Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Musical Education and Life of a Musician in India

Indian musical culture is unique and quite different from that of the rest of the word, due in no small part to the high level of improvised tradition. Almost all musical education is for classical musicians; folk music remains a predominantly oral endeavor. Music education occurs in a wide variety of setting such as in schools, in special music schools, or even on the internet.

In ancient times, students (shishya) would be attached to a guru who would be their mentor for a long period of time, in most cases for over a decade-- the full curriculum of musical attainment lasted for 12 years! This system was known as Gurukula (from guru 'teacher' and kula 'extended family' in Sanskrit) or the "hermitage" system, after the eponymous secluded buildings in which the students lived with their teachers.  The training involved was onerous as students were expected not only to master their instruments but also to carefully interpret the various sounds of the music; this was so imperative to musical education that the education itself was often called "the art of audio-interpretation". As Indian music was at the time totally oral, the relationship between mentor and protege was considered extremely important, with the guru taking an active role in the student's life and guiding him through the difficult examinations. This means of education was used not only in music but also in other subjects, and lasted for at least several millennia, possibly up to 5,000 years. 


(Picture from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e3/Raja_Ravi_Varma_-_Sankaracharya.jpg). A 1904 depiction of influential Hindu theologian and thinker Adi Shankara by Raja Ravi Varma, clearly illustrating the close relationship between a guru and his shisya. This was known as parampara, from the Sanskrit for 'uninterrupted series'. In return for tutoring the shisya or disciples were expected to assist the guru with menial tasks.

This form of education fell apart, due in part to the influence of Mughal rules from Muslim states, who saw music as a hobby, but mostly because of British rule. Under colonialism a new, syncretic form of education took root, pioneered by musicians and musicologists such as Vishnu Bhatkhande (1860-1936), who devised one of the first systems of notation (swar lippi) in Indian music which still prevails today. Under this system the first real music schools were set up, and students were taught not only performance skills but also musical criticism, teaching and researching, and other music-related fields. This method favoured a "kaansen" ("connoiseur, admirer") approach to music as apposhed to a "taansen" ("performer, maestro") approach.

(Picture from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/Tagore3.jpg). Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). As well as being a Noble Prize laureate, painter, poet and novelist, he opened the Visva-Bharati University, which featured special classes in music and the performing arts, one of the first universities to do so. He was given a knighthood in 1915 which he later gave up.

Today most universities have a music class available and there is a tradition of performing arts schools such as the Swathi Thirnu College of Music, founded in 1939. However, there are significant problems still extant within music education. Some students see music as a "hobby" and there is often confusion about what to teach. There is also a limit on resources due to the immense poverty within Indian society. As well as this, due to the popularity of bhangra and Western pop music many students choose to play the electric guitar or synthesizer instead of more traditional classical instruments.

Today technology often plays a role not only in Indian music itself but also within Indian musical education.Various synthsizers can be used when actual instruments are hard to come by or too expensive. Examples of these are the Shruti Generator, used to simulate the tamburi drone, and the Theka Generator, a drum machine. Modern computer technology can be used to analyse the elements of Indian music, and the Internet now has a surfeit of sites allowing one to learn a wide variety of Indian instruments, from the commonplace to the obscure.

(Picture from http://chandrakantha.com/articles/electronic_aids/fig_4.gif.) The tal mala, a common theka generator, equivalent to a drum machine.

Indian musicians play an important part in the Indian community and there are many opportunities for them to hone or showcase their skills. Musical culture in India goes back to ancient times and is probably indigenous to the subcontient. Despite this, there are many different traditions. The most notable of these are the Hindustani tradition, characters by its Mughal influences, and the Carnatic tradition which remained most free of these influences. There are also many smaller traditions within the many Indian states. However, one of the things almost all these traditions share is the importance of music in day-to-day life. Music is used for religious purposes-- both Hindu and Muslim-- in the form of devotional music such as the Sufi qawwali, as well as at weddings, festivals and public events. However, in recent years the importance of traditional music has been in somewhat of a decline, due not only to the use of electronics but also due to the popularity of Westernised styles such as bhangra.

Another possibility for Indian musicians is film and television. Early after autonomy most television and radio was controlled by the government, India at the time being influenced by Gandhi's self-sufficency and the Soviet Union's planned economy. The government insisted on broadcasting some classical Indian music performances and education. Music programming still holds onto a heavy presence within Indian television with many recent commercial music channels, some imported or influenced by Western channels (such as MTV India, launched in 1996 and enjoyed across the subcontinent, and its cousin VH1 Music, founded in 2005) and some home-grown, such as the 24-hour Imagine Showbiz. Music channels are available in many of the subcontinents numerous languages.

(Picture from http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-R0YZnBxlrxY/ToKsRYuHVRI/AAAAAAAAAr4/bEs2Cs2xqM8/s1600/logo_air.jpg). The logo of All Indian Radio, founded in 1930. It remains India's national radio service and was known for its broadcasting of classical and traditional Indian music.

(Picture from http://chandrakantha.com/articles/electronic_aids/air.gif.) An All India Radio broadcast in the 30s.

Music plays a huge role in Indian film, particularly in the Bollywood industry, named after Bombay (now Mumbai) where it was founded. It regularly produces more films than its Western equivalent Hollywood each year. The songs used are known in Hindi as filmi. The filmi and the dances that accompany them are an essential component of the Bollywood feel, which uses large setpieces and exaggerated storylines to convey themes of various genres such as happiness, excietment, tragedy etc. The films themselves are often known as masala ('seasoning' in Hindi). Lyrical themes in filmi draw upon classical and modern influences and can be quite poetic. Filmi form a massive part of Indian pop music and in recent years there has been a large Western influence.

Other opportunities for Indian musicians are immense. Musicians can either become classical concert musicians or they can participate in the large pop industry which includes bhangra music as well as Indian rock and Bangla (Bangladeshi rock), jazz and blues. In recent years there has also been a deman for music online and on media sharing sites, both legal and illegal.

An episode of RagaChitram, a classical Indian music and dance show, can be seen below:


World Music 101: http://worldmusic.about.com/od/asianmiddleeastern/p/BollywoodMusic.htm
Google Translate
IMDB (Internet Movie Database)
Chandrakatha.com-- http://chandrakantha.com/articles/electronic_aids/el_aids_music_ed.html.
and others.

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