Sunday October 25, 2009

The four constituents in music

Posted by Karthik

I was watching the Maniratnam produced Tamil film, Dasaradhan, yesterday. It had music by violin maestro L Vaidyanathan, who has composed music for a few earlier films like Ezhavadhu Manidhan (Tamil). The background music and the songs in Dasaradhan were extremely embarrassing, to say the least. It had me thinking on the relative positions of a music reviewer, an exponent of an instrument, a music composer and someone who simply appreciates music.

A music composer stands highest among the four, in my personal opinion. He is the creator and that takes a phenomenal effort in terms of conjuring tunes out of nowhere, perhaps using his varied influences and likings as a base.

An instrumental exponent (or even a vocalist, who uses his voice as the mode of expression…or instrument, in this context) is perhaps constrained by the fact that he learns others’ tunes in the instrument of his choice and continues playing others’ tunes all through his life. Even if he adds his own nuances in reinterpreting others’ tunes in his own unique way, it still isn’t as evolved as a music creator/ composer.

Music appreciation is the most common – we appreciate music based on the amount of our exposure to music from the world, the maturity with which we’re able create patterns between the pieces of music we seem to like and the ability to consistently identify a specific set of vocals/ musical combination that we like.

Music review, on the other hand, at least in my opinion (much like any other review) is largely based on curiosity to expand our knowledge with the subject and more importantly, the power of expression and articulation of our thoughts. A review is a communication exercise; less about music and more about articulating the thoughts around music and expressing the reasons/ opinions around a piece of music that the reviewer liked/ disliked.

In terms of role overlaps, a music composer can be an instrumental exponent and we’ve many examples from Indian film music. Can a instrumental exponent be a good composer? Tabla maestro Zakhir Husain, L Vaidyanadhan, Violin playing brothers Ganesh-Kumaresh and violin genius Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan are some of the names that I can think of, top of mind, who have dabbled in musical creations, primarily through films. They really haven’t gone too far and have a limited repertoire of success of popularity of their original tunes.

A music appreciator can scale up to the role of a music reviewer and the social media – via blogs, twitter and social networking portals – is testimony to this evolution. And this is a good trend – the more there are opinions, the better the learning…for the reviewer and the readers. It helps in creating more appreciators of music through the personal networks of the reviewers.

From a personal level, I’m getting my 6 year old son into a music school to start learning the keyboard. I have never had any formal training in music…ever. I have no knowledge of musical nuances, notations…nothing. My limited knowledge or that ‘something’ that I seem to assume knowledge is purely out of being curious, digging patterns and gathering/ learning from more learned people, across age groups. So, I’m wrong more often than not, during the first try and evolve my knowledge through learning about musical nuances all the time.

As I tried the 4 octave Casio keyboard (I have never owned any kind of musical instrument!) I was planning to buy for my son, I realized that I have precious little to do with it. After the initial interest in the various sounds wore off, I was lost. I had no idea what I could do more with the keyboard. Even if I knew/ learned music, the best I could do is perhaps replay popular songs in the keyboard. Does that help me? Personally no! Where I’d really enjoy the process is creating fresh, original pieces of music – it’s almost like creating an original blog post or writing a new book.

I have spent my formative years in learning everything but music, so while I can articulate my thoughts reasonably well, on any topic including music, I can’t do anything else with music. That does seem unfortunate, but I strongly believe each of the 4 constituents listed above have a very solid role to play, in the way music evolves. That definitely includes the so-called watchers who appreciate music and create the eco-system for the other three to thrive.

Feel free to dispute…or add to the above. I’m learning as much as you may be, in this blog!

Update (Oct. 26, 2009): MusicAloud.com’s Vipin wrote to me about an exception I’ve completely overlooked under the ‘instrumental exponents turned successful composers’ category – Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia, popularly known as Shiv-Hari in filmy circles. Agree on this observation by Vipin – they may not be so prolific as other composers, but do have a lot of successful compositions to their credit. I suppose their creator (composer) gene is stronger.

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