Voice culture and singing

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Voice Culture and Singing by Friedrich Brueckner-Rueggeberg

Peter Calatin (left) and Friedrich Brueckner-Rueggeberg (centre) with students at
Kalakshetra in 1983 © Ludwig Pesch

This course material was originally produced for – and used by – teachers and students at Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts, today known as Rukmini Devi College Of Fine Arts.

Meaningless and uncontrolled singing and exercising are rather harmful since the long-term memory of the brain needs to be supplied with correct impulses which requires immediate recognition of functional disorders and their correction.
Herein lies the great and far-reaching responsibility of the teacher whose full care and control is demanded in order to allow the singer to acquire an automatic and playful sense for the correct usage of his voice. In this manner, he is relieved sufficiently to devote himself fully to content and presentation of his music (described as Bhava in India). […]

Many victims of either wrong techniques of singing or careless teachers keep wandering from teacher to teacher in pursuit of their shattered hopes. This fact lends weight to the concept of voice control from the very beginning before defects can encroach that are so hard to correct later on, if at all.


Quote from page 15 in the printversion | Learn more >>

Context

A two week long voice culture course was offered at the request of its Founder-Director, Rukmini Devi (1904-1986) when introduced to the renowned singer and voice trainer, Friedrich Brueckner-Rueggeberg in 1982.

This project was conceived on the basis of earlier experiences, namely that Indian singers would benefit from time-proven as well as modern methods such as described here, mainly in order to prevent injury caused by mechanical practice (e.g. a lack of awareness that a pupil’s vocal range, breathing and posture should be taken into account).

The method described here is oriented towards “intercultural learning” which explains why it has since been adopted by several voice coaches from all over India, be it for “classical” singing or otherwise.

It has also been adapted for a major chapter on vocal music in The Oxford Illustrated Companion To South Indian Classical Music by Ludwig Pesch (Oxford University Press, in print since 1999, 2nd rev. ed. 2009).

Credits

The Chennai branch of the Goethe Institut (German cultural institute, better known as Max Mueller Bhavan) sponsored Friedrich Brueckner-Rueggeberg and his senior disciple Peter Calatin to conduct the voice training course hosted by Kalakshetra in 1983 for which the present contents was created.

First published by K. Sankara Menon and edited by Shakuntala Ramani in Kalakshetra Quarterly Vol. V, No. 3 (Chennai, 1983).

Co-author, translator and researcher (adaptation to the Indian context including illustration and photography): Ludwig Pesch – the author’s former student at Freiburg Musikhochschule (Germany) – then a student of Kalakshetra College.

Illustration (graphics): A. Mai

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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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

What’s the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music?

At first, this question seems easy to answer: just watch performers from either strand of Indian music and you’ll know Which is Which, merely going by the instruments in use, or how they dress and watching the body language involved: harmonium or sarangi vs. violin for melodic accompaniment for most vocal recitals, and tabla drums rather than a double-faced mridangam.

M.S. Subbulakshmi © Dhvani Ohio
“Even at the peak of her career M.S.Subbulakshmi continued to learn from other musicians”
R.K. Shriram Kumar >>
Young Maestros 2018 © Sangeet Research Academy >>

Even in the absence of other clues, experienced listeners know what distinguishes one concert item from another, in order to immerse themselves in that which endows “classically trained” musicians across South Asia with a deeply felt sense of unity: raga, aptly defined as a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation” by Joep Bor in The Raga Guide.

What binds Hindustani and Carnatic music lovers together is the experience of raga which, given its roots (lit. colour, beauty, pleasure, passion), denotes a cultural phenomenon rather than just a particular combination of notes. This means that raga-based music is more widely shared than one would expect in the modern world due to its capacity to transcend linguistic boundaries. In short, both strands of Indian music, Hindustani and Carnatic music, have absorbed a wide range of regional traditions throughout history. At the same time, “raga music” continues to serve as a vehicle for meaningful lyrics in any conceivable genre in addition to “classical” or “devotional” music. Even when rendered by an instrumentalist or sung without lyrics (as customarily done within both Hindustani and Carnatic recitals) each raga constitutes “a dynamic musical entity with a unique form, embodying a unique musical idea”. […] As regards Hindustani ragas, they “are known to musicians primarily through traditional compositions in genres such as dhrupad, dhamar, kyal, tappa, tarana and thumri. Good compositions possess a grandeur that unmistakably unveil the distinctive features and beauty of the raga as the composer conceived it.” (Joep Bor).

The Carnatic Trinity hailing from Tiruvarur (Tamil Nadu, 18th-19th c.):
the composers most revered and performed by Carnatic musicians
Muttusvami Dikshitar
Sri Tyagaraja
Syama Sastri

Painting by S. Rajam © Sruti Magazine >>
Composers on DhvaniOhio >>

A comparable range of genres is available to Carnatic musicians, including varnam, kirtana, kriti, ragam-tanam-pallavi, padam, javali, tillana with a notable difference: since the 16th century, Carnatic compositions take up more time in order to render the lyrics faithfully, as intended by their composers and jealously guarded by teachers, discerning listeners and critics alike.

It is hard to imagine how such ideas would have worked before the advent of the tambura or tanpura – another feature of Indian music which may explain why older scales and theories have fallen into oblivion ever since – in spite of frequent mentions in text books.

But it’s harder to explain the musical differences in plain language while listening attentively as their respective performances unfold: differences begin to multiply, mostly in ways too subtle for words. Such differences call for probing into the depths of Indian “classical” music in the sense of a particular branch of music that is governed by clearly defined rules as well as unwritten conventions valued by professionals and connoisseurs.

For Indian listeners, such distinctions are mostly associated with a particular region, like the northern Hindustani and southern Carnatic music even if deceptive when it comes to the birth places of noted Hindustani exponents: many famous musicians were born or trained in Bengal in the east, and Dharwad in the south, also known as “Hindustani music’s southern home“. Being associated with a famous regional tradition or lineage is mentioned in most programme notes, like the vocal gharana known as the “Dharwad Gharana” or “Gwalior Gharana” in Hindustani music; and likewise, southern musicians pride themselves for having learned their arts within a bani (“family tradition”) designated by a particular town, for instance Tanjavur (vocal), Lalgudi (violin) and Karaikudi (vina or veena).

Then there are the preferred languages used in song lyrics in the case of vocal music; and certain rhythmic patterns local listeners would instantly feel familiar with or, conversely, associate with “novelty” when first employed beyond their place of origin. The latter is eagerly anticipated toward the end of a recital. In the opening and main parts of a recital, the most obvious differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music include the following traits:

  1. Hindustani musicians prefer “accelerating” almost imperceptibly – from slow to fast tempo – during an alap (raga alapana, the melodic improvisation preceding a composed theme); this preference entails presenting fewer items compared to their Carnatic peers;
  2. by contrast, a typical Carnatic or Karnatak concert opens with two or three items in a brisk tempo, including sections in “double tempo”, before elaborating a particular raga in a slow-to-fast format akin to the Hindustani format known as “imagination” (khyal or khayal) traceable to 18th c. court music;
  3. Carnatic recitals are enriched by arithmetic elements derived from the repertoires of temple and dance musicians, and coordinated by visible gestures (something listeners love to emulate for the sake of self-immersion or as a sign of appreciation); and not surprisingly, rhythmic intricacies were successfully adopted and refined as part of Hindustani tihai patterns, most successfully by Ravi Shankar in the course of collaborations with southern instrumentalists (duly acknowledged in Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar); be it for his solo sitar recitals or novel, mostly temporary jugalbandi ensembles like the one documented on video: recorded in 1974 at the Royal Albert Hall in London: “As far back as 1945, I was absorbing the essence of these from the fixed calculative systems of the Carnatic system.” (To understand their application, watch a tarana on YouTube repeatedly, starting from 3:27) Unsurprisingly this process of give-and-take, once proven successful, has become too common to bother crediting it to any particular source, other than declaring it a “shared heritage” cherished by musicians and audiences all over the world: Unity in Diversity at its very best!

To appreciate some of the aforementioned characteristics in the context of South Indian music, listen to recitals by two of its most beloved exponents:

From the above mentioned differences follows the most important one, namely the amount of time assigned to compositions based on elaborate lyrics: the concise bandish in a Hindustani recital vs. the tripartite kriti several of which occupy pride of place in Carnatic music.

The standard syllabus for South Indian “classical” music is ascribed to 16th c. composer Purandara Dasa of Vijayanagar (modern Hampi in northern Karnataka as indicated on the music map seen below). His method proved so efficient as to provide a common ground for aspiring singers or instrumentalists from many regions and linguistic backgrounds. This may explain how such music invites the convergence of several voices or instruments into one (unison): a soloist accompanied by violin just as two vocalists (popular duos known as “Brothers” and “Sisters”), or pairs of flutes, lutes (vina) and violinists, all capable of achieving perfect alignment at any given moment during a recital; and this not merely for evenly paced motifs but with equal ease in richly embellished passages. For good measure, such feats require neither notation nor lengthy rehearsals but instead combine musical memory with considerable freedom to enrich predictable patterns with one’s own flights of imagination.

As regards inevitable specialization such as a particular vocal or instrumental style, required for mastering certain melodic and rhythmic intricacies and compositions, there is an infinite variety to delve into: variety that explains the evolution of two great music “systems” that kept evolving and intersecting ever since musicologists became obsessed with classifying and validating certain features in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For non-Indian music lovers and students, Yehudi Menuhin’s reminiscences titled “Unfinished Journey” may be a good starting point: the violin virtuoso was among the first to appreciate fact that “Indian musicians are sensitive to the smallest microtonal deviations, subdivisions of tones which the violin can find but which are outside the crude simplifications of the piano (or harmonium)”. His interest in Indian violin music motivated Menuhin to invite the South Indian violin virtuoso Lalgudi Jayaraman to tour the UK and participate in the 1965 Edinburgh music festival.

For a better understanding of what Yehudi Menuhin meant by “smallest microtonal deviations”, listen to the very first composition most learners of Carnatic music have learned – a gitam (didactic song) by Purandara Dasa – in: A brief introduction to Carnatic music >>

Internet search screenshots for Indian music jazz fusion
“The classical music of the West has influenced
our musical culture” – Manohar Parnerkar in
Sruti Magazine August 2019 >>

Since then, musicians from various backgrounds have never ceased to contribute to an unprecedented intercultural dialogue: exponents of western classical, ecclesiastical and minimal music just as jazz, pop and film music, all set to explore new horizons together with their Indian peers.

Tips

  1. to explore the above topics on your own, refer the Indian sources recommended here >>
  2. in order to get a clear idea what this means in practice, listen closely to audio and video contents featuring two prominent families of violinists whose roots lie in South India: one known as the Parur bani (brothers M.S. Gopalakrishnan & M.S. Anantharaman), and the other brought into prominence by N. Rajam (Hindustani violin) and her brother T.N. Krishnan (Carnatic violin)

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Michael Zarky (Tuning Meister) for providing valuable tips and corrections for this post and previous Carnaticstudent courses including those offered in conjunction with university eLearning programmes.

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

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

More by and about T.M. Krishna >>

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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“Useful chapter on voice training” – A History of Singing

Ludwig Pesch, The Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999) is a lengthy introduction to Carnatic music, with a useful chapter on voice training.

John Potter and Neil Sorrell, A History of Singing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (Sources and references, p. 310)
isbn 9780521817059

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