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vieuxtemps

Indian classical music

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Soundboot's reply to lwl's "Slides" thread made me realize that some people here might like the Indian classical world a lot, at least in principle.

Artists learn from other artists. Once the older artist (e.g. Ravi Shankar) becomes the student's guru, the student (e.g. Lakshmi Shankar) lives with the guru. The disciple may even do some work around the house. The guru could decide at 2 a.m. he/she wants to teach something, so the disciple(s) is/are sort of at the guru's mercy as to when to take their instruments out and jam/learn. Not only could the teacher demonstrate everything; most of the teaching would be demonstration. (No sheet music!)

Learning the instrument's technique is a small matter of maybe a few years. But learning the music is difficult and can be learned from any artist: flute, sarangi, santoor, sitar, voice, tabla, violin, harmonium, etc. Lakshmi Shankar was a violinist; Ravi Shankar plays sitar. It would be like Truls Mork studying with Jean-Pierre Rampal, or Isaac Stern studying with Marian Anderson. (Just because the Shankars were uncle and niece didn't mean the elder would teach the younger. She was as talented as any other Shankar disciple.)

It isn't cloning. The student learns things like how to structure certain compositions. Some are based on ragas, sequences of notes that may be 5, 6, or 7 notes ascending and 5, 6, or 7 notes descending (some pitches altered going up or down). It's like having the modal system, harmonic and melodic minor, pentatonic scales, and six-note scales all combined in one system, sometimes many of those features present in one "scale." (There are thousands of ragas.) Some ragas are meant for the morning, some for the early evening, late evening, etc. Each one is meant to create a certain mood. ("Raga" comes from the Sanskrit for "color" because of the infinite variety of nuances that are possible in ragas played by a great Indian classical artist.) Anyway, those series of notes make up the notes for the song or instrumental work. First they introduce the pitches in a slow improvised section called the alap. It lasts from a few minutes up to even half an hour of just improvising freely on the tones of the work, emphasizing important ones, maybe introducing the theme of the work if it's a song or composition written by someone else a few hundred years ago. The next section (forgot what it's called; tala?) is in rhythm (tabla=set of two drums). Teental is 16 beats: each phrase is like 4 measures of 4/4. There are also 14 beats, 12, etc. The musicians play the song, but there are many passages where they improvise variations. Then there's a faster section or repeat of some previous material, then the work ends. "Raga" refers to either that type of composition I described or the actual set of notes. Rag bhopali is a D major pentatonic scale and is an early evening raga. Try it, fool around with it: D E F# A B (then D, but it's a repeat), same notes up and down. Rag yaman (yamun?) is a late evening raga: Bb C D E G A (repeat top Bb if desired) going up, A B F E D C Bb going down.

Flute (they use one that can slide like a voice), violin, and sarangi match the vocal style incredibly well. Every instrumental artist is like Friedman's description of Casals: "a tone [voice in this case] like raw leather, but what he had to say..." They do a little singing in teaching and performance.

When I said it only takes a few years to learn the instrument, you all probably thought the tone of an Indian classical violinist isn't that great. Tou won't hear anything as sensuous as Ysaye's sound, though the tone won't be scratchy at the high levels. It'll be a little airy since you can't keep the bow near the bridge when you sit cross-legged on the floor with the scroll on your foot. There's also less emphasis on getting a Guarneri so you can force your sound to the 97th row of the hall (if you have a hall, you have speakers and mics). A sitar player probably goes through a sitar every years, I think because the gourd cracks.

There are no great teachers who weren't great artist-performers first (or concurrently). Galamian wouldn't cut it, though he did some recitals and got rave reviews a few years before locking himself in the studio for life. (If artistic violin technique only took a few years to attain and the guy didn't have nerve issues...he'd be another one eating Heifetz's dust. smile.gif) Milstein's, late Heifetz's, Grumiaux's, Rosand's, Stern's, and Enesco's would be the norm, though maybe more like Enesco and Milstein taught than a university setting, conservatory, or occasional lessons and guidance. (Everyone's trained as a soloist, also voice accompanist where applicable. It's chamber music.)

There are two main branches, Carnatic and Hindustani. One refers to the north, the other to the south. Also, there are different schools of playing (music, not instruments!) called Gharana's. I think they go by cities, and usually an old, great artist or two pass on the tradition to the younger generation. It would be like a French school (Kreutzer and Massart), Italian school (Pugnani and Viotti), Belgian school (Vieuxtemps and Ysaye), German school, Hungarian school (Hubay to Szigeti), Russian school (Oistrakh to Danchenko), etc., perhaps even schools for different regions of countries. And they wouldn't all be traceable to a single Corelli from a few hundred years back.

My dad (into Indian classical like I'm into Western classical) thinks there's too much emphasis on technique and not enough emphasis on music in the Western classical world.

-Aman

[This message has been edited by vieuxtemps (edited 04-28-2001).]

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Thanks, Aman. I once had an adult Indian student who was also into South Indian vocal music, and she introduced me to a little of it. Your explanation has filled in some of the gaps, and I appreciate your insights.

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Very intereting Aman.Yesterday, I was in a music store and saw a very interesting Ravi Shankar cd which I immediately fell in love with.I would get it as soon as I get some cash.

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Guest

Call of the Valley is a gorgeous CD compilation of morning to evening ragas

that I love to listen to on long drives.

-Micki

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Some years ago I had a number of South Indian violin lessons and also some North Indian lessons from a singer. I think it was one of the most liberating things I ever did. It taught me many things but most of all I learnt that there are no absolutes in music - just conventions. For a start, the tuning is different - the violin is tuned lower and is often tuned fifth, fourth, fifth. The violin sounds very resonant tuned a tone or so down. There was a lot of sliding around, often with one finger which gets you out of that fretted mentality which we seem to get in western classical training. The violin is held differently - from chest to foot (yes foot! While in cross legged position, great for sliding on the fingerboard). A lot of the instruction is by ear and imitation rather than notation (although there is a form of notation). So many other things I could mention. It was refreshing to see things done so differently when we so often are told (by many) in western classical training that there is one way to hold the instrument, one way to play and one way to sound. One of the highlights of my life was having a lesson with L.Subramaniam and hearing him play my violin. Truly inspiring.

I think just as travel broadens the mind, so too does the study of ethnic music both open other musical dimensions and puts our own musical heritage into perspective allowing us to rediscover where we are coming from.

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Thanks for this post, vieuxtemps. I'm an Indian who learns Western Classical and I have quite a few friends who learn Indian Classical.

Just two days ago, a Carnatic vocalist friend of mine dropped over at my place and we promptly launched into a fervent discussion about the comparative merits and demerits of Indian and Western Classical music.

Most Indian Classical Musicians claim that Western Classical music lacks spontaneity. In a way, I am inclined to agree. Western Classical music consists of standard composed pieces. And as far as individual technique and interpretation goes, it's still something that each musician decides for himself/herself during practice hours and then reproduces the same onstage. However, Indian Classical is constantly innovative, as each performance is an entirely new one. Thus, you cannot have an unimaginative Indian Classical musician. A musician's worth is assessed as much by his technique as by his creativity.

At the same time, extemporaneity has its own limitations. Quartets, orchestras or even intricate intertwining pieces like the Kreutzer sonata would be impossible. Also, by forcibly combining the Composer and the Performer in one package, one ends up excluding those who might compose well but may not be good enough at execution, as well as artists like Perlman, who, though excellent at the violin, may not be as innovative as a Beethoven or a Tchaikovsky. (Just a passing thought, Kreisler might have made a good Indian Classical musician!)

Of course, my friend and I both reached the conclusion that you cannot really compare the two streams as each one is highly specialised and multi-faceted in its own right.(Howz that for happy endings...)

Btw, I'm just curious, how many Indians are here on Maestronet? I'm one to begin with. My name is Vikram Paralkar and I live in Bombay.

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quote:

Originally posted by Staccato:

...However, Indian Classical is constantly innovative, as each performance is an entirely new one. Thus, you cannot have an unimaginative Indian Classical musician. A musician's worth is assessed as much by his technique as by his creativity.

Dear Staccato, I do not really know so much about Indian music, but I've practiced jazz a lot and some folk music. I found many times that although jazz musicians improvizing their patterns on the spot, quite a few of them are not creative at all. Sadly many of them are simply repeting their boring patters and do nothing with music. I am simply guessing that something like this can be true for all improvized music (ie folk). Inventing tunes does not mean (for me) that the performer has anything to do with music. Hoping none of the indian musicians are unimaginative, but some jazz players are, though each their performances are also entirely new one.

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Szilva:

You misunderstand me. When I say, "You cannot have an unimaginative Indian Classical musician", I mean that an unimaginative Indian Classical player is not a musician - he's a technician. Such a person will never go far. I assume there are many, who though technically perfect, are still just ruminating on cliched motifs again and again. But then, everyone knows what to expect from them. It's the creative ones that become the representatives of their art.

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Szilva:

You misunderstand me. When I say, "You cannot have an unimaginative Indian Classical musician", I mean that an unimaginative Indian Classical player is not a musician - he's a technician. Such a person will never go far. I assume there are many, who though technically perfect, are still just ruminating on cliched motifs again and again. But then, everyone knows what to expect from them. It's the creative ones that become the representatives of their art.

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The greatest Western classical performances should seem spontaneous. A respected musician in the Atlanta area told us about a performance her college teacher gave. She went up to him after the concert and said how spontaneous and imaginative it sounded. He told her how much hard work went into shaping every phrase to sound the way he wanted.

My teacher told me you have to experiment with the many ways of playing a phrase before you can be spontaneous (and have it work).

I'm half Indian. My brother has worked with some major Indian classical artists, and we both learned some with an Indian classical musician-teacher in Vancouver.

-Aman

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Szilva:

You misunderstand me. When I say, "You cannot have an unimaginative Indian Classical musician", I mean that an unimaginative Indian Classical player would not BE a musician, he would just be a technician. Only those who have something new and refreshing to bring to the arena are the ones who make it to the top. I'm sure there are many who just ruminate on cliched motifs, and I'm also sure that I'll never hear of such people being applauded as maestros.

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