Indian Music, European Violin

Clarinet, mandolin, saxophone - the Carnatic tradition of Indian classical music is a ground of growing collaborations across the world. PHOTO: Aambal

Clarinet, mandolin, saxophone – the Carnatic tradition of Indian classical music is a ground of growing collaborations across the world. PHOTO: Aambal

Indian classical music has our attention today. Thanks to its fluidity and pliability that makes it a thriving collaborative space. If you want the history of this art form, find it here. And for crossovers of Western strains and Indian sensibilities, head here. For much of Indian cultural evolution and practice, music is not a standalone art form. It forms the crux of cultural discourse, an important part of the axis that binds community, ritual, practice and social mores. The Carnatic music form of South India is a rather interesting and rich tradition among the musical traditions of the world. For one, it is tremendously alive and vibrant, not just in South India but also in different ways around the world.

Interestingly, the Carnatic form has also been receptive to a great number of innovations, especially in the sorts of instruments it has drawn into its fold. The European violin, for instance, finds an entry as late as the 19th century but has become near irreplaceable in the Carnatic context and performance formats of today. Tipped as being the one instrument that is as close as possible to the infinite flexibilities of the human voice, the violin has spawned different playing styles and traditions of its own in its comparatively brief but highly impactful history.

This is unique for two important reasons. Take any other classical tradition in the world – notably, the Western. Imports of instruments from other parts of the world are practically nonexistent. The reasons are many – socio-cultural hegemony theories abound, but the question of “temperament” in the musical structural context plays a far more important role. (Even in the Carnatic context, there have been variations effected on the instruments in question, in order to allow for a microtone-led melodic system to thrive). However, the notion that in a pocket of South India, we have had musicians and musicologists open enough to look at a more expansionary notion of musical palettes is highly noteworthy. While this observation may seem sweeping and superficial and may not hold up to the rigour of deeper sociological and historical analysis, the reality of these instruments finding strong and strident voices speaks its own self-evident truth of the vision of its proponents.

Second, these instruments aren’t merely adopted and then left to themselves. Their practitioners work hard to create and evolve formats and playing styles around these instruments, creating valuable pedagogy that can then be disseminated. It is in this way that these playing “styles” or “baanis” unique to the instrument are born, adding to the repository of the tradition. To put this in counter-perspective, the expansion in thought and ideology to welcome these oddities to the native tradition almost offers the reverse of the cultural supremacy theories that are now de rigeur in the cultural discourse of the elite.

So while this is a classic case of the East meeting West, it is also the story of a welcoming tradition. It is also one of change, with a promise of a trombone in place of a nadaswaram, without shaking the chords of God’s own music.

More of the article here 

One thought on “Indian Music, European Violin

  1. Pingback: Mind Your Language | Raxa Collective

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