Saturday, September 10, 2005

My contemplation

I think that Dr. Johnson does a great job with this class. Not only does he teach us basic Indian theory, but he incorporates the history of the genre and speaks about the development of different areas of India. He also brings different instruments to class and plays the music in addition to teaching us how to sing Indian ragas as well. Not only that, but he truly sees to we fully and correctly understand and sing the ragas, as we sit on the floor and keep the pace of the ragas with our learned hand motions. The class is truly a great experience.

Hardcore Indian Class!!!

So this class made me lose control; as does music. I learned the Indian solfege, as well as one of the twenty thousand or so modes. I learned of the instruments used in Indian music. But most of all, I learned of the Shruti Box! This thing is the best invented instrument since the bagpipe. It reminds me of a half of an acordion, and works pretty much the same way an accordion works also. We learned a bit about Indian culture; i.e. taking shoes off at the door and not baring the bottoms of your feet to a person. The class rocked, and I hope the next class is just as fun!!!

SaAaAaAa Ri Ga Ma

I have to say that this (sub-)course has been one of the most fun things I 've ever done with music. South Indian music (carnatic) has allowed me to sing without me feeling bad about the fact that I'm actually singing. Playing the sruti box to create a sweet drone is an awsome experience too; it feels like I am part of a different culture. I think the highlight so far in the course is when Professor Johnson went and got me a shirt in the middle of class to complete my indian look (he liked my pajama pants). Overall, I have really enjoyed singing and learning about Carnatic music in and outside of classroom.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Music and Language

As a lifelong student of Western music and believer in Suzuki’s Mother Tongue theory of music education, stepping into the world of traditional Indian music was a fascinating experience. If the Ionic major scale my music equivalent to the alphabet, then singing exercises in the Indian scale was like learning a few phrases in a new language. Although I could repeat the music by ear or at least something close to it based on my understanding of Western tonality, I felt at first as though I were only doing that—reproducing without understanding it. After a while, however, I felt as I sometimes do about a foreign language—that I can understand some of the meaning in it without knowing what all the words mean.

Indian singing

Over the past couple days, I have been plaguing my suitemates with the drone of the sruti box ( I DO practice every night, much to their dissapointment). I say this somewhat tounge-in-cheek because in actuality, they don't mind all that much. There is somehow a pull towards the constant sound of the sruti box and the unfamiliar, yet strangely comforting sound of Indian ragas, regardless of how simple they are. I first was introduced to indian singing in France this summer at L'Academie Internationale in Flaine (in the French Alps) . My friend met a man who brought his entire family to the camp (mostly for the benefit of his oldest son, a violinist and also because the scenerie there is beautiful) and after talking to him, she found out that he was a self-trained musician in classical Indian ragas. This brilliant man--he can speak 8 languages and is wondefully kind yet despite all this, humble--agreed to give us lessons. Each time we got together, we would start out with what we've been doing: sa ri ga ma pa da ni sa. Then we would echo back phrases of different ragas after he had gotten through explaining what they were about. However, this only ever lasted for about half an hour before Ravi would forget that we were in the room; he would close his eyes really tight and go into these intricate and astounding improvisations with such emotion and feeling that I felt as though all time in the room had stopped and all that moved around me was the music. I certianly couldn't understand what he was saying but at that point, words were of little to no significance. Sometimes his eyes would fly open and he would stare, at nothing in the room (for these were drab, beige practice rooms), but at something seemingly behind his eyes. He said a phrase, "Let these ragas live inside you and when singing, let them dance before your eyes like a lovely dream." I think that is what Professor Johnston was describing in class. These ragas are not just songs to these people--it is the whole being and life of the person peforming it. So often we forget that we love our music because we are trying to play all the right notes and not forget the next line. We forget that we are trying to show our emotions, not just how many keys/ strings we can press in a short amount of time. These simple excercises remind me about the beauty of music and not the extravagance of it that is so common in performers.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Last summer I was assigned to read 5 books by one author for my AP English class. I chose to read novels by Hermann Hesse. The first book I read was Siddhartha which is about a young Brahman's journey to find himself, based in the Middle East. This entire Indian Music exploration is really interesting. The way they teach music, how they play it, and what they play are so different from the Western. As far as class goes, the sitting on the ground is slightly uncomfortable at times, but I really think it gives the effect of the South Indian ways. I especially enjoyed being outside on Wednesday, singing along with the sruti box. It felt like I was put right into the middle of India--minus the extraneous heat, heavy clothes, and the dirt ground--but I thought it was really neat. Learning about new cultures has always been very interesting to me, so this next week should be even more enjoyable, I'm sure!

Indian Music: Almost Scratching the Surface

This section of our first year seminar, dealing with some basics of Indian music, has been completely interesting up to this point. Yes, some of the reading has been very hard to understand and the swara were hard to grasp the first day of class, but the new experience is altogether pretty cool. I like how Cleve discusses the readings with us because it helps as far as understanding the difficult text. My favorite part of the class is just hearing the South Indian music, the karnatic style. The sounds are so different from that of the western world and I love the dissonance and the music's generally unfamiliar sound to my ear. One of my favorite things is hearing music that I normally don't listen too. The percussion is what really gets me going in a lot of the Indian music. In class I definitly feel the urge to dance when we listen to the music, like today when we were hearing examples of the commonly used instruments. The drum beats are so moving to me that I am not sure how people can just sit there and not want to move or at least tap their feet. I will try to keep in mind that we do meet at 9 am each morning, but it's still hard for me to undrstand. The music is so moving. I feel that if you really let yourself relax, just let yourself go, that you can really enjoy the music much more, even if it is not necessarily your favorite genre.
From our many readings, it seems that we are packing tons of information into an extremely short time period. The reading is overwhelming, but interesting nontheless. I am excited for next week, even the singing test, and hope to learn as much as I can about the basics of Indian music before these two weeks are over.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This week's rotation

While I am not quite as enthusiastic about our seminar rotation as the author of the previous post, I too am finding it enjoyable. The greatest thing about it is practicing in random public places and getting really strange looks! And practicing, for once, is actually not a chore. However, I am also terrified of our final test. As an instrumentalist, I make it a habit to sing aloud as little as possible. I have no confidence in my voice and am dreading having to sing by myself! If Professor Johnson is reading this, I have a suggestion-wear earplugs.
I do find the culture interesting though and am looking forward to tomorrow when Professor Johnson is going to show us some Indian instruments. While the sruti box is great, I know there are so many more to see! I can't wait to see all the instruments that produce such incredible and unique sounds-sounds that are so foreign to our western ears.

This is SOOOOOO cool!

This weeks rotation involves styles of music "Beyond Western Classical," namely that of South India. The music from India that people are most familiar with is North Indian, made popular by the Beetles and other pop culture figures. The really cool thing is sitting in a circle every day singing the syllable excercises with Professor Johnson, who usually has some peice of Indian attire on him, either a shawl or a whole traditional outfit. Today we went outside and got to sing in the courtyard, and Gabe became Professor Johnson's disciple. This all fascinates me so much! I love to learn about other cultures, religions, styles of music, instruments....this is going to be a great couple of weeks! We have leared so far what a lot of instruments are, as well as their specific functions, and listened to some trasendental examples. It's really hard to feel anything but piece when listening to Karnatic music. The reading, however, is difficult. It's not that it's not interesting, is just that I don't know a lot of the words used, wither because I haven't learned about them in Western Music, or they are in the language of South India (which was the case for a few of them.) I guess I will have to pay better attention when we discuss them instead of relying on the information to come to me. Wonder what all we will do next week...
Well, that's all for now. Seacrest, out.