Monday, August 14, 2006

Ignorance is bliss or is it?

I'm not sure how to start this post. I am in a dilemma as to how far back in history I should go, to give readers a perspective of my progress as a listener and subsequently an understanding of the primary objective of this post. I shall try my best to provide a succinct summary of my formative years though I would like to write in detail about those stages, which a rookie might find useful.

During the first few years of my introduction to CM, I predominantly listened to Madurai Mani Iyer and subsequently T.V.Sanakaranarayanan, his nephew. I sometimes listened to the odd Santhanam, GNB or Ariyakudi tape but they did not appeal to me as much as MMI or TVS did. Especially MMI. TVS' concerts provided me a glimpse of what MMI's concert would have been like. My interest slowly progressed from plain listening to identifying ragas to singing snatches of the song, mostly the pallavi line.

It was with the introduction to MDR's music that my inclination for singing really grew. His laid-back, vilamba kala approach to krithi rendition made me sit up and listen to the song whereas with MMI or TVS I used to eagerly wait for the swara prastharams to start. I slowly started singing along more than I used to and also to look up the sahithya of krithis, much to the chagrin of my roommates. This was also the time when I started to learn more about the theoretical aspects of Carnatic music such as the melakartha ragas, janya ragas, shruthi etc.

This compounding interest has grown to a point where I can sing a full krithi along with the singer without having to lookup the lyrics. I have memorized quite a number of krithis by repetitive listening alone. But this should not be misconstrued that I sing well. My singing is marked by a notable lack of shruthi, sense of laya, apaswarams etc. Naturally I'm embarassed by this and would like to fix the problem. This would entail learning Carnatic music from a good teacher. I would like to learn atleast the basics to have a better understanding of what I'm singing.

Now comes the conundrum that I've been trying to solve in my head for the past few days. While learning CM might enable me to appreciate it better, I'm also worried about a particular quality that I have noticed among listeners who have learnt music. They are quick to pounce on minor flaws in a concert and deem the artist as a no good while I might have found the concert perfectly enjoyable. I've been embarassed several times when I've proclaimed a concert as good only to be told that there were signifcant sruthi lapses. Should I care? Should it change my perception of the concert and the artist? Would I be bogged down by the technical details in a krithi rather than enjoying its beauty? Would I end up looking for flaws in a concert?

I'm rather worried about the negative influences since I primarily listen to MDR and MMI and both are known for their unorthodox approach to CM. Definitely, the learning would enable me to appreciate Ariyakudi, GNB better than I currently do. But would it make me enjoy my favorites less? What am I appreciating in music now? What am I looking for in music? Is it the music itself or is it the intellectual outlet that music provides? I'm definitely missing something here. It should be possible to understand and appreciate music with an open mind. I do miss understanding the technical aspects quite frequently. I know I should be aiming to strike a balance between the enjoyment of the music itself and the technical aspects of it.

So the next question is when does one gain the maturity as a listener to strike such a balance? I wish I could find a teacher who'll help me go past these self-doubts and provide me a tutelage that would help maintain this balance. But the current pedagogical methods for teaching CM do not provide me that confidence. I'm probably too inquisitive and wanting to know too much too soon. If I decide to start learning, it brings up new questions. Should I just learn the basics or should I try to get trained to atleast the level of a amateur? Should I make my intentions known to my teacher? What would be the commitment level of the teacher if I told him/her that I just want to learn the basics? Ideally, I would like to be nurtured and trained like a professional.

Music serves as a great outlet for my creativity, satisfies my intellectual hunger and provides an inspiration for bhakthi while constantly reminding me of its spiritual nature. If learning CM is going to improve the quality of this experience, I'm all for it. I shall know only after I take the plunge.



  1. I am no expert but I feel that:
    1) Learning the technicalities will only help you appreciate music more. You will come to know what all you have been missing. For instance I started off with say Yesudas long back and have now fully migrated to TM Krishna, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, TN Seshagopalan, Semmangudi etc. This is in no way to say that Yesudas' music is sub-optimal. I still do enjoy many of his songs but I now know at least some really good things that the others can provide me which he may not be able to provide. I do not think bad about his music.
    2) I feel that a good teacher can go a long way in helping a person understand, appreciate and practise carnatic music better. Where to stop and how long to continue is a decision that you have to take but you can always study the theoretical aspects of music by yourself, if not from your teacher, along with the practical training you get. Each of them will only complement the other and you will only enjoy the music more.


  2. Hi Sri

    You have real interest in carnatic music; so, I strongly suggest that you must learn the music. I do agree that after learning the technical aspects you can find mistakes but there is no one who does not make mistakes in concerts. Even MDR makes mistakes I remember one time when he was singing "Bhavayami" he lost the thala when he tried a thisram when singing the chittaswaram and he just giggles and murmurs something. After all they are humans; humans are bound to make mistakes. Its just that how frequent one makes mistakes and how serious we take it. All know TNS's voice sometimes goes beyond the shruthi but no one can question his vidwat and the creativity when he performs in concerts.

    Just keep aside one or more lapses and enjoy the music. Hence its nothing wrong in learning and be critical of the music performances. All the best for your music journey!