Monday, June 15, 2020

The Ragascape of Hindustani Music: IV

Instrumental music and the Ragascape

In the post-independence era, the re-engineering of older instruments, the entry of newer instruments, developments in sound engineering and outstanding musicianship are believed to have helped instrumental music challenge vocalism in terms of popularity, if not also stature. Dr. Ashok Ranade, the eminent musicologist, believed that the major instruments have, by now, developed their own distinctive languages for communicating the Raga experience, and no longer require vocal music as a reference point for the validation of their idiom. The results of this study would advocate a cautious stance on this matter.

Audience Engagement Indicators are reported separately (Table 1 in Part I) for vocal music and instrumental music, along with the composite rating for two modes of presentation for each of the 97 Raga-s. A correlation run on the two series establishes that the vocal music rating (Coefficient: 0.94) is a more categorical determinant of the composite rating than the instrumental music rating (Coefficient: 0.85). This pattern does not suggest the ascendency of instrumental music over vocal music in the musical culture.

The gross numbers do, indeed, exhibit a bias in favor of instrumental music. But, this bias is easily explained by the large constituency Hindustani music has cultivated abroad since the mid-1960s. Although this constituency does have some interest in vocalism through the Dhrupad genre, it is primarily attuned to instrumental music. This difference can, sometimes, show up dramatically in YouTube numbers and distort our perceptions of the reality.

Graph 2 plots the Views  /month for instrumental music and vocal music for each of the 97 Raga-s in descending order of the composite rating score. The plot shows moderate correlation (Coefficient of correlation: 0.66) between the two data series. The distorting instrumental music data-points (outliers) can be seen at the higher end of the audience engagement continuum.

Is the foreign constituency of Hindustani music large enough to misinform our interpretation of YouTube viewership?  We do not have figures from YouTube. But, as indicative data, I have country-wise statistics of readership generated over 12 years for my blog The blog has registered a total of 800,000 page views from the date of inception to the present (May 15, 2020). Of these, 400,000 page views originated from USA, and only 200,000 page views originated in India. It is significant that 75% of my page views have originated outside India, and that USA accounts for as much as 50% of the page views on my blog.

Though YouTube and my blog are not comparable, the logic of the numbers remains. Indian audiences being outnumbered by foreign audiences (including overseas Indian citizens) seems understandable in the present context. Internet penetration in the US is much higher than in India, and Hindustani music enthusiasts outside India would need to depend much more on online sources for their needs than Indian audiences would. This reality can possibly explain some of the counter-intuitive indications emerging from this study.

... Continued in Part V