Music by meter, sans sensitivity

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IssueThat ‘bhava' in classical music should be well within the classical boundaries was well propagated by the legendary M. S. Subbulakshmi; musicians need to introspect the juxtaposition of grammar and sensitivity in their renditions.


ExemplarM.S. Subbulakshmi revelled in melodic performances.
ExemplarM.S. Subbulakshmi revelled in melodic performances.

The penchant to power steer into the past proclaiming allegiance to masters of music of yore is driving the present crop of artistes to prioritise arithmetic creativity at the cost of lyrical clarity and emotional appeal. ‘Shastriya sangeetam with all its intricacy is worthy of profound presentation and not just emotive rendition. After all, past maestros of music and musicologists have not expounded the various aspects of singing for nothing. If it was just lyrical quality or feeling, then why did such an expanse of a treatise of music come into existence?' is the argument propounded by the who's who of Carnatic music today.

Very true indeed! But such proponents may do well to remember that prior to the crop of music stalwarts who delighted in delineating the intricacies of syllabic music, embellishing them with their command over the grammar, terming it as creativity or virtuosity. In the process, feeling and poesy had turned into soft options. The so-called ‘banis' (styles) of various maestros beamed within no time and what more, the progeny of these ‘banis' began to establish their hold over classical Carnatic music. What made M.S. Subbulakshmi stand out like a pole star, in the constellation of grammarian musicians, was her melodic, soulful singing well within the boundaries of traditional music, refusing to be caught in the web of austere classicality. She became an icon for decades for all those young artistes who wished to be compared with her. The MS euphoria took a long time to wear off among her tribe of artistes. “The long-drawn music katcheris of yesteryear necessitated a time division for alapana, neraval, sahityam and swarakalpana and so on. The redoubtable Araikudi Ramanuja Iyengar can be said to be the forerunner for this type of calculated concert singing which gave prominence to technicalities,” says veteran musician Malladi Suribabu.

The second and third generations of musicians, now have embarked upon a missionary mode to recapture the ‘banis' of their music ancestors and lo behold we are now on a feast of absolute technicalities in keeping with the age of technology! A veteran musician-composer (not to be named) has been waging a war over the total annihilation of emotion in music but then he seems a lone ranger.

If ancestors are to be resurrected in music then why not we go back to the originators of Carnatic music whose compositions we have been singing day in and day out, across the centuries since they are timeless gems never tired of repetition. Our Trimurthi of music for instance! Be it Thyagaraja or Deekshitar or Shyama Sastri or Papanasam Sivan and other vaggeyakaras, it is undeniable that the kritis flowed out of their pen in a fit of inspirational emotion (bhava) and etched the technicalities of raga and swara (syllabic tuning) in keeping with the connotation. When Thyagaraja questions in all humility in Kalyani (a raga with soothing touch in prati madhayamam interspersed with six shudda swaras lending the compassionate touch) whethernidhi(wealth)chala sukhama;Ramuni sannidhi(presence)chala sukhama?”, the notation aptly conveys his joy and his detachment to material world. Similarly, Shyama Sastri yearns at the feet of Goddess Kamakshi in Yadukula Khambhoji, addressing her in the shadjam (sa) which rightly corresponds to the lowest limb, viz. the divine feet.

Since the term song is itself emotion-centric, it is rather immature to evaluate the import of a lyric. If the singer believes in glossing over these vital elements of the heart and plunges into complexities of contrived music, well, it sounds like sawing dead wood to the ear.

Our own teachers/musicians of repute, have been lamenting this new trend being adopted by our regional singers. They feel that since Telugu is our mother tongue and there is no excuse for faulty diction or undecipherable singing.

“We are best suited to understand not just the nuances but also the psyche of the composer who penned beautiful sentiments in the language,” says Malladi Suribabu. And despite this, if we are to place prosody over poesy, grammar over sensitivity, it's a sad plight.

Says D. Raghavachari, elder of the Hyderabad Brothers known for touching the hearts with their singing, “There is no music sans feeling. We believe in experiencing the bhava of the kriti as we render it and it automatically peters down to the audience. A singer experiencing what he sings will definitely make an indelible mark on the listener. And his objective is fulfilled. Herein lies the soul of music.”

D. Seshachari adds, “There is a bhavam in sangeetham, in the raga lakshana as we call it which is embedded in the string of swaras. To extricate this emotive quality that runs within the syllables, you need genuine knowledge. The bhavam (feeling ) in sahityam is far more clear as there are words to describe it. Music does not begin and end with alapana, manodharma, neraval, and so on, not to underestimate their significance in the greater scheme of things. Lyric/sahityam strengthens sangeetam. It is a heritage, a treasure trove bestowed upon us by our great vaggeyakaras in the hope that we protect it with care and concern; not destroy it in the name of experimentation with other aspects of music. With the onslaught of other than traditional music taking over our younger generation like an avalanche, let us not lose whatever little ground we still hold by distorting feeling and sahityam and making music unintelligible to the aficionados.”

If music has to sustain for years to come, then build a human home of humane musicians not a pyramid of pedagogues.

There is no music sans feeling. We believe in experiencing the bhava of the kriti



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