Thursday, February 21, 2008

Raga Gara – The raga and the fragrance

This essay is now published in my fourth book:

Removing it from here was proper, though not obligatory, in order that my publisher's investment in the book is protected. 


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma – “The foundation of the 'Musician's Truth' is sincerity and seriousness of purpose”

Foreword to Deepak Raja’s book:
“Hindustani music – a tradition in transition”
signed on May 16, 2004.

Change is the only permanent reality in music. Even the music of the same gharànà changes from generation to generation. No musician can be a perfect xerox of his guru. This is the way it has been, this is the way it will remain, and this is the way it should be. It is this process that allows new styles to emerge, and new genres of music to be created. If classical music does not change constantly, it will stagnate, and become irrelevant to society.

Along with accepting the permanence of change, we have to acknowledge that, in music, as in other fields, each generation is attuned to certain values based on the environment in which it has been brought up. Because of their conditioning, a majority of people tend to develop firm notions about what is good and what is bad, or what is right and what is wrong, and find change difficult to accept. Their initial response to anything new is often rejection, and even condemnation. It is only gradually that society begins to discover the elements of truth in the newer manifestations of human endeavour, and concedes legitimacy to them.

To develop an intelligent approach to change and diversity in music, we have to recognize that classical music, like any other art form, evolves in society in response to the changing socio-economic realities, and sustains itself by fulfilling the cultural needs of society. Its evolution is the result of an interaction between musicians and their audiences and reflects the quality of the relationship they wish to forge between them.

In our own era, say a little before that, performances of classical music were confined to the courts of the Mahàràjàs and Nawàbs. Outside this circle, concerts took place primarily in private gatherings. They were either “Jumme-kà-takiyà” (Friday evening gatherings) or special occasions where either a musician's son was getting married, or some musician was hosting a commemorative concert for a deceased father or relative. Sometimes, a local aristocrat hosted these concerts. In most cases, the organizers and the audiences were either musicians, or close friends and relatives of musicians -- in short, people of considerable discernment in matters of classical music. The event had virtually no financial implications for anyone. This was the chamber-music stage of evolution of our tradition. Considering the context of these gatherings, the music of the era was naturally of a very high standard, very intellectual, very competitive, and perhaps even intimidating.

In the second quarter of the twentieth century, music came out of the chamber music context into the public arena. These were also the sunset years of British rule and the era of Mahàràjàs and Nawàbs as patrons of music. That was the time when scholars like Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande, and enthusiastic patrons like Jeevanlal Mattoo in Lahore and Lala Babu in Calcutta started organizing music conferences. At that stage, musicians were still poorly paid; and audiences were not large -- maybe 500 or 700 people at the most. But, musicians got an opportunity to acquire a following, and create a market for their music. Around the same time, the radio and the gramophone record also started taking music all over the country. So, there was an opportunity as well as an attraction for reaching out to audiences -- of shaping a career in music. From this stage onwards, the receptivity of audiences became an important determinant of the quality of music that was performed.

I am sure that, out of audiences 500 or 700 strong in that era, 100 per cent of the listeners were not knowledgeable about the intricacies of music. The proportion of audiences who understood, for instance, the nuances of the komal gàndhàra of Darbàri was probably not much higher than it is today. From that stage to present times, audiences have become larger, their profile has changed, their expectations from music have changed, and the media for exposure to music have grown in number and reach. But, as a percentage of the total population, I doubt if classical music audiences are much larger today than they were 50 years ago. I also doubt if the ratio of the discerning to the rest is very much smaller today.

I am driving at two points here. Firstly, that music has changed much more because society has changed, and not as much because the discerning audiences have been reduced to a small minority. Secondly, despite dramatic changes in the quality of music, which some regard as signs of decay, the musicians who enjoy stature along with popularity today exhibit the same values as those of the early twentieth century, whom we mention with reverence. And this quality is what I call the “Musician's Truth.”

The “Musician's Truth” touches the mind, heart, and soul of audiences irrespective of their level of discernment. This truth goes beyond ràga grammar, and aspects of music theory. People relate to music in a million different ways, and it is futile for a musician to think that he can tailor his music to specific audience profiles and needs. The only thing he can rely on is a steadfast commitment to the “Musician's Truth” and help his audiences to become receptive to it. He may not accomplish this in a year, or five years, or even ten years. But, abandoning it is no solution to his relevance as a musician. If this element of “Truth” is missing from a musician's art, even the undiscerning listener will be uneasy, though he may not be able to tell you why he is uneasy. If it is present, even the total ignoramus will go home happy, and will return for more. In the short run, a musician may be able to create a niche for himself without the “Musician's Truth” But, he will find it impossible to retain that position without a secure grip over it.

The foundation of the “Musician's Truth” is sincerity and seriousness of purpose. This is reflected in several facets of music, which have remained, and will remain, fundamental to our music. A musician's intonation should be perfect. Whatever his interpretation of a ràga, his exposition of it should be consistent and coherent. He should organize his musical material neatly and logically. There should be a reasonable balance between the melodic and rhythmic elements in his music. While a degree of partiality to either melodic or rhythmic elements is acceptable in our tradition, an obsession with either of them at the cost of the other deprives the music of its aesthetic value. These qualities qualify as good music by any yardstick of value.

The “Musician's Truth” has exhibited amazing resilience for over a century now, and I have no doubt that it will continue to attract musicians in sufficient numbers for the tradition to survive. However, I am concerned about the threats that have emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century. The threat comes from two recent developments -- the tidal wave of consumerism, and the “commoditization” of music.

It takes 10 or 15 years of rigorous training to groom a classical musician, and another 10 to 12 years of concert experience for him to reach his peak level in the profession. A life in classical music requires the musician to defer his economic aspirations until he is about 40. This is asking for a lot of self-denial from a musician who sees a successful pop singer achieve a glamorous lifestyle at the age of 20 or 25.

This reality may, or may not, shrink the inflow of top class talent into classical music. But, it will certainly encourage classical musicians to think in terms of a “strategy,” in which the “Musician's Truth” becomes the first casualty. With the growing impatience of musicians to live well, and an environment that offers ample opportunities for exposure, we now find a large number of talented musicians struggling -- somehow, and even anyhow -- to create a comfortable niche for themselves. This tendency is crowding the music market with a lot of dishonest classical music.

However, there is no reason to be pessimistic about the future of Hindustani music. I believe so because a few of the musicians struggling in the “somehow-anyhow” circuit might stumble upon the “Musician's Truth,” even if inadvertently. Moreover there will always be musicians outside this circuit who have the junåna (passion/commitment) to pursue the “Musician's Truth” irrespective of the financial consequences. The number of such musicians has always been small, and will remain small.

The task before the community of musicians and music-lovers is to make the world of Hindustani music more receptive to the “Musician's Truth,” which will continue to shine forth, though almost certainly in less homogeneous and more unfamiliar manifestations. This requires us to rise above our conditioning, and open our minds to change and variety. It also requires us to drop the arrogance of the classical music world, and appreciate the manifestations of the “Musician's Truth” in other forms of music -- semi-classical, folk and even popular. It is in this context, that I commend Deepak Raja's book “Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition” as a panoramic, and serious, review of the Hindustani music tradition in the post-Independence era.

Deepak is an author with a keen analytical mind, imbued with a scientific approach. His chapters on ràga grammar, ràga authenticity, ràga chemistry, and his introductory essays on Dhrupad, Khayàl, Thumaree and Tappà can be of immense value to music students and scholars. His essay on the time-theory of ràgas is a thought-provoking piece of writing, which deserves the attention of the music fraternity in view of the changing context of music performance and enjoyment. I may not personally agree with all his views on the current trends in Hindustani music. However, I acknowledge them as representing those of his generation of hard-core rasikas, who find themselves in a minority today.

I sincerely hope that this book will be widely read, and will encourage serious discussion and debate on different facets of Hindustani music. I wish Deepak success in his endeavours as a student of Hindustani music and as an author.

Reproduced with the consent of the publishers of the book, DK Printworld Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi.