Within or Without Music Music

Moment of discovery

It comes when you find music in your heart beat

The temple town of Guruvayur wakes up to ‘Thechi mandaram Thulasi’... a song wave engulfs a cricket stadium to cheer the team... the Malabar thrush brings in warmth in the hills of Munnar with her song... a well-coordinated verse... the boatman gently paddles singing a song, the rhythm being the water that hits the bottom of the boat... the mattress maker in the suburbs of Mumbai sings a tune with a single drone instrument to solicit customers.

All Of This Is Melody…

For many, music is an intrinsic part of their lives. Having grown up hearing, learning or at least enjoying some form or the other of music. Some of us may have sung or played music in our school music class or group or choir; some at festivals and celebrations in the neighbourhood. Some of us have been fortunate to be born into a family that is deeply immersed in and loves music. And some of us intuitively joined in the impromptu music that happens in social gatherings.

Different kinds

Having been born into a family steeped in music, I grew up with different kinds of music all around me. My social circle too consisted of people deeply into one kind of music or another. Music was ever-present in my life; a companion and a source of inspiration to learn and continually stretch... to go deeper into myself. I took the presence of music in my life as a given.


I travelled into the interiors of South India for some performances. I realised that there are many people who grow up with no music, or little music in their lives. They live in a situation or in surroundings or in some cases, just not having access to music since they are leading a hand-to-mouth existence. I was initially saddened, but it set me thinking: how is it to have no music in one’s life? What is it like to not be moved by a note, a phrase, or a tune?

A few years ago, I visited a village tucked away in a valley in Kerala.

As Omana, caretaker, draws water out of a well, the squeaking sound of the drenched coir ropes over the rusty pulley interrupts the gentle music of the mild breeze that blows. Two little green feather ducks – Neeli and Peeli, Omana’s pets – are waddling in a small pond. Imagine this as the backdrop of a neatly stacked bundle of thatched leaves that makes up the stage, to the gentle breeze coming from the valley… The audience are children – boys and girls – all sitting within a hand’s reach. There is no mike… no amplifier.

When I begin to chant ‘OM,’ I feel I have interrupted the synergy of the finely tuned surroundings. When, at the end of my first chant, I cajole the children to join me, I realise this is the first time they have heard any such music. They respond with an enthusiastic OM - not in unison, not in pitch. Boys and Girls with different decibel levels, eyes filled with wonderment at the discovery of the sound that has emerged from within them; the sound that perhaps has been waiting for many long years to be discovered. They now hear their own music. They hear their heart beat...

And there is so much joy... what an exhilarating experience..

As we go deeper into the song, their shy curiosity gives way to a slow beautiful melody of unison, of spirit. We are all under an umbrella of sound waves. There is something beautiful in group singing, every child finds a place, one that creates a precious corner for each participant; one that creates infectious energy, one that permeates into the surrounding and most important slowly opens the mind to the world of music.

The ducks and the breeze take over as interludes. Is it not true, that the inexpressible can be expressed in a tune?

The song is far from over...it will continue.

The writer is a leading Carnatic vocalist who engages with children.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 3:37:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Bombay-Jayashri-on-discovering-music-in-different-settings/article17312982.ece

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