“Indian classical music? That’s for older people!”
I am watching a documentary on Netflix called Roots, a documentary addressing the current opinions on Indian classical music and the reasons behind the decline in its popularity. And as I watch this, I can’t help but type on the side…opinions of others and my own.
Indian classical music has two particular schools – Hindustani and Carnatic music. Carnatic music is the major school in south India while Hindustani music finds its followers and practitioners in the north and north-west of the country. I am a trained vocalist myself. I learnt Carnatic music for almost 7 years of my life. But my own experience is a very good example of the general ideas of the current generation. While I learnt that music, I never appreciated it much while I trained. The rigid rules governing the songs I sang put me off. I found it liberating when I sang Hindi film music. Songs, both simple and nuanced, caught my attention. The diversity was welcome. The freedom to sing it the way I like, was welcome. That I understood the lyrics, made a huge difference. Poetry in film music was simplistic, and in a language I spoke. Its reach was wider.
“It definitely makes a very big difference to be a messenger of a timeless legacy.” – Ayaan Ali Khan, Sarod player and son of Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan.
Dr L. Subramaniam, a very renowned violinist, talks about the influence of media on the youth. Because of the easy access to music around the world, influence is inevitable, he implies. I agree. I have grown up listening to music from around the world, although my primary influence was Bollywood music.
Gulzaar sahab, a lyricist and writer I hugely admire, says classical music isn’t dying. It is merely a lull. In a short clip, Gulzaar sahab talks about the influence parents have on their children. He says there shouldn’t be any prejudice against one form of music over another. But it is only fair if one is exposed to different kinds of music and given the choice to pick what interests him/her. He implies that if we think Indian classical music is dying, it is our own doing. Exposure is key to change trends and exposure is key in defining choices. I think I agree with this thought.
I have watched about 16 minutes of this documentary now but Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a mohan veena maestro, is the one person that has pleased me with his thoughts. He says that every field needs to evolve and develop. And so, if western music influences Indian styles, there’s nothing wrong in it. He says musicians should be open to new ideas all the time. (Side note: I had never before seen a Mohan Veena…it’s a really cool looking instrument. It looks like a guitar and a veena…it’s really caught my attention! Check it out if you don’t know of it!)
A section lasting about 10 minutes in the documentary addresses the role of media in popularising and reviving classical music. There are no radio channels where one can listen to Indian classical music. There are no television channels with shows promoting Indian classical music. This does hamper ‘exposure’. This section also talks about how the image of the performer itself makes a difference. For the youth to appreciate a certain form of music, apparently they need to identify with the performer and find him/her ‘cool’. Now I don’t know if I particularly agree with this thought. There’s a part of me that does, and another part that immediately disagrees.
One of the shows that has changed the face of popular music in India is MTV Coke Studio. With a platform to showcase the wealth of folk music through successful collaborations with well known Bollywood artists, Coke Studio has managed to make the idea of folk music ‘cool’. And believe me, it reaches out to music lovers of all ages, particularly the youth! If you would want to listen to Indian folk and film music, seek out Coke Studio videos on YouTube. They are great!!!
Do watch Roots on Netflix if this topic interests you.
Personally, music is a huge part of my life. I am a trained vocalist and although I no longer as well as I used to, I have an understanding of notes and I do sing. So I sing along all the time. Knowing the lyrics makes a huge difference to me, also because I write a lot. That’s the part of music that reaches out most to me. Poetry is key. A well-written song stays with me forever. Similarly, I would imagine that the part of music that stays longer with you is the part you understand and appreciate the most. Now if a lot of people are like me in this respect, then exposure must be key. Understanding is key.
Also, music cannot be rigid. It cannot be forced. It cannot be confined. And if music is experimented with then its reach will, in my opinion, be far wider!!
What kinds of music did you grow up listening to? Do you listen to Indian classical music?