The music season throws up some very interesting examples of the lengths to which the human spirit is affected by this particular art form. Issues of audio quality and commercialisation aside, these anecdotes more than reassure us of the power of music to transform the way we live.
Kanthamma (66), lives and works in Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh. A flower-seller by profession, she makes an annual pilgrimage to Chennai in December to visit her relatives and to visit the Kalikambika temple for a special darshan. An indulgence she allows herself during this time is the one concert she attends unerringly each year — that of Mandolin Shrinivas at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club. Neither is she a student of Carnatic music nor does she live in a socio-economic context that would promote such an interest. A memory of listening to the maestro once in her native town 20 years ago has burgeoned into a love affair with his wizardry that keeps her wanting to return for more — an annual treat for someone who earns less than Rs. 2000/- a month. When asked to describe his music, she smiles shyly and says that listening to him makes her connect with divinity instantly.
After a concert by Bombay Jayashri recently, friends of mine noticed an elderly couple holding hands and walking with some difficulty into the street, humming snatches of the concluding raga at her concert. Amused and touched, one of my friends tried to offer some assistance to them in order to help them cross the street. He was moved to tears when he noticed that both of them were visually impaired and were holding each other steady, quite at peace with their condition. This couple takes a train and two buses to reach the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha to listen to Jayashri every year. When asked why they would not choose a venue closer to their home in Pozhichallur, apparently they replied that this was one venue they have patronised for the past 40 years.
They also added that they became a fan of Jayashri at a concert given by her at this venue nearly a decade ago. They have stuck to this routine since. Old habits…
Does music have the ability to transcend physical and financial limitations and call upon the unyielding human spirit? Apparently so. We certainly cannot support such an observation based on two anecdotes of the kind mentioned above. It is easy to conclude that familiarity biases and habituation could just as easily explain either. However, they also seem to stand testimony to the notion that great music can assuage grief and heal the mind.
There may be countless other examples that further bolster this testimony.
Beyond our urbane discussions of musicality and musical expression and outside the realm of our arguments about tradition and innovation, there exist these multitudes of people for whom music fulfills a far more profound need to connect with the extraordinary.
(The author is a city-based classical pianist)