"This book is a collection of essays written between 1996 and 2003. Some of them have appeared in Sruti, ..."(p.xiii). Deepak Raja is well known to the readers of SRUTI and more of his articles have appeared in SRUTI since the publication of this book. His articles on the music of Faiyaz Khan, Vilayat Khan, Girija Devi and Ulhas Kashalkar have been model essays on music analysis.
The articles in this book under review have been distributed over five parts titled (i) Culture, Technology and Economics, (ii) Form, Idiom and Format, (iii) The World of Ragas, (iv) The Major Genres and (v) The Major Instruments. In fact the book comes with a built-in efficient summary-cum-review by Lyle Wachovsky, Managing Director of India Archive Music Ltd., New York, which forms the 'Introduction' and which makes any further review redundant.
The first part is mainly about a) Young and senior artists, b) Quality differences among performers, c) Archiving - use and benefit and d) Marketing of music. The first article, 'Populism and Rival Forces," while lamenting the current populist tendencies among certain performers that work towards "exploiting the undiscerning majority of audiences by selling Rolls Royce bodies, fitted with Volkswagen engines" (p.29) hails the role played by institutions like the Sangeet Research Academy, Kolkata and the Dhrupad Kendra, Bhopal in creating quality musicians. Again while admiring the committed performers and scholars from the West he expresses his fear about the emergence of a class of musicians of foreign origin in the West which is totally unconnected with the 'motherland of the music' and which might lead to "deculturation" of Hindustani music.
The piece 'If Peanuts is what you Pay' discusses the Music market and Quality product. Deepak Raja establishes that the consumer is paying less and less while the musician gets more and more and the difference is being made up by the recording companies and concert sponsors "... without having either the need or the desire to promote quality music" (p.40). With great concern he adds "... music is more likely to attract truly dedicated and discerning audiences when it demands an economic sacrifice, than when it is subsidized" (p.41).
The aspect of patronage is taken up in the next article 'Government, Business and Classical Music'. Making a distinction between 'sponsorship' and 'patronage', ("Concert sponsorship is contractual and event-specific, while patronage is unconditional and permanent. Event sponsorship is a business deal, while patronage is a passionate commitment.” p.45) author points out that the "The traditional patronage model has faded into history, and is impossible to reconfigure." (p.47) and way out is for the "community of musicologists, professional musicians, and specialist media to pressurize the contemporary Indian benefactor into maturing at a faster rate" (p.48).
The next one, 'Pandits and Ustads Aplenty' advocates the artists to organise themselves into a guild to circumvent exploitation by intermediaries. In the market the intermediaries rate the professionalists by their grade and although AIR is an institution that grades musicians, "today it is possible to shape a successful career without having qualified as an AIR artist" (p.50). Musicians should strive to work towards achieving a grade so that "they can avoid having to negotiate rates for every engagement" (p.51).
For today's musician, the commercial recording is his/her advertisement as well as the product itself intended for developing a concert market. At the same time the recorded music of the previous generation should be restored and made available as a 'virtual guru' for a student. Thus the article 'Archival Music and the Cultural Process' explains how the music community could exploit the technology to its advantage taking care to recognise the 'one original' and discriminate it from the umpteen 'xeroxes' that are bound to sprout.
'A Requiem for the Gharanas' is the last of the essays in the 'Market based Music' section of this book and shows how Gharana too served as a commercial factor since both 'music' and 'patronage' "were 'assets' “to be protected and, if possible, bequeathed to direct descendants" (p.75). The Gharana cast its net wider since "heredity turned out to be an unreliable guarantee of musicianship potential ... , musicians began to groom promising talent beyond the orbit of kinship" (p.76).
Deepak Raja in these essays has approached the area of 'Music Market' from many angles, namely, the quality of the artists, patronage, the intermediaries, technology and music, and the consumers. He has had many perceptive observations to make and he has made them in a forthright manner with a tinge of humour. The generalisations have been drawn carefully. But the thrust would have been greater if a few case studies or specific instances had been discussed. Musicologists might blush to see concert music being treated as a marketable product for they view a musician as a 'museum housing an exhibit' and not as an 'exhibit housed in a museum'. It is quite possible that a quality product may lack an attractive packaging and consequently not have sale value. Thus an able musician devoid of showmanship usually has no market value and ends being elevated to the status of a 'Musician's musician'. Thus to be a marketable product an artist has to equip himself with many other skills than just music. Perhaps this is one area that has been left untouched by the author.
The second section 'Form, Idiom and Format' has four short essays. The first essay "Architecture in Modern Hindustani Music" appears to belong rightly to the third section hence would be considered along with the articles in that section. Taking up the instrumental presentations in "Instrumental Idioms: Anga or Apanga?", surprisingly makes some statements relating to history (which has otherwise avoided in this book) like "Originally, Indian art music regarded instruments capable only of accompaniment to vocal music." and "... rudra vina ... was once considered a suska vadya and forbidden for solo performance". There does not seem to be any reference in history to substantiate the former while 'suska' performance probably related to drum instruments and not the melodic ones. In fact the author could have left out references to the 'music' of pakhawaja and tabala in this essay, since they technically do not belong to the realm of musical or melodic instruments. In fact in the last section of the book dealing with musical instruments the author has rightly chosen to leave out skin percussion instruments.
Taking vocal musical expression as having the highest ranking, the author without arguing out the case makes many statements like, "no instrument can match the acoustic and melodic potential of the human voice", "vocal expression ranks supreme as a unified and unfettered expression of the body, the mind, and the soul, being activated by prana". Author forgets that whether it is vocal or sitara or flute, the musical idea is generated by the human mind, for an instrument does not play by itself. The musical idea has to be shaped according to the nature of the vehicle conveying it, voice, sitara or flute, as it happens in Western music. There is no reason why 'Instrumental music' should be inferior to 'vocal music played on instrument' or why a different 'instrument music' should not be conceived for instruments. The author feels that sitara can create only an 'illusion' or 'semblance' of vocal music and it is 'anaucitya' to play a 'sitara music' on a flute or sarangi, and that the 'gayaki anga' should not become 'gayaki apanga'. But he concedes at the end that "a worthwhile direction can emerge only from a discovery and exploitation of the distinctive character of each instrument" (p.109), a bold statement indeed. On the sly this has been happening with the entry of 'Harmonium', 'Jalataranga', 'Santura', 'Electronic Keyboard' and such other instruments into the system. But let things come into the open and bifurcation of the system be recognised.
The author has, curiously, coined a term 'percussive-melodic instrument' (p.107) to refer to Saroda and Santura and also holds that "the act of plucking creates an element of melodic discontinuity as well as rhythm" (p.103) and that "Melodic discontinuity is inherent in the sitara's design" (p.106). He looks at the 'meenda' or notes produced through the deflection of the string as "extracting longer acoustic sustain from the instrument .... strongly suggestive of singing" (p.106). Music (vocal) is not aiming only towards manifesting a continuous uninterrupted vowel extension. Consonants are required for marking the limits of a melodic phrase, although, at a pinch, stressed vowels too can be deputed to perform this task, but ultimately a marker is what is required. Plucking is only a counterpart of the utterance of a consonant in vocal, discharging the function of a marker. Further apart from the facility of sliding, sitara has the advantage of string deflection which is not possible on a sarangi and which gives it an edge over the latter and cannot be considered alien to the idiom or just an illusion.
"The Jugalbandi Racket" is a well-analysed criticism of the jugalbandi format of concert presentation. The author is negative about the presence of this genre which evolved as an 'experimentation' despite some combinations being 'box-office success' and goes to the fundamentals of it "A duet, as a presentational format, is fundamentally inconsistent with the meditative-contemplative character of Hindustani music." However, he defends the traditional vocal duos - "Without exception, these pairs are brothers not far removed from each other in age, and trained simultaneously by the same guru, in most cases their father." (pp.112-113) It is not the question of 'the meditative-contemplative' character which the duo must be capable of achieving but one of aesthetics, namely, whether two artists can jointly create a single homogeneous musical edifice. It would be like two artists working on a single painting. It could perhaps be possible if the entire structure is conceived by one artist and the roles are distributed, as in the case of the art of film where the conception is that of the Director but hundreds are contributing to the creation of the artistic piece. If that be so even a trio or a quartet could work. This reviewer feels that vocal duos are still one step below serious art music notwithstanding their 'do badan ek dil' incarnation on the stage.
"Tihayis . . . and the Rape of Melody" is a serious academic study of the subject of Tihayi although the title may appear a bit sensational. After discussing the artistic function of 'tihayi' the author speaks of three kinds of tihayis, 'mukhadaa tihayi', 'aamada tihayi' and 'badhata tihayi'. While going into raptures over the tihayis unfurled by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan, "it was almost as if their tihayis took shape in their minds unbeknownst even to themselves", he contrasts them with "a recording of a young sitarist which had a 14 minute presentation of a slow-tempo bandisa with 18 tihayis, one every 45 seconds.” and concludes aptly "The grotesque has a place in art. But when art becomes grotesque, it gets derailed from its elevating ideals." (p.122).
In the second section except for the first article the remaining three give the appearance of disapproving and hitting at practices that have come into concert performances. Far from being casual, the entire treatment of the subject is very serious and the observations, views and comments are very balanced and wise.
The third section 'The World of Ragas' has five articles. The first article of the second section "Architecture in Modern Hindustani Music" considers the musical forms and styles of musicians as edifices and which could be classified as architecture-dominant [dhrupada / style-Kesarbai Kerkar or Ameer Khan], sculpture oriented [khayala / Onkarnath Thakur or Roshnara Begum] or ornamentation oriented [thumari / Bade Gulam Ali Khan]. It is in this article that the author takes up a case study of a seventy-four minute presentation of raga Sanjh Saravali spread over three stages, Alapa, Laya-banta and Tana and analyses its architecture. The structure of the presentation is abstracted and the author beautifully concludes that "At the highest level of musicianship, the soundness of architecture is therefore a fundamental differentiator between durable and ephemeral music, ... a discriminator between music and merely pleasant sounds at the lowest level of musicianship" (p.101). What, however, one feels uncomfortable with are usages like 'exposition of the raga', 'exploration of raga', since architecture relates to the concretised presentation of a 'musical form' and not of the 'melodic source' (raga), unless of course the author is using the term 'raga' as a synonym for musical form, dhrupada, khayala etc.
In fact we are confronted with this very problem of usage in "Raga-ness of Ragas", the first article in the third section. The author understands raga to be (a) a melodic structure, (b) a stimulus in a communication process, (c) melodic representation of an emotional statement. If raga is understood as 'melodic structure' how is it different from a musical composition, namely, Mukta Alapa, Khayala or Dhrupada Bandisa and the improvisation element? It is true that today the presentation of a Khayala in, say Yaman, is announced as the 'prastuti' or 'presentation' of raga Yaman.
This is a secondary sense of the word 'raga' where it is used as a synonym of 'gita' or musical structure, encompassing both 'nibaddha' (pre-composed) and 'anibaddha' (improvisation-based); there being historical reasons for the word to acquire this secondary sense. A ‘rāga’ is a specific melody source, not given to perception without the melodic forms that exemplify it. And as a 'melody source' raga is only an assemblage of melodic features or characteristics that are abstracted from the musical structures that commonly share them and being an abstract entity, raga has a virtual existence. And the author himself outlines these features, under the heading 'Melodic Grammar of Ragas' - permissive svara-s, aroha-avaroha, calana, pakada, nyasa /vadi-samvadi, preference for purvanga, madhyanga or uttaranga (melodic epicentre as author likes to refer to it, placing it under 'aesthetic grammar', although it still belongs to 'melodic grammar').
Again music presentation is neither a communication process nor an emotional statement. Music is non-representational and it is received and perceived for what it is and not for what it carries, for it carries nothing. Again the raga-rasa relationship that the author brings up has meaning only in the context of drama or Natya and there too rasa is evoked by action and context and music is only an external associate.
The author also raises the question "Why does Indian tradition require ragas, when the art music traditions of other mature civilizations have produced great music even without such a device?" (p.127). Every art music system has a 'virtual' musical source for drawing upon material for structuring its music. And if 'raga' is taken in the general sense of 'musical source', then Western music too has a 'raga'-basis, only that, the grammar of that 'raga' would be defined by 'chords', 'transposition', 'counterpoint' etc.
In the article "Raga Chemistry and Beyond" the author, trying to explain the transformations taking place in the melodic images of ragas, brings in the analogy of allotropes, compounds and emulsions from the discipline of Chemistry. Allotropes are different physical forms of the same element, Coal and diamond being allotropes of Carbon. Darbari Kanada and Enayeti Khani Kanada of Vilayat Khan, incorporating in addition suddha-ga and suddha-ni, are portrayed as allotropes. Compound, as different from heterogeneous mixture, is a fusion of two entities that makes the resultant homogenous and for this Kafi-kanada is 'compound raga' fusing Kafi ascent with Darbari descent. Emulsion is a fine disposition of minute droplets of one liquid in another in which it is not soluble or miscible. Sampurna-Malkauns of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana mixing together Malkauns, Bagesvari, Kafi and Khat (which itself is a mixture of six raga-s), is seen as an Emulsion in which the phrases of the member raga-s are made clearly perceptible. Using terms from other disciplines as metaphors for explaining music has had precedence (see Joep Bor, “Raga, Species and Evolution”, Sangeet Natak-35 in which the author brings in Biology) in musicological writings. The author has used the analogy well to drive home the distinction perceived in the different kinds of 'Joda' and 'Misra' raga-s. But more strong and valid is his criticism of the practice of 'Raga-malika' and the resulting dilution in the serious presentation of a single raga.
"Ragas: Right and Wrong" raises a very important issue of the existence of two differing images under the same raga name. Candrakauns of Agra gharana different from the normal Candrakauns, Khambavati of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana resembling Ragesri and differing from the traditional Khambavati, Onkarnath Thakur's treatment of the svara 're' in Bihaga, two differing melodic pictures of the same raga Tilak Kamod by Kesarbai Kerkar, are instance that have been taken up and a very dispassionately discussed. The issue finally boils down to the laksya-laksana clash. Certain observations of the author could raise arguments. "In a specific context, great musicians have a variety of "reasons" for deviating from the familiar, and they are not accountable to us for their exercise of creative license." (p.154) They may not be 'accountable to us' but are they accountable to no one, not even to the system, especially since art music denotes a well defined and disciplined practice? Musician is not bigger than music, even though without musicians there is no music. The author then adds, "... raga-s are not static melodic entities." (p.156) Invariably when a raga changes or a new raga emerges it happens at the cost of another raga dying or paling into insignificance. Again "In a performing art tradition, theory can document practice, but it cannot expect to dictate it." (p.156) In no art can theory dominate, performing or plastic. But in all arts there are two levels of theorisation. One is the codification of practice in an unwritten form, which is there in the mind of all guru-s and surfaces when they pull up the student, "Betaa! Your rikhab is too flat, raise it a bit." When these do-s and dont-s get documented in a written form they become the musicologist's theory. So, there is initially, a musician's grammar and then another, the musicologist's. And it is the unseen former, that defines the system, within which framework, the art music operates.
"Kedara at Sunrise?" brings up the same issue of Raga-Time association, which most of the musicologists are not able to rationally accept and most of the musicians are not emotionally give up. After citing the theory underlying the organisation of ragas within the hours of the day, the author concludes, "The theory, as understood so far, falls short of being a comprehensive and fully organised system of relationships. Some psychometric experiments have been conducted to verify the association of melodic patterns with time-slots in the audience mind. The results are, so far, only tentative in their affirmation." (p.165) His conclusion appear to endorse the views of another musicologist, "It is one thing to find common features in ragas that have been placed in a single time bracket but quite another to show that this points at a deeper psycho-physiological basis for the phenomenon. ... I think that the association made between a raga and its allotted time is an arbitrary association ... is culturally conditioned." (Mukund Lath, 'An Enquiry into the Raga-Time Association' in Transformation As Creation, p.173). This reviewer feels that as in the case of rasas, the origin of association of time can be traced to Drama (Natya) and to non-artistic environments like temple rituals and marriage functions, in which environments the association still exists even in the Southern part of the country.
"The Experience of Melody: From Dhrupad to Santura" is the last article in this section and takes up an interesting area of how music perception is felt the same despite the different genres - Vocal (Dhrupada and Khayala), sitara, saroda, santura etc. it stems from. This article feels like a continuation and elaboration of the earlier one ‘Instrumental Idioms ... ‘. Despite the vilambita, long and contemplative Alapa section ("consuming over 60 per cent of the duration" p.198), the author regards total Dhrupada presentation itself displaying a "narrative path" approach and speaks of a 'melodic line' rather than a 'melodic phrase' as the building block of melody with emphasis on 'continuity between phrases', all attributed to the overbearing presence of the text dominated composition. On the other hand the Khayala is described as having a symmetrical and geometrical, phraseological approach to melodic presentation. The melodic expressions in Sitara and Saroda playing have been discussed in terms of the frequency of right hand plucking, timbre variation and svara patternings influencing the melodic phrasing. Author has been very objective and unsparing in his assessment of the melodic expression of Santura and some of the statements are very forceful, although at times bordering on euphemism. "Melodic discontinuity is as effortless a feature of the instrument as is its rhythmicality."(p.175) "With the santura, raganess could be totally atomized, and pushed into a territory beyond melody, and into a region so far alien to Hindustani music." (p.176) " "... its inclination appears to be towards the atomization of melody and the search for extra-melodic pathways to musical ideation and expression." (p.178) “The Santura is not the villain of the piece. It merely represents a historical and socio-cultural direction. Contemporary tendencies in Santura music reflect a progressive crystallization of this inevitability." (p.181) One gets a feeling that the author is giving too much importance to this instrument although the focus on melodic expression does not get diverted.
The themes in the articles in the third section seem to overlap with those in the second, the approach continues to be objective and discussions pinpointed.
The titles of articles in the fourth and fifth sections - An Introduction to Dhrupada, An Introduction to Khayala, An Introduction to Thumari, An Introduction to Tappa, The Rudra Vina, The Sitara, The Surbahara, The Saroda, The Santura, The Sehnayi, The Sarangi, The Indian Classical Guitar, give the impression of being textbook lessons but they are not. The write up extends beyond the description of the formal structures to presentation styles of schools and artists and to the evolution.
Using the term 'Gharana' in the context of Dhrupada too, the author mentions five - Dagar, Darbhanga, Bettiah, Talwandi and Mathura. Name of Falguni Mitra is missing in Bettiah and Siyaram Tewari in the list from Bihar region. When the author says "The melodic progression in the dhrupad alapa often appears less methodical than that of the modern khayala genre." (p.196), one feels that it was the other way about. Again when he says, "This nom tom phonetic [in dhrupada] is a remnant of what was once a rhythmic chanting of the name of Lord Visnu - om hari ananta narayana." (p.196), one wonders whether there is any historical evidence to substantiate that. Why should 'meaningless syllables' be considered having less spiritual significance (if at all that matters) since even the earliest musical system of Samagana had a lot of it and in addition made the meaningful text itself unrecognisable, a feature common to all art music systems? The observations on Khayala styles, although brief, are very perceptive and significant are the usages 'formalism' and 'aloofness'. Reference to 'Dombika' dance (mentioned by Abhinavagupta), in the context of history of Thumari is interesting. Very significant is the concluding observation, "Starting with Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Khayala vocalism moved towards a libertarian approach to architecture ... he was the forerunner of the romantic brigade -- Kumar Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar, and Pt. Jasraja -- who rebelled against either the formalism of the Khayala, or its aloofness, or both, thus driving the classicist genre closer to the emotional expressiveness of the thumari." (p.256)
Analysing the Sitara compositions, the author speaks of the Masit Khani gata - dir da dir da dir - da ra da - dir da dir da dir - da ra da -, starting on the twelfth matra, superimposing a 5-3-5-3 asymmetry on the 4-4-4-4 symmetry of the teen-tala cycle. (p.292). But the Tabala theka bola-s ‘dha dhin dhin dha – dha dhin dhin dha dha – tin tin ta ta – dhin dhin dha’ have already superimposed a 4-5-4-3 asymmetry on the symmetrical kriya vibhaga of teen-tala. So one is dealing with a three-tier system and not a two-tier one.
A Glossary comes at the end, which could as well be taken to be the six section of the book. Spread over 65 pages we have practically mini articles on most of the 220 odd entries.
The articles in the last two sections and the glossary together, apart from their analytical and documentary value, would eminently serve as textbook lessons for institutions too. At present textbook lessons in institutions confine themselves to only structures of genres and instruments and do not include style of presentation by artists and in this respect Deepak Raja's articles would have that extra dimension. In this context one is also tempted to compare this part of the book with the recently published book 'NAD: Understanding Raga Music' by Sandeep Bagchee.
The 'Select Bibliography' has one error. The author of 'Thumri ki utpatti, vikas aur shailiyan' should be 'Shukla, Shatrughna' and not 'Sinha, Shatrughna', although the attribution might do the Actor-MP proud.
This book reveals the author's involvement with the subject, extensive thinking that he has done, high command of the language laced with humour and an organised presentation. Although some of the topics might give the appearance of dealing with peripheral issues, there is a serious treatment of the various aspects of these issues. Discussion and analysis are always objective and technical. In fact his way of building up an article reminds one of the Sastraic writings in Samskrta where a discussion has two parts, the ‘purvapaksha’ and the ‘uttarapaksha’, and in the former part the commentator will argue against himself and in the latter part present his real view with all the force and conviction. And our author too discusses the issue impartially from all points of view before he puts forward his conclusion in a clear manner.
If one can fault the author on anything it is that much of the discussion on the music scene in the first two sections is based on artists and goings on in Mumbai and the West, ignoring other parts of country. This is not a coffee-table book. It is eminently readable but mainly for the connoisseurs, artists, scholars and students, in other words, not for a general music lover.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Author, and the Editor, Sruti.