Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Musical reflections...

Once upon a time, I used to learn Carnatic music along with my sister. We sang pretty well together most of the time... at one point I even entertained the fleeting thought that we might become known as a famous "musical duo" - such as Radha-Jayalakshmi or Saroja-Lalitha. It was only a very fleeting thought, though, because I quickly realised that I didnt have the sort of single-minded dedication required for fame and fortune in the world of classical music performance. Also, my voice would cooperate only so much and no more - and that description went for me as well.

I know I must have driven my family and teacher crazy because they all thought I was wasting a "god-given gift". Not so. I knew my limitations. I was not disciplined enough, not motivated enough, not hard-working enough and just not interested enough - not to mention, not gifted enough. The most annoying situation is probably to have enough talent to rise above mediocrity but not enough to become great... And it didnt help that I had stage-fright.

And when my sister went off to the USA, that was the final nail in the coffin of my (our) singing "career". There was no way I was going to sing alone (and a few fairly disastrous radio programmes soon proved that definitively). Luckily, my sister still learns music and sings, though she has branched out into other genres of music. She had (has) a better voice than me and none of the stage fright that made me forget lines, lose the beat and my breath all at once. So that's a good thing.

I guess the problem was that I wanted to learn only those songs that appealed to me. I didnt want to sing them to the world, I didnt want to have the world listening while I belted out a keerthanai; I only wanted to be able to sing for my own pleasure. That was the only reason I even learnt Carnatic music. And since I'm easily satisfied in the personal singing stakes, all the practising and gamakams and alaapanais simply didnt appeal to me. I was content to know the lyrics and the tune so as to be able to yodel along as an accompaniment to MS Subbulakshmi's divine voice. I guess this was difficult for my parents and family to understand because they had a much better opinion of my singing talent than I did!

Nowadays there are plenty of young, glamorous Carnatic musicians - vocal or instrumental. I think they've made Carnatic music more "hep", shall we say? Not merely the arena for the old-fashioned, the middle-aged and the orthodox. I have to confess that at one point I didnt WANT to sing because of the sly grins I got from my non-Carnatic-music-learning friends and family. (Yes, there were quite a few!). It made me feel rather "thayir-vadai"ish.

Luckily that phase didnt last long either, because I realised that listening to Carnatic music gave me a lot of pleasure - Maharajapuram Santhanam, MS Subbulakshmi, Balamuralikrishna, GNB, Semmangudi, MLV... I loved listening to their renditions of songs I liked. It would have been pretty dumb of me to set all that aside merely because the musical tastes of my then friends ran to western pop & rock and film music. I suppose my epiphany was in suddenly realising that I liked different kinds of music and what people thought about it didnt matter! I didnt want to be stereotyped in my musical tastes by other people's opinions.

I didnt agree with those who went totally "western" and flaunted their ignorance of Carnatic music because "it's for oldies", and I equally disagreed with a friend who considered himself a purist and would listen only to truly classical Carnatic. He even sneered at me for saying that "Kurai ondrum illai", sung by MSS, was a classic - according to him, it was semi-classical and therefore not good enough. Too bad for him, because although his knowledge of classical Carnatic music is extensive, personally I feel he's losing out on a LOT of wonderful music from all genres and styles.

Music has the ability to cross borders and cultures - IF people keep an open mind. Being fanatical about one genre of music to the exclusion of all others is a pathetic, rigid, wasteful and narrow-minded effort. It's like being at a buffet with all kinds of wonderful food available for the taking - you can sample a lot of things and find new likes, or you can be stodgy and stick to the one thing you know and recognise. Guess whose loss it would be if the second option is chosen?

That said, I have to admit to a slight mental block regarding rap and hiphop. I especially cant bear to watch the videos that accompany rap music - the grungy clothes, the ugly expressions, the weird hand gestures... ugh. No, when it comes to rap, if I have to put up with it at all, I'd much rather listen than see.


Harish said...

It feels so good to know someone else has stage fright too :D

but hey, nice post!

If u ask me, here's how you split the genres

1. Gamakas, Swaras, Raagas - Carnatic music
2. trance, swear words, doozy heads - Narcotic music! :)

And yeah, if there's one person i'm jealous of, it's Eminen. The bugger's grown rich jus by talking out his problems in life w/ a steady beat in the background!!

Radha said...

You said it, Shyam! I find it MUCH more pleasing to sing along with a pro... Total lack of dedication, time, motivation, and talent to be REALLY good - yep, I share all of that with you, big sis!

Even now, with the "other genres" that I've branched out into, I get the same comments from my teacher and anyone else who listens to me -"show us the emotion on your face", "keep your eyes open when you sing", "engage the audience".

The only improvement (in almost 6 years) is that I now keep my eyes open when I sing. The problem is that I sing for myself, and don't care if I have an audience... which doesn't translate to being a good performer. Which also means I don't have stage fright :P See, that's my secret, Shyam :)

I could try "performing" more, but every time I try it, I can only picture how silly I look, and I crack up. Which doesn't help if the song I'm singing (er, "performing") is sad or slow.

Of course, there was this ONE time that I "performed" a song - "Single Girl", about a woman fondly looking back on her carefree single days and contrasting with her current hard life. Apparently I sang it with so much fervour that one woman actually came up to me later and asked if I was married :P

If you've ever listened to Sudha Raghunathan or Unnikrishnan sing live, you'll know what I mean about performing vs singing. Not only do they have the requisite oodles of talent and dedication, they also have the ability to totally involve their audience in the performance. They are thoroughly into what they're singing - that all-important quality of "bhavam"!

I do wish I'd had the opportunity to listen to MS or MLV or Maharajapuram Santhanam live...

An example for the other end of the profressional spectrum is Neyveli Santhanagopalan - he is one of the most boring pros around. I can't say anything about his knowledge of Carnatic music, but I do know that I'm never going to attend any more of his concerts. Man has a completely deadpan voice :[

This comment is beginning to look like a post all by itself, so I'll stop here.

Kiwilakhs said...

I second what u said da.
As for rap, I don't even want to hear it, leave alone see. Having a happy b'day so far?

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