Archive for August 22nd, 2015

Why music moves us by Janette Bicknell

August 22, 2015

A good read; however, too western music oriented.

Two differences stood out especially for me. One is the importance given to instrumental music over vocal in western tradition while in Carnatic for example, it is the vocal music that is given primacy; instruments such as Veena are hailed because they sound as close to human voice as possible. The second is the idea of sublime; the “awe-inspiring” or sublime music (the equivalent of “bhayankara”) is not the primary concern for many rasikas of Carnatic music (I think!).

The one time I got high listening to music was a concert by T V Sankaranarayanan in Odukaththur mutt in Bangalore and the piece that induced the altered mental state (which lasted for about a couple of hours) was Thiruvadi charanam in Kambhoji; especially, the nerval of the lines “Aduththu vantha ennai thallal aagaadhu; hara hara endru sonnalum podhaadho”; I believe that the deep immersion that happened to me primarily happened because of the meaning of those lines and the emotions that TVS brought while singing them.

Another singer who produced similar effects for me is MS: she has a way of emphasising some words by changing the thickness/thinness of voice for some words — for example, when she sings “Naalu puram nokki, nani naan” she will make the word “nani” sound a bit thin compared to other words which produces a wonderful effect.

Similarly, when Mansur sings Akka kelavva he somehow emphasises on the urgence of the singer to make the other person listen to her experience; in his way of singing the description of the experience itself does not get much emphasis; Mansur does this by repeating akka kelavva several times in what I can only describe as “requesting tone” and the tone is the most important part of the effect.

Of course, it is quite possible that in the way I immerse myself in classical music is through words and language and for others words are not that important. However, some of the the traditional ways of appreciating music — for example, the long exposition of  Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste by Kanchi Chandrashekharendra Saraswati  and his explaining the word “Vaggeyakkara” by its emphsis on the linguistic aspects — makes me think that this is one of the accepted, traditional ways of making meaning out of classical music. And that is in contrast with most of what Janette Bicknell discusses.

Having said all that, I still think it is a good book and worth reading once — at least for the kind of questions it raises and the kind of issues it addresses. I only wish that somebody familiar with Indian classical tried a similar study.