Mostly Thoughtless

Tam Brahm, thank you ma'am

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sound of Mooosik!

I'm a huge fan of music. I strongly believe that it is music that brings people together. In fact, when I'm not listening to music, I'm always humming a tune or sometimes, even singing (with disastrous results) in the hope of getting closer to certain other people (read females). Needless to say, it usually works in the reverse way. In spite of being such a big fan, however, I think Classical Music is way over-rated.

South Indian Classical Music, or Carnatic Music, especially is totally lost on me. For the uninitiated, this is the genre which requires all its practitioners to have a minimum of three names. The poor musicians, having been named rather inadequately add the names of their hometowns to fit the bill. Hence, you get names like Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer etc. Western Classical Music, on the other hand frowns at anyone having more than one name. Hence Beethoven, Mozart, Handel etc. Bach is the favourite though. However, the one de facto rule is that all Western Classical composers must be German.

When I was a kid, I used to enjoy watching Carnatic Music concerts. I later found out that they have Carnatic Music concerts at weddings only because it helped keep kids out of the parents' hair. Be sure to notice the next time you're at a wedding with such a concert. All the adults sit around in groups gossiping to their heart's content and meanwhile, all the kids are up by the stage. Why? Not because they enjoy the music, but because all the musicians keep making funny faces at them, especially the guy who plays the mridangam, he's the best at it. Kids are Carnatic Music's biggest and possibly only fans.

I loved it too, when I was a kid but instead of just shutting up and laughing at the funny faces like all the other kids, I went up to my parents and expressed my desire to undergo formal training in Carnatic Music, preferably the mridangam. My parents were over the moon. Soon, I had neighbours patting me on my back and cuddling me for my interest. It felt good, though I didn't have a clue back then what it was all about. And as you may have already guessed, it didn't last very long. Apparently, you can't just beat the shit out of a mridangam till it cracks. There are specific ways of doing it. Very boring ways.

I don't know what I'd expected but 'learning carnatic music' turned out to be an old lady with a box that made squeaking sounds when pressed. And she didn't even make faces. She'd just sit there, with the expression that Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous in 'Terminator' and make me repeat after her.. "Saaaa", I'd go "Saaa" and then she'd go, "No, no.. Saaaa" What the f$%k? I had no clue what she was talking about. I started hating the classes and even hid below the bed one day when it was time for class. The poor lady waited for a good hour while my mother looked for me in vain. She then left. I now feel sorry for her...NOT!

My classes were soon discontinued, but not before I had experienced the pains of 'ragas' which are basically just a bunch of tunes with funny names. Nobody on the planet has the faintest idea of which is which but they try and appear knowledgeable anyway while talking about them. In fact, there certain rules one must follow while listening to classical music. For your benefit, here they are...
  • Nod your head. This is of utmost importance. You will not be considered a true connoisseur if you don't.
  • Occassionally make small noises like 'tch..tch...' or 'ah..aaah'. This will give the impression that you're 'with' the music. If its Hindustani classical, then 'wah..wah' will do very nicely.
  • Tap your thighs. Here, it is vital that you don't tap with your entire hand. That only shows ignorance. Use only a few fingers at a time. Fold the others and keep changing the fingers used in a cyclic fashion.
  • Occassionally, the singer will lock eyes with you. At that moment, flash a knowing, approving smile. He will return it and also consider you a true connoisseur of good music.

Actually, Carnatic Music is not as difficult as it is made out to be. Just remember the words Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da and Ni. Work out the different combinations and permutations (repetion allowed and in fact, encouraged) and sing out aloud. If you can do this for an extra-long period, then applause is assured. Do it without drawing a breath and you'll win the Padmashri. In fact, if you can cleverly insert such a combination into a 'normal' song, then sky is the limit. Have you ever noticed? A person will sing a movie song and the audience keeps quiet but the movie song will have this part in between which goes "Sasaninidapadanimapagarisaninisa" and everyone bursts into applause immediately!

Here in Chennai, there's a season where Carnatic Music takes centrestage. All the halls and auditoriums are overbooked with Classical Music concerts and they're teeming with crowds too. But then, the crowds are there only to eat at the various superb food stalls that spring up at the venues. Trust me. Further, there has been almost no original Carnatic Music for a really long time now. But finally, the fact that tilts the scales against Carnatic Music as far as guys are concerned at least is that, no matter what girls themselves go around saying, 'ragas' and 'taalas' will not take you closer to people (read females) like long hair, earrings and a guitar will.


Blogger harry said...

awesome post dude..very funny..yet very true

9:23 AM  
Blogger Sharad said...

Hey da,

I guess the ruling Shiekhs of Dubai are named that way :-). And who is Sheikh Spear ?? Sounds like some DJ kinda guy like Punjabi MC or Rishi Rich.

Not into Carnatic Music eh ? Yes, it DOES hurt the ears.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Vishnu said...

Was pretty much amazed to see that my template was similar to yours!Cheers dude!

Great post on music though.Iam just getting into the heat of things - through instruments btw.

Keep up the spirit and keep blogging.

Happy Living,

11:46 AM  
Blogger Vinod said...

Thanks Harry, I meant every word of that and Sharad, I thought you liked Carnatic!!! And Vishnu, yes, I've played around with the same basic design.

9:45 PM  
Blogger shrik said...

It takes all kinds[ellipsis]

I don't very much care for the technicalities of classical music, but I like it very much. And this has nothing to do with the fact that I learnt Carnatic vocals for a while[ellipsis]

BTW, I am yet to meet a pseudo-expert on classical music.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Vivek said...

I consider myself as a Carnatic music fan and feel it as not as over-rated as the food in the sabhas. Of course, you are entitled to your opinion...

"Occassionally, the singer will lock eyes with you. At that moment, flash a knowing, approving smile. He will return it and also consider you a true connoisseur of good music." Perfect!

btw, Mozart kicks Bach's ass anyday!

8:03 PM  
Blogger Vinod said...

Vivek, I'm sorry if I've offened you but then again as you yourself rightly pointed out, I am entitled to an opinion. And when I said 'Bach is the favourite' I meant in terms of the name only!

8:35 PM  
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9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am amazed that a young Indian dislikes his culture so much. Well brother - your loss. Carnatic music never needed people like you for support. I would advise archiving this message and visiting it back after the harmone induced daze has subsided in your life, say when you are 30?. Have a good one - until then.

3:47 AM  

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