Vedas and Puranas have found expression in human voice
During December music season, over 2,000 concerts are hosted across Chennai on a conservative estimate. How many of these are instrumental recitals? They are only a few, and they can easily be counted! Even these few elicit only a poor audience. Why is it to so? From time immemorial, human voice has been an important vehicle in carrying the lyrics (nay the message) of great Saints of former times forward to people at large. A peep into the past will also reveal how Vedas and Puranas have found expression in human voice. Instruments have a natural disability to reproduce the effect of a human voice due to assorted constraints. Different instruments – from Veena to Violin and Flute et al – have differing restrictions in matching the human voice. As a consequence, instrumentalists have been handicapped in their ability to `vocalize’ music.
Music is secular, no doubt. For the majority of listeners of Carnatic music, however, the works, the words, the lyrics of composers of the caliber of the Trinity excite when articulated through vocal music, and leave a lasting impression on them. You may like it or not. The fact, however, is that Carnatic music has an inseparable religious connotation. Not without reason, the bakthi (devotion) element is often stressed by many teachers and performers of this art form. So much so, learned practitioners of Carnatic music have always advocated the need for learning vocal music even by instrumental artistes. The emphasis, it appears, is on gaining spiritual elevation. The underlying assumption is that lyrics are an essential pre-requisite for scaling spiritual experience.
Era of globalization
Having said that, the question now is: What should be done to help the cause of instrumental music? In the context of globalization, they have an important role. Hindustani music was unknown to the world at large until Pandit Ravi Shankar made waves in the Western world with his delectable Sitar. Since Carnatic music encompasses multi-language and geographies, the task of getting it a global audience is easier said than done. No doubt, things have come a long way over the years. Thanks to very many patrons, Carnatic music has gone beyond the Indian shores. Given these new developments, instrumental musicians are ideally positioned to take up a new assignment. They can play an important lead role in taking Carnatic music to newer and non-traditional audience, which doesn’t understand the words but appreciate the melody and rhythm in music.
Vocalist Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, who has been running a highly successful thematic series titled `Kshetra Sangeetham,’ has got a simple solution to encourage instrumentalists. Why don’t we promote chamber concerts for instrumentalists? Chamber concerts are typically held in a right-sized auditorium for a right audience. This will give the organizers less worry in terms of cost management. At the same time, it can have `filling effect’ on performers. This could be a huge service also for those who are seeking `abstract’ music alone. It could be a win-win situation. Surely, Vijayalakshmy’s suggestion merits serious consideration.