Study Is theory as important as the music? Read on. Suganthy Krishnamachari

W hy would anyone want to delve into the origins of ragas, and have serious academic discussions and debates instead of just enjoying the music? Should a musician know theory?

Dr. M.B. Vedavalli says that theoretical knowledge makes it easier for a student to learn music. Dr. S.A.K. Durga agrees, and adds that if students know how to notate kritis, it makes for faster learning. But is this how students learnt in the past? “No. In fact Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer wouldn't allow me to take down kritis and notate them. The problem with this method is that a student would learn only 20 kritis in 10 years. These days, when the audience expects a musician's repertoire to be vast, a slow learning process won't work. That's why every performer must be able to notate and must also know music theory,” says Durga.

Talking of the repertoire of present day musicians, M.B. Vedavalli says musicians come up with their own compositions and sometimes they are in rare ragas. Only a study of theory will help them understand how the raga is to be portrayed.

Dr. T.K. Govinda Rao says that to a musician the practical aspect alone matters. It is not as if a musician cannot explain the features of a raga, if asked to. “We can always sing and demonstrate a raga. Maybe we cannot hold forth on madhya grama or sadja grama,” he points out.

However, he stresses the need for musicians to understand the sahitya.

Dr. N. Ramanathan goes a step further, and says that a study of musicology is injurious to a musician! “A musician must not reflect on his art consciously,” he says. But he says a practical knowledge of music is necessary for a musicologist.” He doesn't see musicology as essential to the preservation of tradition.

M.B. Vedavalli says she found research so absorbing, that she gave up singing. Durga too sang from the age of eight until the age of 45, but then decided to give lectures on music, rather than sing.

Do people become musicologists because their concerts do not attract crowds? Are they making a virtue out of a necessity? “Certainly not,” says Janakiraman.