The Transformative Power of Indian Classical Music

What is Alchemy?

  1. Have you ever seen a butterfly emerge from a pupa? That’s transformation!
  2. Alchemy literally means “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination” & those who studied alchemy are called alchemists.
  3. Indian Classical Music [ICM] is exactly that – the performers are alchemists who constantly reinvent themselves – with each performance, they improvise, and produce instant magic.
  4. The process is transformative for both – because it is about participation and performance, in which a complete rapport between the performer and the discerning and actively responsive audience co-creates magic.
  5. Alchemists attempt to purify, mature, and perfect certain materials. Musicians do exactly that with the soul, with our core, with our inner selves!

Understanding vs Appreciation vs Enjoyment

  1. Compared to creative art forms like dance, drama, sculpture or painting which we can see and which stay for a while, Music is abstract – being aural & evanescent, it is almost intangible.
  2. Many of us like to understand, appreciate & enjoy Indian Classical Music but either find it difficult to decode the technicalities or unravel its layers to get to its core & essence. It demands patience since it unfolds itself slowly, subtly like a flower.
  3. Knowledge about the basics of ICM definitely enhances our appreciation of music, but does it necessarily increase our enjoyment as well? Because appreciation might depend upon technicalities but enjoyment comes from the emotional appeal of music!
  4. On the other hand, some performances cannot be enjoyed without understanding technicalities. Try watching this Chess tournament and you’ll know what we are saying!!
  5. At the other end of the spectrum would be gymnastics – which we can all enjoy, even without the knowledge of its underlying principles. Click to get entertained: Four perfect 10’s in gymnastics.
  6. Music definitely falls somewhere in between! We aim to attain a level of familiarity to be able to not only move along with the performer, but even anticipate their next move! Quite like a knowledgeable cricket fan anticipating the bowler’s next ball by the field changes! The deeper our involvement, the higher is our pleasure!
  7. Similar to watching a magic show [here is a ready click: Top 10 BEST *MIND BLOWING MAGICIANS* SHOCKING MAGIC TRICKS on America’s Got Talent 2016 – 2017!] – there are tricks we just enjoy and some that we want to figure out! But in reality, unravelling it could reduce its impact for the future. For instance, after watching: 7 Famous Magic Tricks Finally Explained, some of us might not enjoy those magic tricks anymore. Or perhaps, this knowledge would induce some of us to invent some of our own!
  8. In music, this process is even reversed: let us listen to JAYATEERTH MEVUNDI BAIRAGI DRUT! Do we merely enjoy the performance? Do we get transposed to another world? For some of us, the sensory enjoyment might motivate our intellectual curiosity and we might venture into learning more about ICM because we hope it would help both our appreciation and our sensory enjoyment.
  9. But the most important benefit of the exercise would be learning to tell one performer from another. When the artists know that the audience is a discerning one, they wouldn’t pass off noise as music and work harder on honing their skills – surely a shared advantage!
  10. There is yet another angle of appreciation. Some musical pieces are horizontal [they are about meaning and depth] while others are simply vertical [they are about expression of emotions]. Get that?!
  11. Read more about it here: An Idiot’s Guide to Music By Anjum Altaf – many concepts in this write-up have been borrowed, excerpted or reproduced from this wonderful series of articles.

Indian Classical Music – Entertainment or Meditation?

  1. ICM goes beyond entertainment – with it’s divine origin and meditative nature, it is imbued with spirituality & emotionality.
  2. Listening to ICM is an art in itself, that calls for a long training of the ear and the soul. ICM makes both, the performer and the listener concentrate and meditate. And anytime we are inattentive during a musical experience, we will lose a part of the joy that a truly mindful rasik or connoisseur is able to experience! And that includes those of who might even have slept off during our first few concerts or sat through them flicking our phones! For music overwhelms us, or we are missing something of the individualistic, subjective, and spiritual art, that aims not at symphonic elaborations, but at personal harmony with our own being.
  3. It is only after understanding the subtle nuances and the technical twists, the rigor and the training required for ICM, that we begin to resonate with magic of ICM. It demands of us a little something extra.
  4. Spontaneous and intuitive improvisations in melody as well as rhythm constitute the sublime underpinning of the ICM. We could choose to simply enjoy wafting strains. Or raise our bar through a strenuous cultivation of active listening. Even an untaught lover of music can get initiated into a process, which begins with converting simple entertainment to artistic enjoyment and ends with a true appreciation of all its aesthetics, turning us into perceptive connoisseurs.

The Art of Listening

  1. Where do we start? What to listen to as a Beginner? And How? These questions inevitably arise in a beginner’s mind. And there are no easy answers!
  2. For those of us who have been fortunate to have been exposed to popular film songs, ghazals & devotional music like bhajans, kirtans, etc. from our early age, it is simply a matter of exploring the classical aspects of what we are already familiar with – certain patterns like alaaps, taans, murkis and other “beauty spots” obvious to more trained ears.
  3. In any case, semi-classical genres like thumris, placed somewhere between light music and pure classical, are easier to begin with, and many are mishra-raag hybrids with emphasis on lyrics, which help sustain our interest in the initial stages.
  4. On the other hand, some of us easily get distracted by words, and then instrumental music works better. Plus we are able to appreciate the inherent beauty of an instrument as well. Gradually, as we get comfortable, we advance to the khayal gayaki.
  5. Listening with our eyes closed helps us focus on the intricacies – even a brief clip like Yaman Kalyan (Drut Bandish) -by Bhimsen Joshi can reveal to us in how many ways he can repeat just a few words. Does it send us into a trance or self-hypnotic state – can we get so engrossed as to become oblivious to the rest of the world?

Other General Tips:

  1. Read books or visit websites on ICM.
  2. Attend music appreciation sessions – live or online.
  3. Seek friends with similar interests or join an online music forum and discuss music.
  4. Take formal lessons
  5. Put together a good collection of your favorite performances.
    • Each of us responds instinctively to music – different flavors touch our hearts, irrespective of whether the artist is reputed or not, familiar to us or not. For instance, new and upcoming younger artists seem easier to understand for some, perhaps because of clearer recordings, compared to maestros with their complexities and highly nuanced performances.
    • Also, there is the instant emotional bonding. Some music appeals right away, like dessert! Occasionally, we might not like something in the first listen, but it often grows on us in time and repeated listening, like bitter gourd!
    • Sometimes, listening to singers in our own language is helpful.
  6. Continuous listening is the key to unleashing the transformative power of ICM. Listening with the heart is most important. And “Listening“, not just “hearing”!
  7. As the Sufi Mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan says, “In music no one leaves empty-handed. Everyone gets as much as he can take.” ICM grows on us over time. If we allow it.

More on Indian Classical Music:
The Alchemy of Indian Classical Music

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