Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ilayaraja's 'How To Name It':Perils Of Music Sans Philosophy

As school children we all learn Newton's laws of motion. Towards the end of the schooling we learn the higher concepts of quantum physics including the famous Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principle. Little do we, both American and Indian school children, realize that what we think of as just math and science is much more than that. Biographer James Gleick in 'Isaac Newton' explains how Newton was inspired his reading of Aristotle. Newton had hundreds of volumes in personal including Francis Bacon's 'Novum Organum' and Aristotle's 'Nichomachean Ethics'. Germany was the cradle of modern physics and the shadow of Immanuel Kant was long and deep. Einstein had read Kant as a school boy. Paul Dirac read John Stuart Mill in school. We learn the mathematical principles of the probability theories and little do we realize that Laplace was a philosopher of the first rate. Leibniz was more a philosopher than a mathematician. Likewise Henri Poincare.

It is a mistaken notion, particularly amongst Indians, that philosophy is some abstruse time wasting avocation with no relation to the immediate. That is largely true of Indian philosophy which was more concerned about ethics and could not help being more a theology than philosophy. When quantum physics upended the Newtonian deterministic model of universe chaos ruled the roost. While I learned the physics of those theories my curriculum did not prepare me for pondering on the significance of those theories. When quantum physics said that the observer impacts what is observed it opened a can of philosophical worms. If the observer impacts what is observed then the observations are 'tainted' and that means its not 'objective'. If objectivity dies then so does a lot. If truth becomes subjective then everything becomes relative. And all that is just scraping the surface. The point being there is nothing in our lives without philosophy.

Indians enjoy music in 3 levels. One, and this is the large majority, as film music. Two, as an esoteric activity where losing one's self in a kind of trance. Three, as a background noise to our daily chores like driving. The last is common to other people. Indians are not accustomed to the idea that books can foment revolutions and create wars. "So you are the woman who started the war" said Lincoln when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of 'Uncle Tom's cabin'. Thomas Kuhn's 'Structure of scientific revolutions' caused a stir in America. European history is replete with authors instigating movements and revolutions. As much as literature was seen as ivory tower activity so also music is seen as only an activity to lull the senses or to tickle it momentarily. That music, as an art form, can be political and philosophical is something many Indians fail to realize or appreciate.

Why do I expect a Tamil film musician or a Carnatic musician to study literature and philosophy? Is it unfair? Is it some sort of snobbery. No and No. 

Lets take a contemporary example from Tamil Nadu. One can talk about Jeyamohan's collection of stories 'Aram' (அறம்) like one speaks of a sequence of events with no deeper pondering. One can narrate the story of a boy dependent on his relatives for food (சோற்றுக் கணக்கு) as "a boy went to live with his relatives...". 'Justice' has become a central theme, a philosophical prism, for Jeyamohan in his thoughts and writings. If a teacher or reviewer talks of those stories drawing on Indian philosophy, psychology, Ayn Rand, Aristotle and Plato the discussion is elevated. Can we reduce 'Anna Karenina' to an extra-marital affair? We expect and relish philosophy in fiction. Can we reduce 'Pather Panchali' to just a sorry tale of poverty? We explore with joy the multi layered meanings. Yet, when it comes to music we are glad to stop with talk of technology, the notes, the raga, the gamakam (inflection), harmony and other details.

Pianist Rafal Blechacz, replying to a question on what is his personal process of learning a new piece, said "it’s also very important for me to study other things and subjects. It can’t always be just music. A few years ago, I began studying philosophy, especially that of aesthetics. I very much concentrate on the books about interpretation, about freedom in the arts, etc. For example, there’s a very interesting Polish philosopher, Roman Ingarden, a student of the famous German philosopher, Edmund Husserl. Ingarden wrote a small book about the identity of a musical work, which includes many thoughts on interpretation, etc. I’m currently writing a small book on logic and the metaphysics of music, and I use many examples from Bach, and a lot of Chopin, of course".

Legendary Venezuelan musician and conductor Gustavo Dudamel was asked by a reporter on books he is currently reading. Dudamel said he was reading "short stories by the Argentine writer Julio Cortazar". At Dudamel's office, the reporter spots books by Aristotle, Nietzche, books on history and more. Why does Dudamel have to read history? Time magazine declared Dudamel as one of the world's 100 most influential people and wrote that while performing Shostakovich's symphony No.10 he tries to make the violins sound more biting and caustic because the symphony portrays the dark days of Stalinist terror. Dudamel had read the history of the purges and Shostakovich's own dread of being hauled of to a gulag. Note, Dudamel is a Venezuelan reading up on Russian history in order to perform a symphony. He also reads Greek and German philosophers in addition to an Argentine short story book.

America's most famous school for music and dance, Juilliard, lays a heavy stress of liberal arts for a student of any discipline. A dance student has to take 18 credits in liberal arts. The liberal arts curriculum includes a study of civil rights struggle in America, European history, elective language courses in foreign languages, ethics, history of Renaissance and more. If one peruses the library catalogue of Madras Music Academy its not surprising to see that almost all books that talk about music beyond raaga, gamakam etc is by westerners.

The American education system, like its European counterpart, lays a heavy stress on liberal arts curriculum, called 'core curriculum', for all disciplines. Whether one chooses to be a doctor or a civil engineer or a sociologist the college curriculum includes studying classics and history. One is not thought of as a graduate unless one has had a peek into the classics. This has been proven to widen a student's ability to think outside the box. It stimulates a fresh approach to a beaten down problem, it helps create new paradigms and new perspectives. When a musician, composer or virtuoso, reflects on Aristotle's poetics it is impossible not to gain a new vision towards what he creates.

If a Polish pianist can learn from Greek philospohy why not T.M.Krishna? It is the inability to learn from beyond the borders and beyond the realm of music that keeps carnatic musicians in a parochial paradigm. The little that T.M.Krishna speaks about ideas on archiving etc are mere nibbling at the edges. Its pathetic that these middling ideas are presented to an audience under the title 'leadership'. 

Ilayaraja rode to fame on a wave of new Tamil cinema that was spearheaded by K.Balachander, Bharathiraja, Balu Mahendra, Mahendran and others. Those directors presented Raja with interesting 'situations' to compose music for. Bharathiraja took Tamil movies from the stifling sets to the dusty roads of villages. Scoring music for a movie set in a village similar to where he spent his childhood Raja, himself new on the scene, provided refreshing scores. In less than ten years Raja became titular, arrogant and insufferable. Almost all the top directors left him. Only directors like his own brother and Raj Kiran were left. Raja's music became jaded. While at the top Raja released his first, and an industry first probably, non-filmi music album that was purely about music. The album titled 'How to name it' to signify the fusion of east and west was a roaring success. I've listened to it and lost myself in my teens when I did not know better. Today I consider it a work of singular mediocrity.

Raja, who took the Trinity college music exams, was schooled in Western Classical unlike his predecessors. Raja's acumen as a student is unassailable. For a boy, from an impoverished family in a remote village in India, to learn and apply Bach's fugue techniques is just brilliant. The titles track 'how to name it', 'I met Bach in my house' show touches of brilliance in technique and flashes of imagination.  The track 'Chamber welcomes Thiagaraja' is passable. 'Study for violin' has a piano and violin in a counterpoint or fugue like question-answer structure for a mere minute and half. The rest is pure drivel with the tracks 'Don't compare' and 'Do Anything' taking the prize for mediocrity. Those tracks show a man who remains imprisoned within Tamil film music format and unable to reach beyond.

The album exposes the shallowness of Raja's music. This is not a man who can dream of a grand theme. He had not educated himself for that. Even the idea of a fusion music is not original. Ravi Shankar was the grand daddy of fusion music. Raja's fame rests on how he brought freshness to Tamil film music by the skillful, some would say 'genius', melding of Western Classical with Carnatic. Most of those songs however have wonderful music for just the prelude and interlude with the tabla holding up the melody for the most part when verses are sung.

Raja has no intellectual ability to conceptualize what is art. Before his worshippers bare their fangs at me, note that I am not deriding his ability to create music. When a good director gives him a challenging situation like Balachander asking for a music without descending notes (avarohanam) Raja rises to the occasion. Left on his own he flounders for ideas. Without a conceptual unifying theme that progress to present an idea the music falls flat as a composition. 'How to name it' reflects the confusion of the artist. Art can portray confusion. A music or poetry or painting can reflect the chaos in the world. That is an artist's conception of how he sees the world. But the art form itself cannot be a jumble of ideas. Even if one conceded that what is Raja confused about? Is it some existential dilemma of 'to be or not to be'? No.

Sir Neville Mariner was approached by Milos Forman to compose music for his grandiose fictional story of Mozart based on Peter Shaeffer's play 'Amadeus'. Sir Mariner insisted that the film's music be only from Mozart and Salieri and that the music will not be mutilated. He insisted that the film be scripted around the music. Only Ilayaraja, consumed with his own arrogance and egotism, could make Tamil Nadu's greatest modern poet Bharathi sing the lyrics of a third rate film lyricist in the biopic 'Bharathi'. Raja, no Mariner himself, did not have any idea of art or music as art that can be used to tell the story of one of India's greatest poet. It should be noted that Raja's fans often credit him with shoring up a sloppy movie with his music and that he often gave better music than what the directors were even capable of imagining. Raja's fans gush that he often instructs directors on the placement of songs etc. With that in mind I'd not hesitate to say that only a person like Raja can malign Bharathi because he had no philosophy in him. Devotion to exotic nihilist sadhus like Ramana Maharishi is not philosophy. In a way I'd say that worshipping Ramana Maharishi affected Raja's worldview in addition to the otherworldly nature of Carnatic music.

Just as broader Indian education system needs to be reformed so should music education in India be reformed. We should stop asking "why should a Carnatic musician read Shakespeare or Aristotle". Nothing but good can come from reading those. I'd add that India, the land of Upanishads and Dhammapada, lost its vigor for philosophy and that is one of the reasons for the rootless and rudderless nature of its intellectual trends. As we produce technicians in Engineering colleges so also we are producing technicians in music.


Juilliard's liberal arts curriculum :'

'The Great American University' by Jonathan Cole (Former Provost of Columbia University).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

America's Broken Political System

I read Jeffrey Archer's novel 'First among equals' as a schoolboy. I was fascinated by the two party system, the debates, the shadow ministry etc. After 14 years in USA I still would say that fascination is almost intact albeit a bit jaded.

The world's richest and ancient democratic country has a broken political system. At more than 250 years old USA is an ancient democracy that is still functioning based on rules drawn up in the 18th century. That does lot of credit to the prescience of the founding fathers. And the system is now broken. The last presidential election saw both candidates raise and spend a billion dollars each. If we include congressional races the figure reaches an astronomical 6 Billion dollars. That does not bode well for a democracy.

The Bush V Gore election was America's most shameful moment in modern political history. That the worlds most mature and richest democracy was deciding its President in the Supreme Court remains a shame. The world came to know of America's convoluted electoral college system for presidential elections.

The electoral college was devised for a different era with different fears in mind. The founders, as much as they were democratic in outlook, feared mobocracy more. The electoral college was devised to be a cooling chamber. Members of the electoral college can actually vote any way they want and not according to how their state voted. Strangely that has not happened to the extent that the ayaram-gaya-ram culture of India.

Democratic presidential candidates today have a great advantage because two of the largest states, NY and CA, are decidedly democratic thus contributing a large chunk of electoral college votes. Then add MA, NJ, IL etc. The votes for the republican candidate in a state like NY and CA are totally wasted. Likewise democratic votes in Texas. It is time to scrap the electoral college and go for a direct election where every voter feels his vote counts for something.

The two party system is a blessing and a curse. Coming from India where coalitions are stitched in naked bartering I do like the two party system. The two party system however stifles diversity of ideological shades within the party. It is common for primary candidates to not just hew to party lines but make a fetish of how far they can swing to the right (as in the case of GOP) or to the left (as in the case of Democrats). Centrist candidates are labeled 'weasels' pushed out.

Joe Lieberman (D), senator from CT, was defeated in the 2004 primaries because he was seen as too hawkish by an increasingly left wing Democratic primary voters. Lieberman ran as independent and snubbed the Democratic primary voters by winning. When Sarah Palin, a dilettante posing as revolutionary, stirred trouble for GOP candidate Lisa Murkowski the latter ran as independent. And according to Alaska rules her name could not be on the ballot rather for an independent the name haS to be written down on the ballot by voters. Imagine voters writing a name like "Murkowski'. She then included the spelling of her name as a chant in her election rallies. She won. But look at the mess that a democracy like the US is when it comes to elections.

The electoral rules governing primaries and how a voter can take part is not uniform. In fact primaries are held according to a myriad rules resulting in wildly varying forms. We have open primaries where a republican can take part in a democratic primary and vice versa, then there are closed primaries where only respective party voters can voters, there are 'beauty contests' where the primary does not count, then there is the famous Texas two-step which is a primary and a caucus combined together and finally the hopelessly outdated caucuses themselves.

In 2008 Barack Obama stormed to a historic victory in Iowa caucuses where Hillary finished a humiliating third. Hillary went on to lose almost all the caucusing sates. She later grumbled that the structure of a caucus is inherently unfavorable to her voters. Caucuses with its speeches and confabulations are long drawn out where Hillary's voters, mostly seniors, could not compete with the youth driven energetic voter base of Obama.  Obama in turn lost many large states by decisive margins to Hillary. Obama lost CA, MA, PA, NY. In the notorious Texas 2 step Obama won the caucus and Hillary won the primary.

The Democrats awarded delegates by representative percentage in each primary. Hence Hillary did not have any big advantage after winning NY and CA on super tuesday. Obama has to thank Jesse Jackson for that. Due that method it was a long drawn bitter fight to accumulate the required delegates to clinch the nomination. In 2012 GOP made that mistake and Romney lost precious time.

Now add to the woes USA's outdated election machinery. Even India has gone completely electronic. America hung its head in shame during the Florida recount fiasco. The word 'hanging chad' became a joke.

The primary system for non-presidential elections is equally muddled and its not dynamic. A primary is meant for a party to choose whom they think is best suited to represent their philosophy. I agree that independents should not be allowed to vote in a party primary. However an independent voter must be afforded some mechanism to ensure who he/she thinks is best to be contesting. An independent voter is now relegated to be able to influence outcome only during the general election where he has to choose between two options that were selected by others.

The debates are a sham. Presidential debates are governed by agreements that two parties agree to. The agreement is based on what powerful lawyers argue on behalf of each candidate. The debate formats are so scripted that there is no spontaneity. The time is so restrictive that one hears only recycled talking points. The debates during primary season are a joke. In Presidential primary debates there are 10 or even more candidates in the initial stage. Its a pickle for TV companies to be restrictive. If they are too restrictive and exclude candidates who perform poor in opinion polls then it would be a disservice to a candidate like John Huntsman. If the TV companies are lenient then we get Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, Michelle Bachmann.

Money and American elections are a vexing topic. Until the Supreme court ruled in the much maligned Citizens United Vs FEC corporate spending was highly regulated. We should note that only corporate spending was regulated. Unions had a free hand in not just raising cash but also in the more important contribution of foot soldiers. Unions favor democrats by a whopping margin. In 2008 unions outspent all the cash spent all corporations put together. Thanks to US Supreme court ruling the playing field was opened for all to spend.

Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich remained in contention against Romney only because they each had a billionaire backing them up. Though Romney was winning primaries Santorum and Gingrich, with no broad based fund raising success, remained an irritant because their patrons had deep pockets.

I am all for regulating campaign spending but it should be done without favor to unions. Incidentally we should note that in 2008 facing a vastly underfunded opponent Barack Obama broke his promise to accept state funding, and thereby the restrictions that come with it. Obama is the first candidate to refuse state funding since the rules were put in place in the aftermath of Watergate.

If elections are a mess then governing is even worse. Gridlock in Washington DC is a topic that gives many the headache. When the US was formed the small states feared being steam rolled by the large states in the Congress because the number of representatives is proportional to population. A compromise was stuck. The senate, the upper body in the bicameral legislature, would have just 2 senators from each state irrespective of size. Hence Delaware and California have 2 senators each. Senators have sweeping powers to hold up bills, deny presidential appointees confirmations etc. Many house bills die in the senate. That is good and bad.

Congressional districts are highly gerrymandered. Today the number of congressional seats that can be called swing seats is far dwindling. Thats bad for democracy.

Do I despair for American democracy? Not yet. An erstwhile friend, a member of Tamil Sangams, incensed by my many criticisms of Tamil society and India asked me "what about a senate candidate in US who made despicable comments on rape". Her question was "why don't you condemn those as eagerly as you condemn failings in India". I told her that this blog was already work in progress. But to answer her question that candidate (actually two, Rick Atkins and Richard Mourdock, both GOP) lost their leading positions and were trumped in the hustings thanks to their barbaric remark. What more can I ask of a democracy?

As a student of philosophy and history I am not a big enthusiast of philosopher kings. Ordinary men make mistakes but if the system weeds them out and continuously reforms itself I am ok with it. This is the system which converted Robert Byrd, a KKK member, into a great senator.

As much as Washington DC is gridlocked the local governments are vibrant and that is the hope for America's resiliency. As the Economist magazine pointed out, America is being re-invented at the local level.

The 24 hour news cycle is also contributing to the vitiated political climate. Richard Mourdock, GOP senate candidate, said on CNN "compromise is when they (Dems) agree with us". Sarah Palin crowed, mindful that it will be replayed in TV a lot, "we are not the party of no. We are the party of hell no". Obama for his part loved to scold everyone he thinks is his opponent on national live TV.

Urgent reforms are needed to make America a more vibrant democracy. Reform the presidential election, campaign finance, lobbying, gerrymandering, filibuster rules and transparency in legislations.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Stravinsky At Harvard, T.M.Krishna At CII And 'Semmangudi Mama'.

An angry reader, a self styled writer/translator, commented on my last blog that I had not explored the 'why' of how music developed differently in two continents, Europe and India (Asia). I had, indeed, mentioned how classical music in India, by virtue of being exclusively religious, was otherworldly and therefore with no interest in the contemporary issues. Taking the reader's comment seriously I shall explain with greater detail on the 'why'. A disclaimer, this blog is not a criticism of the musical or singing abilities of any musician or singer. In fact singers like T.M.Krishna and Sanjay Subramanian are highly talented singers whose talent and craft passes my understanding and ability to appreciate.

The reasons behind the divergence of what is considered philosophy in India vs the West is relevant to understanding the divergence of why the musical cultures of the two traditions differ. Much of Indian philosophy, not all, is justifiably looked at by westerners as more of 'theology' than 'philosophy' in the classical sense of the word 'philosophy'. This is not a trivial 'lost in translation' difference. Indian philosophy and music is more concerned with the unknowable beyond. In fact both philosophy and music were seen as paths to rise above the daily tumult of earthly life in India.

Prodigy and legendary violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin writes in 'Music of man', "For the Indian, the individual note, with all its inflections and colors, equates with the idea of personal salvation, of resignation and acceptance. India once entertained the idea of counterpoint, but while they could have developed it, their philosophy was alien to it".

The Renaissance and Reformation movements completely remade the intellectual life of Europe giving birth to the most important contribution to mankind, the modern university. The Carnatic music trinity are contemporaries to each other and to Mozart and Beethoven. I don't know what Thyagaraja, Dikshithar and Syama Shastry read. There are no records. Their lyrics are purely religious showing religious instruction and nothing beyond. To be fair, education in then India was nothing like what the universities of Germany, the cradle of Western classical music.

Bach had a 6 volume edition of Luther's writings. Mozart was well read in classics. Beethoven had a thirst for classics and we have detailed, albeit partial, records of what he read (see link below). "He had complete editions of Cicero, Euripedes, Goethe, Homer, Schiller and Shakespeare". "Travel books, Italian and Latin dictionaries, French grammar book" too were among his vast collection of books on music theory, compositions of Mozart, Haydn and more. A German composer had acquired by books of his contemporaries, Greek and Roman authors, an English playwright, dictionaries of an alien language and more. The collection also shows his wide interest in drama, poetry, theory of music and traveling. This is the modern European.

Mozart uses material from Shakespeare and Ovid to write his ribald opera 'Cosi fan tutte'. Beethoven uses Schiller to write the immortal finale in the 9th. When we come to a composer like Wagner the connection between philosophy, music and intellectual wandering takes on a different dimension.

Wagner was deeply influenced by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and who in turn was influenced through Kant by Buddhist philosophy (and through Persian translation of Upanishad by Dhara Shikoh, the Mughal Prince, which found its way to Germany). When Liszt proposes to write Dante's 'Divine Comedy' as opera Wagner writes to him. Wagner rejects Judeo-Christian theology in favor of Buddhism and asks Liszt to consider that when he writes his music. Here are two German composers talking about writing an opera based on an Italian writer's work and discussing Eastern philosophy. Paul Schofiield, Wagner afficionado, lectured about the influence of Buddhism on Wagner in Boston recently. Completing the ring was Wagner's influence on Nietzsche. We should note that Bach's son and famous composer C.P.E. Bach, Goethe, Wagner, Nietzche all went to the university of Leipzig.

Europe which laid the precursor of modern university education laid stress on graduates learning philosophy. If one lived in Germany in that era one breathed philosophy. Indians take great pride in crossing oceans and conquering distant (by then standards) countries but little is known of what kind of literatures they brought home from abroad. This gap in our knowledge of Indian history, now given more to taking pride in what Indians taught the world than what they learned, is a serious impediment.

Whether it is a musician like Wagner or a mathematician like Leibniz or a literary giant like Goethe or a sculptor like Michaelangelo or Da Vinci a deep knowledge of philosophy is a common feature and the philosophical predilections of the creator is manifest in their respective forms of creations. America's educational system, a child of the Renaissance and Reformation, continues to lay stress on knowledge of classics and liberal arts for any graduate.

A westerner seeks the best from every corner of the world and tries to alloy them to his or her craft. Thats why we have John Coltrane and Leonard Bernstein drawing inspiration from Indian music. That why Herman Hesse and Schopenhauer and Goethe study Indian literature. Indians are smug about Goethe's admiration of Kalidasa or other such influences. Rarely have Indians asked "what can we learn from the west".

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky revolutionized western classical music with his 'Rites of the spring'. Opera houses in Paris witnessed bedlam when it was performed. Harvard University invited Stravinsky to deliver the 'Charles Norton lectures on Poetics'. Its a high honor for anyone. Stravinsky starts his first lecture on 'poetics' (not poetry) by drawing on Aristotle's definition of poetics. An American university had invited a Russian music composer to talk on 'poetics' and he in turn opens the speech with a definition from a Greek philosopher. Stravinsky delivers 6 lectures of such intellectual class about music. He does not talk about notes, modes, scales. He delves into the higher 'philosophy' of music. It is a trite cliche to say that a bird cooing is music. Stravinsky says no and outlines why only human beings can make music. Thats just the icing.

A journalist interviews Leonard Bernstein over dinner for nearly 7 hours and publishes 'Dinner with Lenny'. Bernstein races over Freud, Hindustani, Blake, Mahler and much more and gives a veritable feast to show that a great musician draws on every art form to instruct his craft. Thats why I consider T.M.Krishna, Ravi Shankar, Sanjay Subramaniam etc as 'performers'. Amongst them somebody like Ravi Shankar is a genius in that frame of analyses.

T.M. Krishna addressing CII leadership meeting tries to be a different carnatic musician from what we are accustomed to seeing or hearing. He is very articulate, charismatic and has enthusiasm. He also has some worthy ideas like the archiving effort he is doing (which is very contrary to the 'oral' tradition of Indian culture). The West excels in record keeping. Mozart's birth record, Shakespeare's marriage record, Beethoven's book list, details of when and where Wordsworth wrote a poetry are all meticulously researched and maintained. Whereas we have only sketchy details of even a recent person like Bharathi. Where Krishna fails miserably is in his attempt to be an intellectual defining what is culture and what is classical music. His lack of reading is evident. His complete lack of any philosophical background is obvious. The worst part of the lecture was his brazen statement "I practice the most sophisticated art (i.e. carnatic music), we are all geniuses". Thats it. No explanation or divination on that. There is no semblance of anything intellectual in the speech. He is a typical carnatic musician. I can bet that even today if one walks into the home of most carnatic musicians, so called doyens, one would not find half the books that Beethoven read 200 years ago.

Even if I were to take Krishna's assertion at face value I'd have liked to see him educate the audience with a historical background of how the musical trinity come to be contemporaries in a sleepy souther town. He could have fleshed out a narrative of the historical setting, how they changed music forever, state of music before and after, what did they build on, whose shoulders they stood on etc. But he is no Bernstein. This is not something that is missing in just Krishna alone. Its the typical smug Indian attitude of "I've nothing to learn from the world and the greatness of my culture is axiomatic".

Contrast this with what Yehudi Menuhin writes: "I think sometimes that we should establish such exotic interludes in our own concerts. It would encourage people to become aware of what is in not their own while strenghtening their sense of what is theirs". I do not believe that Carnatic music cannot be improved upon. Nothing in this world is like that. Carnatic music has indeed changed and adapted. Particularly in the use of instruments. Specifically the violin. But the music itself is still fossilized.

Compare and contrast the curriculums of music colleges in Tamil Nadu with that of Juilliard, New York. In USA one cannot become a music graduate without adequate grounding in liberal arts and classical literature. In the west too we have musicians who are not philosophical. Michael Jackson comes to mind. Yes he redefined a genre but he had no intellectual ability to philosophize like Beethoven. And thats why in 200 years Jackson will live in the archives of some university library for students to research a period but Beethoven's 9th will still echo in Lincoln center in NYC.

Dialogues between Western classical musicians do not dwell just on techniques. They talk of proximate issues. Sometimes the dialogues are heavy philosophical discourses. Daniel Barenboim, musician and conductor, meets the orientalist and philosopher Edward Said. The discourses become an intellectually delightful book "Parallels and Paradoxes" thats a tour-de-force.

Sanjay Subramnian spends a day with Semmangudi 'mama' on the occasion of going to receive an award in Mumbai. Sanjay is thrilled at Semmangudi's power of observation because, as the flight entered Dharavi, he recognized the place and asked if it was the same. After the function Semmangudi calls Sanjay to ask if the award Sanjay had recieved was in the form of a cheque or a demand draft (Semmangudi too got the award. He was just cross checking what the other guy got) and it is a draft then 'we have to lose bank charges'. These two, Sanjay says, were significant things in that trip. God save Carnatic music.

Sanjay alludes indirectly to some unflattering rumors of Semmangudi. Writer Jeyamohan narrated an incident in his blog recently. Another Carnatic musician, GNB, had prostrated at hte feet of Hindustani singer Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Semmangudi had asked GNB "அந்த   துலுக்கன் காலில் ஏன் விழுந்த". T.M.Krishna embarrassingly glides over the topic of casteism in carnatic music.

Balamurali Krishna is considered a genius in the theory of Indian classical music and a genius as a singer. My quarrel is with the valuation of his knowledge of music. I am unqualified to speak or pick faults with his knowledge of raga etc, the techniques, of Indian music. But check his interview in Sruti here. The same irritating smugness of "I've nothing to learn from the world". His idea of what makes a music 'classical' is pathetic. He is hoist on his own ideological petard when he complains that his experimentations in music, introducing a hindustani snippet in a carnatic song, is frowned upon by purists. 

Let us even agree that Carnatic music as such may not need any infusion from any other musical tradition. How about the performances itself? In a western classical performance when a soloist performs the rest of the orchestra will be still, their instruments placed in order (not plonked on the floor), the conductor will stand with his hands folded and still. Others will not be fidgeting or picking nose or drinking coffee. When the performance ends the conductor takes an encore and then introduces the key players for individual encores. New York Times reviewed a performance of Chitraveena Ravi Kiran. Kiran was fidgeting in a distracting manner when the soloist was playing. Forget about introducing members of his troupe for individual encores.

At some level I've found Ilayaraja's fans to be more open minded than carnatic music fans. Try asking a carnatic music lover if something can be changed. You will get a sanctimonious lecture "why should we? Who are the westerners and why is it what they do the better? Why should we change to somebody else's tradition of performance? we enjoy our music being performed this way and in fact all of that is what makes carnatic music our own".

The term genius is very loosely used by all. In daily usage we can be lax. But as a matter of judgment we should be careful. I'd say any day that Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin are virtuosos on the instrument. Impressed by Lalgudi Jayaraman's playing of violin Yehudi Menuhin gifted a violin. Jayaraman used that violin till he died. But do I expect Jayaraman or Shankar to write a book like 'Music of man' like Menuhin (actually it was a TV series made into a book)? 

If this is what T.M.Krishna, Sanjay Subramanian, Ravi Shankar etc are then what can we say of a film musician like Ilayaraja or A.R.Rahman. Ilayaraja has a talent to speak foolishly without any thought. He embarrassed himself when he said, trying to praise fellow film musician MSV, 'what we are today is  courtesy of what he spat out. Even his spit is pure". Ilayaraja is a power house of talent in the technique of music. But what is his 'idea' of music? In that same speech Ilayaraja would deride a beutiful lyric written by Kannadasan. Raja made it a fetish to make lyricists write lyrics to his tunes. Not even Mozart did that. Mozart in fact uses the best libretto writer to give heft to his operas. Thats because Mozart knows and understands music at a level far beyond what Ilayaraja even grasps.

That angry commenter had also said that Ilayaraja had a 'revolutionary impact' on the common Tamil. A lack of philosophy incapacitates the commenter too. Yes Tamil Nadu adored Ilayaraja as much as it adored his predecessor and his successor. Tamils love film music and Raja provided fodder for 10 years. When Rahman came Raja was promptly dethroned. Nothing changed in the way Tamils understood music or appreciated music because of Raja. If anything modern technology like concerts on youtube and wikipedia based info has made Tamils appreciate Raja today better than they did 20 years ago. Raja played no role in educating Tamils to appreciate music. Again, that is something that Leonard Bernstein did with his 'Young People's concerts' 40 years ago. A good comparison for readers would be to see Bernstein's lecture at Harvard and Balamurali's remarks at 'Swanubhava' (an attempt by TMK to be Bernstein). See link in references.

References and Links:

Poetics of music in six lessons -- Igor Stravinsky
The philosophy of Schopenhauer - Bryan Magee
Dinner with Lenny - Jonathan Coot

San Diego Opera Talk with Nick Reveles: Cosi Fan Tutte

Library of Beethoven

Paul Schofield's lecture "Wagner and Buddhism" -

T.M.Krishna at CII meet.

T.N.Seshagopalan interview with Mano

John Coltrane and Indian music

Leonard Bernstein at Harvard - The unanswered question "The 20th century crisis"

Balamurali's remarks at Swanubhava