Study Is theory as important as the music? Read on for experts' opinions. 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? Is it necessary to go into the labyrinthine paths of musicology? Should a musician know theory? After all, there have been great musicians, whose preoccupation was music, not 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. “Understanding the philosophy behind a kriti is important for a musician, to be able to sing with bhava. But the study of music theory is a mere academic exercise, not necessary for a practising musician.”

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.

Absorbing research

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.

Durga feels that in the past, musicology was seen as an unnecessary endeavour, because there was a sort of hierarchy in the world of music. Most of the musicians didn't have much formal education. As for musicologists, most of them were lawyers or civil servants, as for instance S.Y. Krishnaswamy, or Justice T.L. Venkatrama Iyer.

Both Vedavalli and Durga point to the trend among present day musicians to work towards doctorate degrees in musicology. That is because they have formal education, and can take up theoretical research too. Ramanathan, however, sees this desire on the part of musicians to take up such research as part of the South Indian craze for doctorate degrees.

B. Krishnamurthy says only one who has involved himself in research can call himself a vidwan.

Dr. S.R. Janakiraman defines a musicologist, by first listing the people who cannot be called musicologists! “A musician is not a musicologist, even if he gives lecture-demonstrations. A person who compiles and publishes kritis is a lexicographer, not a musicologist. A person incapable of practical rendition of music cannot be a musicologist. Historians are not musicologists.”

Do people become musicologists because their concerts do not attract crowds? Are they making a virtue out of a necessity? “Certainly not,” says Janakiraman. The tendency to discourage musicologists from giving concerts seems to be prevalent only here, he says. In places such as Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Guntur, he gives lecture demonstration one day and a concert the very next day at the same venue. Why it is not happening here is a mystery to him.