Thursday, June 5, 2014

Music. And kids.

If I have not mentioned it a million times by now, let me mention once more- I am into music a lot. Any kind (depends on my whim that day), but my close-to-default option is Carnatic. It's probably because I am always able to find one raga or other to suit my mood-of-the-day and Carnatic music has almost never failed me. However, as a kid (and sometimes as an adult) I really think I have failed Carnatic music.

In fact, for a long time, the only thing I wanted to ask fate (if it was a person and it appeared before me like Brahma in Sunday morning mythological dramas) was why I failed Carnatic music. One half of me thinks that I should have put in more effort at it as a kid (I know I tried my best not to). The other half thinks that the effort may not have helped anyway. While I can sing enough to keep an audience entertained (or enough to satisfy golu-keeping, you-must-sing-before-I-give-u-sundal type maamis), I cannot jazz it up- no fancy neravals or manodharmams. No sangathis that land back into the charanam with panache. Hell, I can barely sing a thyagaraja krithi without him turning in his grave, or should I say cursing me from the heavens, and I can identify a shankarabharanam or a sahana with little more than 50% accuracy. After all those years of training, it is disappointing I tell you...
Anyway, I continued to be bothered by the fact that I didn't pay enough attention to the kaishiki nishadas* and chatushruthi rishabas that my different music teachers were talking about. Why, I would ask myself- why?

Of course the omniscient deity of the digital age (Google) gave me the answer today. (Actually YouTube, but still.) There was a recommended video of a paatu class where a middle-aged looking maami was teaching kids some geetham. The kids were probably 5-6 years old and the teacher was going on "Kids. Today we will learn ... geetham. This is set in ... ragam and ... thalam. The arohanam is ... and the avarohanam is .. this is the 65th mela kartha .. blah de blah" I guess the kids were pretending to listen because they had been told they were videotaped. One girl sitting in the front (short hair with an immensely cute hairclip, but I digress) was very obediently repeating the swaram after the teacher, but her expression gave her away- she was looking around like the stereotypical deer trying to escape from a lion's cave. And then I remembered.

At 5 (or 6), when I first started taking music classes, it was a chore (also rhymes with 'bore', but about that later). It was time taken away from hide-and-seek and the feel of the wind while playing on the swing. Music classes would usually be around 5 or 6 pm- prime playing time. In fact, you could hear the laughing kids from downstairs while the few of us unfortunate ones would be going "D S S D P M P.." So whenever the teacher started saying things that I knew she would never ask us about again, I would start dreaming about whether my friends were playing lock-and-key or not, how soon my mom would come to pick me up and if the girl (from a story book) who lost her red ribbon would actually find it or not. This list of things included most of music theory, because while teachers mentioned the mela kartha classification often enough, they wouldn't care as long as what you sang sounded close enough to the song you were singing (which is good in a way).

Music classes also came with the one question I dreaded the most (and had I known then, would have thought was worse than asking a PhD student about his/her thesis)- "Did you practice the last lesson?" Almost every teacher would start the class with that, and I would choose between saying yes (to mean I had sung at least once at home that week because my father made me) or yes (to mean I had really wanted to, but I was busy playing, and I will definitely practice the next time). Of course, as I grew up, I also learned the power of a positive no - it saved me from lying and the teacher wouldn't mind if I made mistakes, though she would definitely get into lecture-mode on how "practice is important and you should take music seriously" (something I learned to nod at- a skill very useful in the corporate world. As I always say, Tambrahms train their kids early for these things.)

Anyway, that brings me to the real trouble... 

(To be contd.. Scheherazade style :P)

Sundal- type of South-Indian dish made with chickpeas/beans
Krithi- composition
Maami- Tambrahm lady
*I really like the word Kaishiki. Its not as old-sounding as Koushiki, and has just the hint of Kaikeyi to make it interesting. If I were a Tamil politician asked to name somebody's daughter, I would name her that :P