Music / 26.07.2010

By Anjum Altaf This is turning into a quirky introduction to music. Readers are keeping me pegged and, to be honest, I am quite happy to dally. This post too is part of the preamble in which I wish to dispel one myth and talk about one aspect of our musical culture that makes me particularly unhappy. First, the myth. I hear again and again that music is a divine gift, that musicians are born not made, that good musicians come around once in centuries, and that the focus on knowledge and training is misplaced. I wonder why people are so averse to looking at the evidence. Do we belong to a culture that discounts facts, that believes more in providence and less in science, that is high on rhetoric and low on proof? One look at the family tree of any musical gharana would show that good...

Music / 24.07.2010

By Anjum Altaf Thanks to the readers I am beginning to enjoy myself and I am not in any hurry. So I am going to take the time refining what I am trying to do and locating the audience I am doing it for. I am going to take full advantage of the interactive format in order to avoid ending up with a product for which there is no market. I intend to carry the audience with me and to interweave its ideas and suggestions into the text as it evolves. With that in mind, here is a recap of what I am trying to do, why I think it is worth doing, and who I am doing it for. We started with the proposition that understanding music would heighten its enjoyment.This notion quickly ran into healthy skepticism and the misgivings of some and the explications of others...

Music / 18.07.2010

By Anjum Altaf This is the first in a series of posts about understanding music. Understanding music is different from learning to become a performer. This is a distinction whose importance is often missed. But why should one bother to understand music if one can enjoy it without understanding it? Let me try and provide an answer via an analogy. Would you enjoy watching chess or cricket if you did not know the rules of the games? In all likelihood the answer would be in the negative. Music is obviously much more powerful in its impact compared to chess or cricket because it can be enjoyed without any knowledge of its rules. But the point to ponder is this: How much more does music have to offer? How much more would the enjoyment increase with greater familiarity with its principles, vocabulary, and grammar? Think of another analogy. No one...

Music / 27.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf  I have something uncanny to report. I began this series of posts on music (see here) by describing how puzzled I was by a metaphor used by Goethe (I call architecture frozen music) because I was unable to reconcile that image with the music I was familiar with. It was after many years that I concluded tentatively that Hindustani classical music was better characterized as a painting. Responses from readers drew us into a discussion of Western classical music of which I have very little knowledge. In order to familiarize myself with the basics I bought, more or less at random, a book titled The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music by Tim Smith (NPR, 2002). Imagine my surprise when I read the following (page 2): The word ‘classical’ conveys structural order, a clear sense of form, design, and content; this is certainly part of...

Music / 24.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf In response to the interest in our series on music (see here, here, and here), The South Asian Idea (TSAI) is following up with an interview with Arpita Chatterjee (AC) presently in charge of the Academic Research Department at the prestigious ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata and thus an ideal person to guide us in our discussions. These are her personal views. TSAI: We started our series on music with the quote from Goethe: "I call architecture frozen music." Is this metaphor of "architecture" relevant for Indian classical music? If not, what would be the appropriate metaphor that could help readers visualize Indian classical music? AC: I think that is absolutely terrific - sums it up beautifully! You see, music can never really be 'captured' - except by experiencing it, isn't it? I do feel that the closest you can get to a visual form is...

Music / 21.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf  In the second post in this series I had proposed looking at the organization of music to see what it revealed about the organization of society. This enquiry was motivated by the very stark differences in the organization of classical music in the Western and Hindustani traditions that are immediately obvious on attending concerts in the two traditions. I am going to rely almost entirely on the description provided by Yehudi Menuhin in his autobiography Unfinished Journey (Chapter 12) because being a musician he has a deep insight into the subject. Later I will come back to the issues that Menuhin does not address. What the Indian music has not, and Western music richly has, is, of course, harmony. This is not fortuitous. Just because the Indian would unite himself with the infinite rather than with his neighbour, so his music assists the venture. Its...

Music / 07.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf Is architecture frozen music? I asked this question because it consumed many years of my life and in arriving at an answer I discovered things about myself that I now wish to explore because they have a bearing on who we are, where we come from, and how we see the world. Think back to Macaulay’s child, the babu-in-the-making, desperately looking for architecture in music. Taught only reading, writing and arithmetic (in English) with a polishing of calculus and Fourier transforms, it was natural to assume that music was music was music and it was only a matter of diligent search that would reveal to me the architecture that Goethe had seen. And so it was a blinding (to an idiot) flash that opened up the possibility that there could be music and there could be music and that the two could differ and therefore the...

Music / 02.08.2009

By Anjum Altaf I call architecture frozen music – Goethe I stumbled upon this quote as a teenager and fell in love with it without understanding it at all, a phenomenon not uncommon as I learnt later when I fell in love with a human being - loving and hating comes so much easier than understanding. The quote stayed with me for years – stuck in diaries, propped up on desks, hanging from walls, scribbled in notes to people I loved but did not understand – without yielding its mystery. The only thing I can claim credit for is that I did not stop searching for an answer. An answer suggested itself, at least I think it did, decades later in a piece of writing by Yehudi Menuhin. Why did it take so long? I guess I was an untypical South Asian teenager who read a lot by virtue...