Song of Surrender

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Dr V Krishna on the language of percussion

By Siddhartha Jagannath

The Music Academy
20 December 2013

Dr. V. Krishna from Bangalore presented an engaging lecture demonstration on the language of percussion. Since the previous lecture had been on a serious topic, Dr. Krishna chose to start with a ‘Kadi’ joke to lighten up the sombre mood that had been created. ”What do communism and Gokulashtami have in in common?” The answer-“Karl Marx”. On Gokulashtami, we draw Kal (foot) marks of Krishna in our Kolams.

After giving a brief overview of what was going to be covered, Dr. Krishna dove head first right into the subject. He stated that though the language of percussion is widely appreciated, it is little understood. The main subject of discussion was Layavadyas. Dr. Krishna stated that there are many percussion instruments that are Layavadyas and vice versa. For example Jalatarang is a percussion instrument but not a Layavadya. In the same way the morsing is a Layavadya but not a percussion instrument. Dr. Krishna focused on the main Pakkavadiyams like Mridangam, Khanjira, Ghatam, Tavil, etc. for his demonstration.

What is a language? A language is a vehicle of communication used to convey some idea or meaning. Syllables are the primary building blocks of a language from which words, phrases and sentences are developed. No language, however, is uniform and complete in itself. Languages are also prone to evolution over time.

We often hear that music is the universal language of mankind. Though there are many who fail to agree with this, Music is a medium with which people can cross the boundaries of nationality, etc. The meaning of language in normal parlance may not be apt in this context, but as music stimulates the sense of hearing and inevitably conveys information it can, to some extent, be called a language. Rather than an exact meaning, music conveys the more subtle concepts of emotion.

Then the discussion narrowed in on the musical language of the layavadyas. There is a reduction in the scope of what you can convey in terms of ideas, etc. The foundation of any music is generally Nada and Laya (Nada being sound and Laya, the periodicity of the sound). Vocalization of this language is called ‘Sol’ which literally means syllable. A “bundle” or combination of such ‘Sols’ is called the ‘Solkattu’. We can divide this language into three sub-languages—the vocal rendition (called Konakkol), language of the notation and the instrumental expression language.

Dr. Krishna now began to show us the basic sounds on the Mridangam. He then proceeded to show us the demonstrations of different Sols on the Khanjira, Ghatam and the morsing. The first video was of G. Guruprasanna (Khanjira) playing the basic Sols “Ta Dhi Tom Nam”. He executed these syllables with exemplary ease. These Sols were also shown on the Ghatam (played by Giridhar Udupa) and Morsing (by Rajashekhar). These artists were also shown playing more complicated Sols. Dr. Krishna also played a video of his guru, A.V. Anand. The audience got a close up look at how the morsing produces sounds when held between teeth or when held between lips. It was truly fascinating.

The next thing Dr. Krishna did was to define communication. He said that communication is not about what you say but is about what the other person understands. In the same way, if a mridangist does not successfully communicate to the audience during a Tani avarthanam, the people are likely to walk out to snack on a samosa. Thus if a percussionist wants to effectively convey something to his listeners, he must avoid playing bizarre phrases and keep the Kanaku to a minimum. This is where Sol development comes into play. In Sol development, rather than playing an outpouring of mathematical patterns, the artist gradually builds up on the Sols. In the end this leads to a complex mathematical pattern, but the subtle gradualness makes it easy for the average layman to take in. He talked about vilamba laya and madhyama laya sol development.

Dr. Krishna also played a few tapes of Tavil Vidwans like Yazhpanam Dakshinamoorthy in which Sol development was consummately demonstrated. He also demonstrated Palani Subramania Pillai’s famous Sol. Pressed for time, Dr. Krishna also quicly showed farans and urutoos on all three percussion instruments. Dr. Krishna concluded by saying that the language of the Layavadyas must bring three feelings to the heart. They are Dhruti or the melting feeling, Deepti or effulgence and lastly Vikasa or the feeling of bliss.

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