Saturday, September 17, 2005

Wrapping it up.

The Indian seminar was thoroughly educational and enlightening. What made it so great was that we didn't just read from the textbook, nor did we just learn to sing Indian ragas, but our experience was an amalgam of the two. We read articles by scholars in the field at night, and our reading was supported by Dr. Johnson's lectures thoughout the day. The vocabulary learned was most salient and significant to us as beginners, and the actual musical experience of singing and listened to recordings completed the experience in a most visceral, yet intellectual way. Bravo, Dr. Johnson!

Carnatic music is a South Indian classical music style popular among upperclass South Indians. Although truthful, this definition does not even begin to scratch the surface as to what Carnatic music really is. It is a search into one's soul, finding inner peace. In the case of South Indians, it is a call to their Hindu gods from which in eminated originally. Although I will never be able to reach this level of understanding of this music (mainly because I am Christian and have only studied it more two weeks in a very critical format rather than spiritual), I appreciate the fact that I was introduced to it, becoming aware of other musical idioms within our world. Although the readings did get long at times, I do not regret taking this portion of our first year seminar. Now I am just ever more excited when Carnatic musicians come to perform at DePauw.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Next Rotation

Don't forget to go to Room 152W on Monday for your next rotation with Professor Foy. I'm glad you all enjoyed learning the ragas (albeit to different levels), and expect you will also enjoy your time with Lennie. Also remember to go to the mentor meeting on Sunday at 4:30, and read the Lipson book.

So yeah...

We are done with that portion of the F.Y.S. and now it is time to move on. I think that I suck at Indian classical music and should only be allowed to watch. Other than that fact I thought it was a good experience to realize that there are other classical cultures and that not everyone does thing the same way. I also thought that study that was conducted on the trip to India was very interesting and I definently admire the time and effort that went into it. Now I am looking forward to moving on into the new and away from the Indian music. It is not that I don't have love for the Indian music, it is just that I don't think that is where my calling lies :-).

I've got this wierd song stuck in my head...

Whew! The worst part is over--I though for sure that I would fail the singing test. However...I did not. That was really the only hard part to the class. The reading was interesting, and the songs we listened to were so...transcendental. I loved everything I learned about the Indian culture, even if we oinly got a peak into the musical portion. The instrumentation of Carnatic music was also very interesting: the ability of every instrument to bend pitch so easily (a requirement for Carnatic music) is so fascinating. I was surprised to learn that the saxophone is an acceptable Indian instrument for this reason. There was so much crammed into my brain, but I am glad I had this experience. I can't wait til the next rotation...Prof. Foy, here we come!

Some singing here, some singing there

Since I absolutly forgot to post a blog up last week (sorry), there are a couple things that I would like to talk about. Comparing this class to the classes I'm taking right now, at first, was a different change. I felt weird taking my shoes off and sitting on the floor with my legs crossed. Since I am not a vocal major, it's difficult to sing the swara (sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, sa). I can compare that swara to our scale of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. By the end of last week, I couldn't stop singing the swara. Out of last week, I think it was Wednesday, I enjoyed the class because Dr. Johnson took us out in the courtyard. It was fun because since the Dr. is our guru(leader/head chief) we all started singing the swara with the scruti box (an instrument that can be used as a drone in the background, and is only used for practice). It was interesting because Gabe was wearing his pj's, and Dr. chose him as his disciple for the day (he gave him a shirt that was from India, and is worn when practicing, or performing). That was one day which was quite interesting to me.
Now this week, we all have to take a singing test on either Thursday or Friday. Everyone is very nerovous, and curious on which pattern is he going to have us sing. Well, in about two hours, it is my time to test. I feel a little nervous, but I think I know what I'm doing. Wish me luck!
~ Basia ~

The Final Raga

I can't believe how much I've learned in just two weeks! I feel like I've been studying Indian culture for a long time for as much as I've learned. This whole class was pretty interesting to me...I never had to force myself to pay attention. And the music: my favorite sound is the ghatam!! It is SO cool!! I can't wait for the concert! I actually didn't mind practicing with the sruti box. It's very relaxing and, as a vocalist, it's nice to not have to worry about how I sound - just as long as I have the notes right. I recommend doing homework while someone is practicing with the sruti box; it really helped me focus! I've enjoyed these past two weeks...on to the next!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Almost There

Well, tomorrow at 9:40 I am taking my Indian singing test. I'm not feeling to worried about it so hopefully it will go well. I am a tad bit sad that we won't be singing Indian music anymore. I have to say that it was somewhat relaxing. Although, I would have preferred singing the entire class time instead of learning about some Indian vocabulary that I probably have already forgotten since taking the daily vocab quizzes. All in all, it was a fulfilling experience and I hope to someday hear someone mention Indian music and immediately spout off the scale to them... it will happen. So, the two weeks went by quickly and I hope to retain this newfound methodology and practice it at some point for more than two weeks.

Aaaannnnd We're Done

I really enjoyed exploring South Indian Music. Although some of the reading was very difficult and I got lost among the Indian musical terminology, I really enjoyed it. Seeing how different cultures have the same concepts of music yet are so different seems so amazing. For example, we have our solfege (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do), South India has their own solfege system (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni, Sa); Western music has 24 scales incorporating sharps and flats and India has almost 300 scales based on the Mayamalavagowla ALONE with their own system of "flats" or "sharps"; We have the violin which we play resting the base on our shoulder and holding it, where they adapted the violin and play it with the base on the floor leaning against their shoulders. I really liked their way of teaching music. By having a guru "secretively" take you under his wing, there is not an intimidation factor of a teacher and by starting so young, it is practically instilled in ones blood so its second nature. Overall, I really enjoyed the "Indian" experience and learning about the culture and music. I hope everyone else had a great experience, as well!

While I'm an aweful vocalist and would rather not sing at all, I think these past two weeks have been fun. The Indian music and culture is just so much different that anything we experience here in the west. While there are many parallels between our classical music and theirs, like hundreds of scales, I'm afraid we'll always be outsiders to it no matter how much we learn here. There's just something to be said for living the culture, not just studying it. We heard yesterday about the trip Dr. Johnson took to India with a few students, and I think that would have been an incredible experience! Terrifying, but incredible. I can't imagine being totally immersed in a culture so different from our own. I think given the opportunity, I probably would have gone, but not without hesitation. I just can't get over the incredible differences!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Second Set of Solfege

I am really liking this class. I like the learning style: how we start learning without even realizing it. And, we don't learn by repetition, but by experience. That's so cool! I think other classes should incorporate this teaching concept (and not just other music classes, but classes in general.) It is so refreshing to see music so strongly connected to culture and tradition as it is in India... and I really got a kick out of all the Indian instruments: not only did we get to hear them, we got to see them! I really enjoyed learning all the solfege notes and scales as well. I think no matter what type or genre of musician one is, that person can learn from and even use these Indian solfege notes and scales. This class has been a unique and memorable experience!

How long can it last? Oral vs. Written

Well the first day was a little awkward for me and I think for alot of us. It was kind of like what are we doing? Then the second it started to come together when he explained more in depth and added some detail to what was actually going on. I think that the music is ultimately creative. Although I do not think that it is efficient in any way. But there is a certain beauty to the fact that it is passed down in such a passionate and essential way. If you aren't paying attention then you can't pass it down. Then again it seems evident to me that nothing that is completely oral can last for the duration. It is bound to be altered and changed throughout time. Written music definently has better staying power in my mind. Then they do have theory which we haven't learned alot about but maybe that says more about the musical documentation and we just haven't learned it yet.

Due to the fact that I practice music in the Western idiom, I seem to have forgotten that whole other traditions of music have existed or do exist in our world. Diving into Carnatic music, these ideas of written music, well-defined techniques for specific instruments, and learning by explanation have come to a halt. Now, when studying the South Indian raga, I am aware of another tradition, one passed down through oral transmission, although some books have been written about the Indian raga.

The indian raga utilizes a series of seven svaras, musical notes or scale degrees, in each raga, defining which notes can be used where. These seven svaras, can be chosen from 22 sruti, pitches of a basic note; although, the Sa and the Pa, or the tonic and the dominant, only have one choice with sruti, representing the mother and the father and giving a sense of stability. The seven svaras are as follows: Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni. These pitches, along with gamaka (the ornamentation of the raga), are what make an Indian raga. Tone quality is not of importance.

Our guru, in this case Prof. Johnson, has also introduced us to several instruments common in Carnatic music. A common accompaniment instrument is called the mridangam. The mridangam is a double-headed drum made from jackwood with heads made from several layers of hide. The ghatam is an instrument that is shaped like a big clay pot, performed by banging your knuckles against it. Certain sounds can also be made by rolling your stomach on the instrument. The most common instrument for droning is the tambura; although the sruti box could also accomplish this, never to be used in a concert. The kanjira is a small drum with a head made from iguana skin wrapped around a rim moistened with water each time before played in order to tune it. The most ancient and traditional Carnatic instrument is the veena, a string instrument made with each fret representing one of the sruti and capable of supporting a drone. The violin also very often accompanies the voice, the most important Carnatic instrument.