Wishing you all a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2008

Starting the new year with a performance is a first for me. The mridangam artiste who provided the percussion was impressed with our performance on the 14th and held a jam session (with his son on the tabla) on Sunday. Prior to that he had refused to rehearse any session for the first program. But hey, as tiny artists we really cant expect experienced artists to accede every rehearsal request, even it helps us learn and improve.

Usually when we learn or practice, we only keep the vocals in mind and dont provide any breaks for percussion. Since the tutelage is usually separate for individual disciplines, it does not make sense to pause when there is no one to play alongside. Only experienced and established stage artists learn the nuances, others dont. On Sunday we learnt how to keep cycles (of beats) for the percussionists (violin, tabla, mridangam, flute) which gives us the much needed pause to quickly look at the lyrics{*1}.

Yesterday was our last practice session before the performance today and we laughed a lot during practice. Although its involuntary, the head swaying and other gestures looks very funny on stage and most girls dont realise it. So 'B' started parroting and mimicing each funny gesture, actions and expressions and it was good fun :-P.

This is the first time i am in the south in the month of Mazhgazhi (concert season) and i like it, but Chennai has the best concerts. We had to practice and sing 14-15 raagas in 5 different languages (Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu) with just 8 10 weeks (2 hours practice per week) to learn, no mean task. Last time i had kept a paper with the lyrics but today i didnt keep the lyrics, just a sequence list. Mugging (learning by rote) mere words is neigh impossible for me and the songs make more sense when I know the meaning of the lyrics and the context, although its not necessary in every case. Some ragas are very simple and easy to remember but most times lyrics help since the language dialect is old (read, pure) and not at all used in daily life by people today.

Most times i refer and borrow lyrics from Todd M. McComb's fantastic site on Carnatic music. He has written an interesting article on what Carnatic Music means to him.

In what tradition can the songs be said to be so perfect, both in their grandeur and in their succinctness? There can be no comparison, especially in the directness of the expression and the range of melodic material available. One can find one or the other in many places, whether a simple and beautiful song, or an impressive intellectual construction based on a nonsense phrase or no words at all. Carnatic music accommodates both of these ideals, and does so to magnificent effect. A song can be performed simply and in all humility, or with the grandest elaboration retaining the core of both meaning and melody.At least in the US, we are supposedly equal, and the same should be said for our taste in music. For a professional musician, the idea is somewhat insulting, because how can the ignorant know of what they judge? They cannot, but we are forced to acknowledge them to make a living, if for no other reason.

The above is so true, take the Tyagaraja kriti "Marugelara O Raghava", a telugu song which is sung in praise of LordVishnu , wherein the Tyagaraja asks "why God has forgotten his humble devotee (Tyagaraja)" and so on. Now i am no Telugu language expert but apparently it can also be interpreted as a woman reproaching her love for forgetting her. In Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer's "Aalaipayuthe" one can take the religious interpretation but it can also be interpreted as a woman talking about the love of her life. /quote: Of course the meaning of the lyrics revolves around acts of religious devotion. One can rightly ask both concerning the relevance of devotion in our modern age of technology and selfishness, as well as the ability of a Westerner to apprehend and appreciate it. Indeed, it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I fully understand the songs of the Trinity. I understand parts of them, sometimes after they are explained to me. Nonetheless, I identify with them somehow. The ideas find a personal resonance, not least of which because they are expressed with such musical grace. The sophistication of allusion requires some cross-cultural explanation, but the core idea of devotion meets with receptive listeners elsewhere. /unquote.

IMO, the raga's rhythm and beautiful patterns one can construct is enough to drown away the mundaneness of daily life. It is timeless and the words or linguistic construction is such that one can find meanings relevant even today, especially with respect to emotions. Most times one is caught in the rhythm, melody and the mathematical swaras or poetic beauty of the lyrics. Hmm.. even i dont know the meaning of all the songs i have learnt, although i have always bugged my teachers about it, much to their annoyance ;-). After the advent of the internet, i google (a lot) but dont always get answers.

/quote: The success of music is ultimately in the mind of the listener, and specifically in the physical and emotional changes which can be provoked. It is a simple fact that Carnatic music has only a positive effect in this way, while the same cannot be said for various forms of popular music. Both the ability of music to build and release tension, as well as its potential to unlock latent energies in the mind are respected and developed. When discussing lofty ideas with people, there are often various mental blocks which must be overcome, and knowing the way around them gracefully is a large part of the art of teaching. /unquote.

Any song can be used to express a range of emotions, situations, intersperse between those and a whole range unknown, just as its open to (mis)interpretation. Most Indian languages are flexible and do borrow vocabulary from each other in some cases. Yet finally, its upto individuals to use their linguistic, cognitive, philosophical, and historical language skills to conjure up their own creative interpretations. Usually such (the latter in Marugelara or Alaipayuthe) interpretations are not encouraged or taught simply because lesser minds can convolute and misuse things they fully dont grasp or understand. For the most part, today i had more fun on stage and the performance went well. Many came and complimented me for Bho Shambho-Revati and BrahmamOkate-Bhowli so my worries{*2} just disappeared. I should remember to use the strong coffee+chocolate therapy to perk my mood in future. It just works :) (tm)

Today the net connection has been very very patchy .... pinging the ISP's server works but still no internet ....*sigh*, hope its not an indication of the patchy service my ISP intends to provide this year :(... besides the power cut we had at noon....*longer sigh*. One way out is to tell myself that our traditional new year is in April, which makes me feel less irritated with the government who provides power here.

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{*1} For reasons unknown, all performances are impromptu...which means no papers with lyrics or written notations (rather it is frowned upon), so I am wondering how folks would react if we had kept the laptop with lyrics infront of us during our performance today :-P{*2} Had a migrane and sinus all this weekend, which refused to go away even after taking medicines. Strange as it seems while practicing i never felt the headache but the moment the music stops the dull throbbing headache would start.