The K sound and the H sound
What is the evolution of the Karnatik sound compared to the Hindustani sound? At a certain level I tell myself that we should not compare the two but I compare and judge instinctively. I know a lot of musicians who think that the Hindustani sound is much more subtle, pure, full and elegant.
The Karnatik aesthetic seems to lack finesse, the melodies are jerky, fast, unpolished, even, perhaps, raw, the interpretations strongly punctuated by sharp divisions in the melodic flow and the rhythmic construction. Karnatik, one might rather say, has the potential to evolve into more sophisticated Hindustani.
I must here give an example from the past. It is again from Bhatkhande. No matter how much we criticize the man, it is clear that he was in a way a pioneer. He traveled all over the country, north, south, east, west, meeting musicians and scholars and trying to learn. He has added great value to our understanding of our musical heritage and we need to learn from his writings.
He wrote this travelogue in Marathi, Majha Dakshinecha Pravas, which has been translated into Hindi, in which he recounts his experience of listening to karnatik music. We could say that he is one of the first Hindustani musicians or musicologists to be involved with the South. And he didn’t like the Karnatik sound at all.
He writes about his listening and says it sounds like ya-ya-ya-ya … Although he doesn’t say it in so many words I’m sure he means it’s not. flattering. And then he says something very interesting, which I just took out and which I will share with you. He said, on what Karnatik should do or where he should go: “Sudhar Hindustani ang se hona chahiye”. This feeling is still alive, and I know it is.
Is this judgment inherently problematic?
I was recently asked during an interview about the lack of vilambit in Karnatik music. I tried to explain to the interviewer that the idea of ââvilambit is defined by music and therefore vilambit is a conceptual abstraction that takes its own form in Karnatik, but the questioner was completely lost, not wanting to see vilambit as a concept that becomes defined only within a musical form.
The sophistication of “sophistication”
But this idea of ââsophistication simply cannot be wrong. I feel this difference, the lack of “class” is shocking. What I feel is real, but the reason I attribute to this sense is problematic. The idea of ââthe delicate is certainly a conditioned sense. It is defined by the music that fills my surroundings.
Having grown up in a Karnatik environment, I know the delicacy within Karnatik and this is true of Hindustani for the Hindustani aficionado. Here I understand the forms, structures and aesthetic expressions that become Karnatik and thanks to a further internalization of the music, my interpretation becomes clearer and within this clarity emerges the idea of âânuance, subtlety, d ’rounding that we group together in one word and call âsophisticationâ.
Therefore, sophistication is an internal observation within an artistic tradition. This too has many interpretations, all born from within the art form itself. Each form has its own internal dialogues about the subtle and the sophisticated. We can only enter into these conversations from within and not from another art. Once we allow ourselves to succumb to this urge, we have lost our ability to imbibe art as a full-fledged aesthetic body.
So, is the sophisticated itself an illusion? Yes, when used to define the classic or the experience of the classic versus the non-classic, it is accustomed conditioning devoid of any serious engagement with the art form that is being judged. . If we said I was wrong, I don’t think we could seriously object to the colonizer who thought, at least initially, that the Chola bronzes were vulgar and grotesque. If we accept it, we have to accept it. He imposed on Indian sculpture his own sensibilities conditioned by Western art and, therefore, did not allow himself to enter the soul of the other art form.
Sophistication also has a very close relationship with the sociological hierarchy. Classical is practiced by the elite and therefore is portrayed as the most sophisticated and practitioners of other art forms aspire to become the elite. This sometimes creates an interesting intersection between socially unequal art forms. Practitioners try to artificially force an elitist classical aesthetic into their art, which, instead of elevating the art, aesthetically strips it of an internal varnish. Social legitimacy takes precedence over aesthetic cohesion.
Once art adopts these styles, it may receive more attention from the elite, but that’s not my problem. What bothers me is that through this action we see that the social hierarchy is so deep that sometimes even art practitioners fail to see the sophisticated in their own form and blindly adopting another aesthetic, they disturbed the internal balance of their art.
So, assuming the classic doesn’t have exclusive ownership over the sophistication, then what is the classic?
It’s still problematic. There is another common answer.
Classical in class
I am told, “Look at the way classical music is organized”, the theory behind it, the curricula and the musical structuring, all of these distinguish classical from folk or popular. Once again, this is a dangerous presumption. Many art forms classified as folk or without any categorization have well-established pedagogies. In fact, this so-called pedagogy that we claim for the classic is itself a modern construction.
Do I know what Tyagaraja learned as a music student? The truth is, no! Some treatises give us some clues as to what has been taught and what can be taught, but we still cannot be completely certain of the structure. The very nature of learning Indian art makes pedagogy a form of experience where, within a broad framework, specifics are constantly realigned.
It was at the start of the 20th century that we developed a reproducible methodology. This was in part motivated by the nationalist need to create “organized structures” in our own music that mimic Western classical systems. Music programs were created, music schools founded, music departments in universities were opened, and textbooks on the theory and practice of classical music were published.
We tried to create course materials that helped to make musicians performers. That itself sounds like an oxymoron. Course materials making musicians? We all know this is the antithesis of learning the art and failed as expected. Unfortunately, even private music lessons have sprung up, tearing apart the musical osmosis between teacher and student. Even in the twentieth century, almost all musicians worth their salt have always learned from a guru who went beyond these programs. Almost no music department or university has created a musician.
Unclassical art forms such as Koothu, Yakshagana, Theyyam have their own well established teaching frameworks passed down through many generations.
These forms may not have a learning structure as we see, but they require the same dedication, passion, commitment and practice from teacher and student that we expect. Artists often use the clichÃ© âart is a way of lifeâ, but that’s exactly what they mean and practice. Learning about art cannot be separated from learning about life and the two merge to create in the artist a vision of art that goes beyond skill, theory and knowledge.
The practice itself is included in the experience of art, thus bringing together the âangasâ of art theory and practice. Their theory isn’t necessarily written down, but that doesn’t make it any less important or effective. It is added to the practice of art and like all good theorizing follows changes in practice over time. The structures of representation are defined and everyone rasikas, teachers, practitioners, knows their specificities. It is you and I who are going there for the first time who think that everything is happening arbitrarily.
Nothing happens arbitrarily. Therefore, many unconventional forms have integrated pedagogy, structure and presentation. All of this has been and continues to be transmitted orally and in practice, but it is nonetheless defined.
Part of the Kumar Gandharva Memorial Lecture (the second in the series by the Raza Foundation) delivered by TM Krishna on September 20, 2014 in New Delhi; Posted in Seminar few years ago.
Extracted with permission from The Spirit of Inquiry: Notes of Dissent, TM Krishna, Allen Lane.