As far as Indian classical music goes, the internet is a veritable gold mine. At first this sounds surprising, since, as Sheila Dhar notes in Raga’n Josh,
The Indian mind — and there is such a thing — has never taken kindly to the idea of formal records or, to stretch a point, to the activity of recording.
While it is true that many of the classical musicians of the bygone era were not great fans of (as they used to say in those days) “cutting records” (Veenai Dhanamma — or one of her daughters — is supposed to have said that she did not want her music to be played in hair-cutting saloons), I believe they did allow individual rasikas to make recordings of their concerts. In a different era, such recorded music might have had, but a very small reach. However, with internet, all you need is a true rasika who likes to share the musical bounties with his fellows — the entire world can have access to the music.
So, it is no wonder that but for the archives that some of the rasikas have uploaded, I would not have had the chance of listening to Carnatic stalwarts like Veenai Dhanamma, Tiger Varadacharyar, Mysore Vasudevacharyar, Madurai Shanmukavadivu (mother of MS), and Chembai Subbu (brother of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar).
This is true of many stalwarts of Hindustani music too; for example, I wanted to hear his playing, after reading this moving passage about the Sarangi player Ustad Bundu Khan in Sheila Dhar’s Raga’n Josh:
My father only received one extraordinary letter of thanks three months after his departure. He had dictated it to someone in Urdu and signed his name in his shaky, illiterate scrawl. The letter carried two sentences, the first said that he would never forget all that my father had done for him. The second was somewhat longer and said ‘Here are the important taans of Malkauns.’ About twenty note-patterns in the raga Malkauns followed. My father was so touched that he wept. He said he would never need to use the Malkauns taans in his life, but Ustad Bundu Khan’s intention was to offer him what he considered most precious. …
And, I am certain that I would never have had a chance of listening to the Ustad but for the internet. (Tell me sister, who wouldn’t want to listen to Bundu Khan’s Malkauns after reading that passage?)
What is more, internet is not only for the rare and exotic; when living in a foreign country where buying a cassette or CD of your favourite musician is no longer a matter of an evening walk, my only hope is the internet — especially since my addiction to these musicians and their music is such that, if, for example, I wanted to hear a Hamsadhwani by Kishori and I am not able to it is maddening — I become jittery, irritable and insomniac. (By the way, the nearly one-and-a-half hour Hamsadhwani Jugalbandi of Kishori and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is one of the best I have heard, which is so beautiful that it defies description — Bharathiar: போ போ! இதற்கு மேல் என்னால் வர்ணிக்க இயலாது (Go away! I can not describe it any further) ).
As a matter of fact, till now, except for twice (when I wanted some specific songs by Musiri and Bhimsen), there are no instances of any music that I could not hear when I wanted to (and, all of it, I heard for free too).
Well, from this piece of Alex Ross in the New Yorker, I understand that what is true of Carnatic and Hindustani is true of Western Classical too:
Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate. Yet a nagging sense of possibility also drew me in. Classical music, my subject, was thriving on the Internet in unexpected ways. Not all blogs, I discovered, were devoted to cataloguing continuity errors in the films of George Lucas; a smattering of musicians, composers, and listeners were writing on music with intelligence and verve, revelling in the chance to express ideas that had no other immediate outlet. Between 1980 and 2000, classical music more or less disappeared from American network television, magazines, and other mainstream media, its products deemed too élitist, effete, or esoteric for the world of pop. On the Internet, no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student’s ruminations on György Ligeti’s Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question—Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler —was himself twenty-seven.
Ross’ piece can also be a nice place to start a tour of western classical sites on the net.
Happy listening times!