Sound of Mooosik!
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!