Posts Tagged ‘Classical’

Love’s Labor Lost?

February 7, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

In a recent article (The Music of Poetry), I argued that it didn’t make sense to ask if one poet was greater than another. The musical metaphor I attempted proved to be the undoing of the piece; perhaps I should have tried a different metaphor – it would be silly, for example, to ask if Tendulkar is “greater” than Muralitharan, though both are cricketers. The reason is obvious, the one being a batsman and the other a bowler. My conclusion was simply that we should place less emphasis on “greatness,” however defined, and focus instead on the pleasure that comes from a given work.

The use of a cricketing metaphor, however, adds another point to the argument. In cricket, statistics are available for comparison in a way impossible for poetry or music, but even then the matter is not as simple as it seems. (more…)

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A Modern Introduction to Music – 16

September 6, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

If you read the last installment you would have picked up a clue to what a raga is about. Keep five swaras (S g M d n) in the air and you are beginning to work with the raga Malkauns. Ergo, it seems reasonable to infer that if you picked a different set of swaras, you would be working with a different raga. Of course, sculpting a fine raga out of these building blocks requires a few more details that we will discuss later but this is a good enough point to start.

However, if we proceed in this ad hoc way, we would be able to list lot of ragas but we would miss out on the schema that organizes the large number of ragas into more manageable sets. In particular, we would miss out entirely on identifying ragas that are related closely to each other. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 15

September 4, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I hope you have watched the video clip I linked in the last installment. If not, I will urge you to do so now because what you will be watching is a visual demonstration of Hindustani classical music. This video will enrich your understanding of classical music more than any number of words.

Let me explain. What you are watching is an incredibly skilled performer who can keep three balls in the air for an extended period all the while creating new and intricate patterns that are non-repetitive. This is an output that rests on an enormous amount of training and endless hours of regular practice. To appreciate the performance you have to keep your eyes open and focused on the patterns made by the balls. And the response that it evokes is less one of entertainment and more one of awe and amazement. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 14

August 29, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

We have completed two stages in this series – the physics of sound in general and the technical foundation of musical sound in particular. These give us an understanding of the fundamental building blocks of music (the swaras) and of how they fit together according to the principle of intervals or ‘musical distance’. With this understanding we are ready to explore how music is constructed.

Many more good textbooks are available in this domain although I find them heavy on content and information and a bit light on communicating the intuition and concepts. I will therefore continue this somewhat off-beat introduction that seeks to reproduce my personal struggles and discoveries and the ways in which I pieced them together. (more…)

Music: Architecture, Painting, and Wet Clay

August 27, 2009

By Anjum Altaf 

I have something uncanny to report.

I began this series of posts on music (see here) by describing how puzzled I was by a metaphor used by Goethe (I call architecture frozen music) because I was unable to reconcile that image with the music I was familiar with. It was after many years that I concluded tentatively that Hindustani classical music was better characterized as a painting.

Responses from readers drew us into a discussion of Western classical music of which I have very little knowledge. In order to familiarize myself with the basics I bought, more or less at random, a book titled The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music by Tim Smith (NPR, 2002). (more…)

Music: An Interview with Arpita Chatterjee

August 24, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

In response to the interest in our series on music (see here, here, and here), The South Asian Idea (TSAI) is following up with an interview with Arpita Chatterjee (AC) presently in charge of the Academic Research Department at the prestigious ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata and thus an ideal person to guide us in our discussions. These are her personal views.

TSAI: We started our series on music with the quote from Goethe: “I call architecture frozen music.” Is this metaphor of “architecture” relevant for Indian classical music? If not, what would be the appropriate metaphor that could help readers visualize Indian classical music? (more…)

An Idiot’s Guide to Music – 3

August 21, 2009

By Anjum Altaf 

In the second post in this series I had proposed looking at the organization of music to see what it revealed about the organization of society. This enquiry was motivated by the very stark differences in the organization of classical music in the Western and Hindustani traditions that are immediately obvious on attending concerts in the two traditions.

I am going to rely almost entirely on the description provided by Yehudi Menuhin in his autobiography Unfinished Journey (Chapter 12) because being a musician he has a deep insight into the subject. Later I will come back to the issues that Menuhin does not address. (more…)

An Idiot’s Guide to Music – 1

August 2, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

I call architecture frozen music – Goethe

I stumbled upon this quote as a teenager and fell in love with it without understanding it at all, a phenomenon not uncommon as I learnt later when I fell in love with a human being – loving and hating comes so much easier than understanding.

The quote stayed with me for years – stuck in diaries, propped up on desks, hanging from walls, scribbled in notes to people I loved but did not understand – without yielding its mystery. The only thing I can claim credit for is that I did not stop searching for an answer. (more…)