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Specialised studies in traditional music

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The Economic Times, September 20, 1987

It is an established fact that music in India has now come to be treated as a subject of advanced study and research.

There are academies and universities where music education has reached university and doctoral standards. More recently, some of these institutions have introduced the subject of western music as part of the curriculum, so that those taking to Indian music in pursuit of their scholastic attainments may be enabled to cultivate a truly broad outlook and thereby have a sort of “world view” of the precious inheritance handed down to man through the millennia.

It is equally true, however, that the kind of progress of music education and research, as reflected in the number of scholastic institutions, has not been matched by growth in what may be termed musical literature in English or various Indian languages. To say this is not to deny or overlook or ignore the publication of learned papers or monographs that keep coming out year and year, but only to be presented and discussed in the cloistered atmosphere of seminars and symposia.

But attempts have seldom been made to bring them out in book form for use by those who, although they do not fall within the purview of t he scholastic field, are no less interested in acquiring a wider and still wider perspective of the changing musical scene – be it historical, evolutionary or contemporary in character.

It is against this background that the publication of three books brought out by the Sangeet Karyalaya of Hathras, in Uttar Pradesh, is to be warmly welcomed. These publications deal with “World music”, “Women’s contribution to music” and “Scholastic education in music, with special reference to examinations” – in that order.

Although it is reasonably assumed that the Sangeet Karyalaya is an institution known to everyone with even superficial knowledge of Hindustani music, it is possible that the work being done by the institution in the field for as many as five decades is not understood or appreciated to the extent it should. Therefore, before attempting a brief summation of the contents of the three definitive publications, it would be worthwhile to refer briefly to the work done by the Sangeet Karyalaya towards propagating music in various ways.

Hathras, where the institution is located, is not far from the holy Mathura. Mr Prabhulal Garg, the popular humorous Hindi poet, better known as Kaka Hathrasi, started the Karyalaya in a modest way in 1935, with the publication of a Hindi monthly, titled “Sangeet”. Today, the magazine has attained the stature of a reputed publication and it has a printing press of its own. What is more, the Karyalaya has now to its credit well over a hundred titles, and its output is of immense importance to the world of music. And believe it or not, the work at the Karyalaya is being carried on without any assistance either from the government or the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

The office premises of the Karyalaya are indeed worth a visit. We find the rooms decorated with portraits of famous Indian musicians and most of these are done by Kaka Hathrasi himself. A measure of the institution’s yeoman’s service to the cause of music is seen in the way it continues to serialize many rare manuscripts on music along with a variety of articles by eminent authorities. These embody original research.

Now, taking the special publication on “World music” first (Rs 35), it contains articles from no less than 25 musicologists and scholar-musicians. And all these make for extremely enlightening reading. Although mention of the whole line-up of the writers and the topic is beyond the limits of this column, it will suffice to refer to topics like “Contribution of Indian music to world music” by Madanlal Vyas; “Voice culture in Indian music and Western music” by Apeksha Pendharkar; “Music in Arabia”, by Najma Ahmad; and “Genesis and evolution of Japanese music,” by Sudha and Kailash Srivastava.

Equally deserving of praise are the biographical sketches of Western maestros like Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Bach, Mozart and others written by various contributors, while N. Lalitha surveys Indian classical music in the Western context, Raghunath Seth, the eminent flutist and presently director of music with the Films Division, attempts an interesting parallel between Indian classical music and jazz music.

The publication devoted to the “Contribution of women to music” (Rs 40) is even more interesting for the wider variety of topics it offers. Here, too, the articles come from more than 25 writers including those from the South, like Sakuntala Narasimhan and Gayatri Venkataraman. Besides dealing with the contribution of women artistes to classical, regional and folk music in the various parts of the country, topics relating to our dance traditions and women’s contribution to promote them have appropriately found place in this volume. Biographical sketches of women musicians are also incorporated in a separate section. Likewise, the reader gets many charming glimpses of the traditions of folk music among women from different regions of India, in yet another section.

Finally comes the volume devoted to “Scholastic education in music” (Rs 60). Comparisons can be made out, but the contents of this volume in which over 20 experienced scholar-musicians and teachers discuss, through their contributions, the problems of teaching music at the academic level, do not help to hold the reader’s interest, like the other two volumes. Even then the utility of the volume is by no means diminished. It should be found extremely useful wherever music is taught and learnt.


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