Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In Sotto Voce

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley.

If an alien from Mars descended on the roof of your residence tonight and inquired of you to explain to it this strange earthly phenomenon called music, which is totally unknown to its home planet, how would you answer? It would be exceedingly difficult, because the moment we are binding ourselves to the spoken word while trying to enlighten someone to music, we are attempting a futile exercise, which is akin to taking a blind man to an exhibition of exquisite oil paintings by Italian masters. Easier, therefore, would be to play the alien some music, and then call NASA.

Where words fail, music speaks, said Hans Anderson. There are 4500 languages in the world that are spoken by at least a 1000 people or more, and most of us do not understand more than three or four of them. The musical idiom is as diverse, if not more, but the difference lies in the universal embrace of every human into the realm of music. You may be an absolute layman with zero musical training, or you may be a performer at the Berlin Philharmonic; the depth of understanding of the art form surely differs, but  the Deity of music is equally welcoming into her world to all those who knock at Her gates...

The hills are alive with the Sound of Music.
When was I introduced to music? Some fond recollections bring forth three early memories: an album of nursery rhymes by Preeti Sagar which used to play in our old cassette player now defunct, the humming of Robindroshongit by my mother on Sunday mornings, and The Sound of Music, one of my first ever films. Today when I relive the movie, I am enchanted by the sheer beauty of the story and the depth of emotions portrayed, but back then it was simply the sight of Julie Andrews - running down the green Austrian countryside with the seven children at her side, singing with gaiety and abandon, in simple tunes, about her most favourite things - and how beautiful it was! I felt as happy as little Gretl von Trapp.

From LP's....
Childhood memories fade away as you grow up, and Preeti Sagar now probably lies at the back of some cupboard. Our generation is a lucky one to have passed their teens and adolescence through the period when the internet was fast becoming a household thing. As a result, through our advancing years and changing tastes, we were constantly able to utilize the internet to keep our tastes updated and ears buds satiated. Imagine a generation or two back, and the contrast is glaring. From LP gramophone records to bluetooth headsets via stereos, cassette players and Walkmans, the evolution of music playing devices itself speaks a volume about the change in the music scenario. stereophonic devices.
Amidst the confusion of Growing Up when every kind of music was jostling for space in the playlists, western classical music came and stood softly beside me. The fickle minded child in me took quite some time to adjust to this new, apparently complicated, and tough brand of music. There was no way I could really get the hang of things quickly and everything was seeming vague and pointless! Maybe it was an indication of deep roots spreading well below the soil, but once the plant bloomed it was there to stay. It really does not take rocket science to decipher why classical music is not as popular among the masses as most other forms of music are, for it is pure and unblended. Anything refined is difficult to master, requiring perseverance and patience above the ordinary.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Baroque master.
More than half-a-millennium ago during the Renaissance days, when civilization in Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages, the classical form of music started being written. Back home in India, the origins are traced back to the Samaveda which is said to have been written so that the verses of the Rigveda could be sung in the form of hymns. With progress of the centuries these forms evolved further. Indian classical was classified into Hindustani and Carnatic, with further categorization into Gharanas. Western classical, on the other hand, progressed through period-ages, starting with post-Renaissance Baroque, moving on to Classical, Romantic, and eventually Twentieth Century music.

Popularity speaks for itself, one might argue. In any part of the world, contemporary popular music is ruling the charts, while only those trained in the subject may be able to appreciate classical music. Music is after all for the heart, and no composer should expect his or her audience to consist of only the musically proficient and erudite. To them, I would iterate that behind any genuine musician performing in any genre under the sun, there is a profound influence of classical training, in some form or the other. Examples in this regard are numerous. Coming from the land of Tagore, we need to appreciate that a large number of the Bard's songs have been influenced by classical music, of both the Orient and the Occident, which ranged from Irish and Scottish tunes to Carnatic music from the South of India. For someone interested, this is an absolutely wonderful blog post I ran into while Googling for some information in this regard. The point thus remains that if one is patient enough to build a firm grasp over the forefather of all musical forms, diversification into other genres comes naturally.

Zubin Mehta conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra at Srinagar.
To conclude, I wonder, how well off are we Indians in this sphere? Not very. It goes without saying that we all enjoy music, more so the young generation. Maybe it is an enjoyable pastime, or maybe as a style statement it serves good purpose; interpretation is up to the listener. Having said that, how easy is it for an average Indian young adult pursuing music with heart and soul, genuinely talented in the field, but lacking contacts at proper places, to get a break into the tough music industry? The platter being served before the audience is delicious, but the way through the kitchen is grueling. You may put the blame onto the Great Indian Mentality (read fearful parents and discouraging society), or on the way our entertainment and music industry flourishes on nepotism, or on the sheer lack of opportunities for a talent to flourish: the reality remains that scores of talented youth with a passion for music are being forced away from music into some profession grossly unsuitable and depressing. If a nation's economy is in the doldrums, one or two good governments can rectify the problem. But if the psychology of an entire people needs uplifting, it takes generations for the change to come.

Being an ordinary pursuer of music, I am happy to let music remain as a source of satisfaction and stability in my life, like the thousands of other youth devoting their life and time to other fields but harbouring profound love for music. At the same time, the thought of the pool of musical talent available in my country which is not being tapped, fills me with despondency. This post is dedicated to all the men and women out there with music in their hearts and and melody in their souls, who solely for the want of opportunities could not bring their true potential to materialize....

"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." - Milton Berle, American comedian.