, whether a real one or electronic, to de facto inaudibility for the audience. This only exacerbates the listener’s perception of a lack of shruti shuddham.

Art, as it is normally understood, is first and foremost sensual and emotional before anything else, but Carnatic music has always been seduced by the intellect, resulting in anything from a mild flirtation to a torrid affair. The intellectual, even in musical contexts, need not be disdained but it certainly challenges conventionally held notions of aesthetics. More importantly, such intellectual music may not suffer as much at the hands of bad audio as conventionally aesthetic music, and hence, could induce stagnation in the evolution of better sound. […]

The emotional in the art is what is referred to in the Carnatic world as bhava. Bhava comes from many aspects of Carnatic music but its most serious claimant is the repertoire itself. The bedrock of Carnatic music is its repertoire – the intensely bhava-laden compositions of great masters. The remarkable vibrancy and sustainability of Carnatic music compared to some other genres come from bhava which is certainly the crown jewel. In fact, it could be argued that this alone often compensates for the lack of other aesthetic dimensions in the overall experience. […]

Source: “Challenges of internal diversity in the Carnatic genre” by Uday Shankar, The Hindu, 17 December 2011
Address: https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/challenges-of-internal-diversity-in-the-carnatic-genre/article2721404.ece
Date Visited: 2 August 2021

T. M. Krishna (in MOPA “Notes to Myself”):
Now here is a fascinating story of a musician born and bred in privilege by his own admission, who enjoyed a liberal, progressive environment both at home and at school that laid the foundations for a fearless, critical mind and outspoken tongue, enjoyed the best of teachers who fostered an abiding love for Carnatic music in his young heart and was one among the band of young musicians who took the Carnatic stage by storm in the 90s. […]

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Raga Hamsadhvani in: “India’s classical music may be the best antidote to chauvinism” by Ramachandra Guha

To read the full article by the internationally acclaimed author of India After Gandhi, click here >>

After Partition, Bade Ghulam chose to move to Pakistan, but, finding the audience for classical music limited (in all senses of the word), wished to return to the Indian side of the border. In the 1950s, it was much easier to travel between these two countries than it is now. So Bade Ghulam made a trip to Mumbai, where someone brought his predicament to the attention of Morarji Desai, then the chief minister of the undivided Bombay State. Morarji bhai arranged for a government house for the maestro, while the Central government, headed at the time by Jawaharlal Nehru, smoothed the way for this Muslim from Pakistan to become a citizen of India.

Hamsadhvani is a lovely, melodious, raga in the Carnatic tradition, said to have been originally composed by Ramaswamy Dikshitar in the 18th century. There are many songs set in this raga, such as “Vatapi Ganapathim”, a hugely popular item in the repertoire of (among others) M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.L. Vasanthakumari. At some stage the raga was also adapted by Hindustani musicians for their own use. […]

Listen to the rendition of raga Hamsadhvani by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (YouTube from 3:20), recorded at the Rama Navami 1956 festival in Bangalore’s Fort High School >>

The celebrated Kannada writer, Kota Shivarama Karanth, once remarked that it was impossible to “to talk of ‘Indian culture’ as if it is a monolithic object”. In Karanth’s opinion, “Indian culture today is so varied as to be called ‘cultures’. The roots of this culture go back to ancient times: and it has developed through contact with many races and peoples. Hence, among its many ingredients, it is impossible to say surely what is native and what is alien, what is borrowed out of love and what has been imposed by force. If we view Indian culture thus, we realise that there is no place for chauvinism.”

To this quote from Karanth let me append one by Rabindranath Tagore. Speaking of our inherited and shared diversity, Tagore once remarked: “No one knows at whose call so many streams of men flowed in restless tides from places unknown and were lost in one sea: here Aryan and non-Aryan, Dravidian, Chinese, the bands of Saka and the Hunas and Pathan and Mogul, have become combined in one body.”

The pluralism and cultural heterogeneity that Karanth and Tagore highlighted mark most spheres of Indian life. And perhaps (as they knew so well themselves) our classical music above all. Whether it be instrument or raga or genre or performer, we cannot say what is Hindu and what is Muslim, which part is native and which alien.  […]

For the act of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan singing Hamsadhvani at a Rama Navami concert in Bangalore’s Fort High School in 1956 brings and blends together many languages, religions, regions, political regimes, musical traditions, and architectural styles. It is a glorious tribute to the cultural diversity of our country and our civilization.

Source: The Telegraph (Calcutta)
URL: https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/indian-classical-music-may-be-the-best-antidote-to-chauvinism/cid/1778691
Date visited: 6 June 2020

Audio tip | JA Jayanth’s grandfather and guru TS Sankaran live at Kalakshetra >>

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

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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