Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Musical Musings

For a long time now I have been an avid listener and collector of Indian Classical Music.(Add to that sometimes an eccentric writer). Its been a journey. A tough trek from rebellious origins to reach at a point I am now. I do not know why I felt like documenting it, but I guess, in later life, it would be fun to read.

For me, the exposure to Indian classical music started at a young age. I was about 11 years old when I gave two exams for harmonium. (the results of which have still not arrived) However I was too simplistic to realize the nature of that music. Maybe I was a rebel. I was a fan of Bollywood Songs and catchy numbers on which I could dance. Then through peer pressure, I got into a habit of listening to English songs- Bryan Adams and likes. When I went to England, I started listening to Rock- Metallica, LP and other loud music as well as the meaningless raps. Somewhere down, I knew, I was missing a base. This was not music. It was noise.
All this was to change, when by chance I happened to listen to an old record( cassette) of Malini Rajurkar singing Malkauns. It changed me. For the first time, I had listened to something which made me kind of enjoy it, without knowing it. It just felt soothing. That Malini Rajurkar cultivated this germ of classical music in my mind can hardly be counted as a surprize. Her simple elegance is enough to draw anyone towards classical music, and she in her own right is an exceptional artist.

Out of curiosity I got a few classical clippings from here and there and started listening. I did not enjoy it that much initially. While some ragas sounded happy, others such as Marwa and Puriya made me close what I was listening to. I was busy getting stuck to a narrow spectrum and was confining myself to it. But, internally, it was progress. I could distinctly recognize ragas such as Yaman, Haunsadhwani, Bhairavi. Identification of ragas plays such a morale boosting role in the days you just start listening to music. I remember spending hours trying to guess which raga was being played on the ipod game. It is a crucial step I must say. It helps you fine tune your ears to the pitch and scale of notes and their references with the Shadja and other finer nuances. I was too naive to realize it that time- I was more interested in boasting and showing off that I can recognize what is being sung , without actually understanding anything. I used to take pride if someone appreciated me if I guessed correctly. I was foolish. But this foolishness and the way I went about it, by getting into habit of listening to notes, today, has made my ears very sharp and discerning.

Initially, I used to listen to things that I felt sounded nice. You like what you hear, you get it and hear it again and again. What you do not like, discard. It was the typical Hindi film approach where only songs which are catchy capture public imagination. However, my first interaction with Sawai Gandharwa changed this outlook. Sampada Atya, ever since she came to know about my interest used to tell me to go to Sawai. The first chance I got, I jumped on the ship, and went to see it. It was an overwhelming experience. For the first time in my life, I heard renowned pandits and Ustads from up close. I realised that what sounds good may not necessarily be good. Knowledge behind the presentation, and the technique of presentation matters a lot. Correct music, not good music leaves behind a far more soothing effect, if we focus on it.  With this in mind, I started digging for the technicalities of music. Another change was to occur- that in taste of what I listened.

Like brash kids who like fast tempo, I had started listening to Drut and higher tempo compositions. I completely disliked the slow paced vilambit compositions.(I often used to accuse it of being too slow and monotonous stretching for too long) When the above mentioned change started to take place, I started listening to more of Vilambit. It is in this form I realised that the true colours of both- the artist and the raga being performed are truly brought forth. Vilambit sets the tone of the performance. It sets a steady tempo to the performance which gradually shifts through the gears ending at a fast paced composition. If I can compare anything with it, then it can be the style with which FC Barcelona construct their play. Steady build up from defence, passes to the midfield, where the tempo ever so slightly is increased. The flow is specked with moments of magic, and then all of a sudden the smooth passage explodes into sheer pace and a goal is scored. A performance follows a similar path. Numerous hour long live recordings were gathered from wherever I could and added to my collection. Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Jasraj, Dr. Vasantkhan Deshpande, Ustad Rashid Khan, Dr. Prabha Atre, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and many others gave me solid a solid base from which I can spend hours listening to and pondering about music.

Music kept me thinking. It gave some form of stability to my otherwise wavering mind. It kept revealing that there was more to it if I want to explore.And explore I did. I was trying at the moment a too ambitious to execute Matlab based project of raag recognition. I had to decode shrutis for recognizing a raga which was rather difficult to achieve using vocals. So I tried using Harmonium and other instruments such as the Sitar. Sitar captured my imagination. Notes are crucial i realised. Meend work is so delicate that a nanometer here or there changes the nature of the note, thus of the raga. More than words of a cheez, the notes play a crucial part in creating the mood. Listening to top notch artists provided a completely different outlook to music. Two ultimate champions- Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Shahid Parvez have had a profound impact on me. To me both are the ultimate- and amongst the very few people who can be placed without a shadow of doubt in a  set of geniuses. Instrumantal music showed me a completely distinct shade of music. It evoked a sense of emotion that can be derived from music. It proved that wordless music can be enjoyed too. Hobby by now had turned to passion and devotion. As it so often happens these days, music started placing me from my current state to some other detached state. This was largely due to the teaching and interactions with Ranade Sir. He made me realize what it is to find happiness in any composition. I  definitely started enjoying music more with this approach.


Recently Ive been harrowed by the question about the divinity of music. Music seems divine. It has some magical qualities that suck you into it. Its an enigma. The reason why it affects us and leaves an impression as it does can only be pondered. (I tried to link it- of all the things- to general theory of relativity in my previous post.) Four stalwarts and pure geniuses have inspired me along this path. Their music makes you forget everything else. It literally sets you up for a one on one interaction with some undefined energy. Kishori Amonkar, Pt. Kumar Gandharwa, Ustad Amir Khan and Mukul Shivputra, like their music are enigmatic. They are people who have broken the conventional barriers. What can I say of them! I dont even deserve to say anything. But listening to them have provided a sense of divinity attached to music.For them music is God, for us, listening to their music is meditation to reach to God.

A person can learn by observing things around him. However, to learn, he needs inspiration. In my case, I wanted to learn a little bit on Indian Classical music, and all the people mentioned above have provided me with an inspiration to atleast walk on the difficult path. A mighty contribution in my life has been made by Sampada Atya, Shashi atya, Ranade Sir, and Sandeep-my cousin(an awesome singer himself) to try and explain the many questions Ive had on music. Another person, even though Ive never met him, Dr. Rajan Parrikar, through his exquisite articles and a large classical collection, along with his deep understandings and teachings of music, has made me realize what is OK, what is good, and what is the amongst the higher echelons. I cant thank him enough.

So far it has been an awesome journey. A journey full of discoveries. A journey where every turn shows a new facade of the endless ocean of music. As Ranade sir so often puts it, all we can do is collect the grains of rice scattered one by one, and challenge ourselves to strive hard to fill the bag- not with any attitude-for the next bag is always empty. I do not know where it is going to lead me, but with the support of all the geniuses mentioned, Im in for one hell of a ride.  

                                                   In the end, its only a Genius that inspires..


[As I said, I dont know why I wrote this. It just made me feel good. Maybe in the future I can smile about the thoughts I am having now!]

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