S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Friday, 23 February 2018


Sruti, February 2018

Carnatic music has been going through a longish phase of a relative lack of interest in instrumental music concerts despite recent attempts at veena or nagaswaram festivals. Perhaps it is time for organisers and musicians to find new ways of attracting audiences to these programmes. Does the answer lie in the inclusion of specific compositions for instrumental music in concerts otherwise offering the usual spread of well established kritis the audience can identify? Artists like Ganesh-Kumaresh, and surely other instrumentalists, have achieved some success in such ventures. Even if the core value of instrumental Carnatic music is represented by the gayaki style of playing, the strengths and unique qualities of different instruments are exploited to the hilt by their best exponents. Examples abound among both wind and string instruments. Veena concerts at their best do make the best use of the instrument’s special affinity for tanam playing. The flute is of course at its most exciting when it is not merely song-oriented, but while offering a variety of rivetting soundscapes in its manodharma segments. The violin in the hands of a master can convince you that it was made for Carnatic music.

How do we bring instrumental music centrestage? Does the answer lie in specially curated, properly publicised chamber concerts which give the audience a total listening experience? Ideally, these should be acoustic concerts, played on acoustic instruments.

One of the innovations of the past two decades has been the preponderance of contact microphones adopted by veena players, violinists, even ghatam players! Some of us do not enjoy the sound produced by microphone-aided instruments, and seriously wish our favourite musicians would go back to playing ‘unplugged’. Elsewhere in this issue, however, a critic has expressed his pleasure at listening to the sound of a particular artist’s veena with a contact microphone. Is it a case of the artist finding the correct microphone which produces the appropriate tone, which would mean that the problem lies with the tonal quality produced rather than the amplification itself?

We at Sruti spoke some years ago to a violinist of repute about the possibility of his taking part in concerts giving as much importance and time to the instrumentalist as the vocalist, practically offering a vocalist-violinist jugalbandi of sorts. The violinist thought it was an idea worth pursuing, which we failed to do, but T.M. Krishna’s concerts in recent years have been offering greater scope for the violinist, in fact, equal opportunity. Especially when he leaves the onus of the raga alapana or tanam to the violinist, he also avoids the risk of boredom or repetitiveness that can occur when the violin plays follow the leader. In an ideal vocal-instrumental jugalbandi, we could have the two artists playing individually for about half an hour each, before they come together as a duo after that, as is fairly common in Hindustani music.

The well trained human voice with sruti suddham and deep emotional appeal can touch a chord in a certain type of listener. Here I refer not to the impact of lyrics soaked in bhakti but to the ability of raga music to move the aesthetically evolved rasika, and there is no reason why such rasanubhava cannot be experienced in instrumental music. It is time to present such music regularly to the listening public.

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