Lecture-demonstration Music

The western tweak

Dr. Robert Morris

Dr. Robert Morris   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

It is fascinating how the two streams can blend

In his lec-dem at the Music Academy, Dr. Morris demonstrated how to harmonise ragas, using a two-voice framework. Similar motion (SM) is when two melodies — played or sung at the same time — both either ascend or descend. Contrary motion (CM) is where one ascends, while the other descends. Vertical conditionality (VC) was another term Morris defined. It means the two-voice framework, which he demonstrated has vertical intervals between the two melodies, that form 0, 3, 4, 8, 9, 12 semi tones.

He showed how two-voice frameworks are formed by superimposing a scale upon itself under SM and/or CM. For Hemavati, SM framework fulfils VC, but CM does not. In Sriranjani, the CM fulfils VC, but SM does not. In Nagaswarali, VC is fulfilled in two ways under CM. Morris also spoke about modal shift of tonic, which we call graha bedam in Carnatic music. The tonic note of the Mayamalavagowla scale is C. If we take F as the tonic of Mayamalavagowla and transpose the scale to C, we get Simhendramadhyamam. A scale and its modes are said to be modal equivalents. So Mayamalavagowla and Simhendramadyamam are modal equivalents.

Ravikiran said that usually, Western composers treat ragas like Arabhi, Devagandhari, etc as just C scale, because they are janyas of Sankarabharanam, which is C major in Western music. Western composers don’t keep to the sequence of swaras in these janya ragas. But in melharmony, the sequence is also respected. The integrity of both Western and Carnatic music is thus preserved.

Mridanga vidwan Tiruchi Sankaran, who was in the audience, said he had played many of Morris’s raga based compositions, and particularly admired his composition in Vagadeeswari.

Ravi Kiran said that vaditvam and samvaditvam were culturally determined. To Western ears, intervals of three and five are consonant. But for those who listen to Carnatic music, antara gandhara bhava or suddha madhyama bhava is more important. Sadja panchama bhavam or sadja suddha madhyama bhavam is more interesting to us.

In Western music, four is not a good interval. But when we use Western rules and compose, within an Indian framework, we may be tempted to use sadja suddha madhyama bhavam as a harmonic chord. Another possibility is that we may use chord rules blindly. If we sing Sankarabharanam following chord rules, it will sound odd. So, integrity to both systems of music is important and this is what makes Melharmony a complex subject.

Pointing to the matrix that Morris had come up with for raga Janaranjani, Ravikiran said attempts like these showed the beautiful possibilities in ragas at a mathematical level. Who would have thought Janaranjani could be whittled down to so many rows and columns of numbers! Exploring the harmonic possibilities of ragas reveals a strength, which we ourselves are unaware of, he said.

Summing up, Morris said initially music in the West too was linear, with one melody at a time. Then two voices were introduced, and these made sense in the same way in which the voice frameworks that he had come up with made sense. Later when more voices were introduced, the combination of tones became formalised in such a way that certain combinations occurred before others, producing a series of chords. This was sometime in the 1600s. By1800, chords became autonomous, outside of melodic generation. Jazz, which originated in Africa, adopted the idea of chord sequences as a structure. Jazz players improvise melodies that fit chords. Scholars like Morris are doing the opposite of this — they are trying to generate chords from melodies.

Demonstrating a two-voice framework, Dr. Morris said that one had to look beyond at three voice frameworks and so on, and also at deriving chord sequences from different ragas. For example, there is a lovely, Western like chord sequence in Varali, he said. One must find a way in which Indian music continues to remain its essential, transcendental self, but can have features of Western music, Morris concluded.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 3:07:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/east-west-integration-in-music/article22295340.ece

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