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Articles on Carnatic Music

Popularity of Carnatic Music, Part II
by Raghavan Jayakumar, PhD

The following are the ways that Carnatic music is being popularized at present-

Movies- The power of the silver screen is well known, particularly in India, where screen heroes are real heroes in society and some even wield enormous political power. Movies are seen by a large cross section of people with various tastes. Film music plays a significant role in entertainment, worship and celebrations. So any music that wants to be popular would find a powerful medium in movies. The success of early movies such as Shakunthala, Meera, Ashok Kumar was primarily due to their musical content. In later years, film music was strongly influenced by western music and also incorporated folk music to attract a broader audience. But good music directors have always managed to include Carnatic music in songs. I believe that Directors such as G.Ramanathan and K.V. Mahadevan have done yeoman service in popularizing Carnatic music unobtrusively and with class. One can enjoy the lilting ragas in their music which is usually blended well with the lyrics. The lay person enjoys the combination in the context of the cinema story, which tends to create a deeper impression of the music. Recently, the seamless blending of Carnatic music with other forms of music by A.R. Rahman has brought a new level of acceptance of Carnatic musical phrasing. While some may be upset with the loss of rigor and purity of Carnatic music in film music, I believe that this is a powerful medium for the listener to get comfortable with Carnatic music. A great merit (which perhaps offends a section of Carnatic music lovers) is that film music is not restricted to devotional songs and therefore has broad appeal.

Devotional Music- In South Indian culture, the use of music in worship and on festive occasions has been the cornerstone of musical learning and practice. It is considered auspicious and joyful to sing and listen to Carnatic music and is perhaps a major source of musical satisfaction. This form of practice does not necessarily demand a high level of musical accomplishment and therefore the informal rendering increases participation immensely. While the method stabilizes the popularity of Carnatic music among south Indians, it is also restricted mainly to practicing Hindus and remains a limited context.

Young artists- These days young musicians such as Ravikiran and Vijay Shiva are using their excellent knowledge and popularity to educate students, particularly to inspire young students. The devotion of such musicians in this cause is crucial to any effort to popularize Carnatic music. I wish them speed and success in this.

Web based information- There are a large number of excellent web sites such as www. karnaTik.com on introductory and detailed information on Carnatic music and in this day and age what better way to spread the word to all corners of the world. As th e power of internet improves, the popularity of Carnatic music will increase proportionally.

So, are these enough? I think not!

I believe that popularity of any form of art needs a minimum critical mass and after that it will grow exponentially. So, the following are my humble ideas for bringing about the critical mass:

  • Every lover of Carnatic music should undertake to introduce Carnatic music to a few friends by gradually exposing them to the music. Play light catchy Carnatic music for them, gently inform them about the music and inquire about the impression it makes on them. Progressively introduce them to more formal music and then take them to a concert. I have found that telling a story behind the music, the composition and the composer or the cultural significance of a piece of music or the comparison to another known form of music works well and imprints on the individual. In this way, it is not different from teaching music to children. Web sites are very useful in educating them. In some instances where the friend is well versed in some form of music, direct exposure to a concert can be a powerful influence. This is a mission each of us must undertake and this personal guided tour is a powerful promotion of the music. This is missionary in character and I hope the reader finds this mission worth undertaking. As we all know, a network of friends is the most effective way of spreading information.

  • Classical music should be taught in all schools starting from elementary school. We should urge the government to provide the funds for instruments and teaching expenses. This should be a requirement like it is in many states in US. Carnatic music learning will be one of the areas of study. The discussion on whether it will be one of the options or be a required course, can be left to the educators. In this vein, I wonder if it is possible for some of us to invite private and school music teachers to concerts or even to home for some idli and carnatic music.

  • Beatle George Harrison was one of the main reasons for the popularity of Hindustani music in the west and his appearance also coincided with the public interest in eastern practices. So if a pleasant accident of this type can be "made" to happen, it should be attempted. If a reader can contact or even has the patience to pester some famous musical conductor, musician or a movie maker into incorporating and introducing formal Carnatic music, it will do wonders.

  • One of the things that is owed to people of the world, is the availability of Carnatic compositions for people of all walks of life. Already Carnatic music is ahead by having compositions in many Indian languages. Why not have compositions in English, French, German, Arabic etc. And over and above that why not have Christian, Muslim and Jewish prayers composed in Carnatic music. Here is a veritable treasure trove for creative aspirants. The marketing of these NEW compositions will have to be undertaken with the help of both the parochial interest groups and groups that work to promote integration. If Carnatic music is to attain its deserved place in the world, it has to acquire a universal character. I believe that this expansion is its destiny and will capture the imagination of all peoples much as Hinduism has.

  • Being a dreamer, I wish some one would make a movie on Carnatic music with the content of "Shankarabharanam", quality of "Gandhi" and appeal of "Sound of Music". The fact that movies made in India have a poor chance of being shown widely in the West, is an additional burden. But I hope there is a courageous producer out there.

    In closing, I reiterate that Carnatic music is the music of the Universe. It belongs to all the people of the world. Practitioners and rasikas have a duty to help Carnatic music break its shackles and barriers to fulfill its role in world culture. Ultimately, Carnatic music will be a vehicle for the promise: "Engum Shaanthi Nilava Vendum, Aathma Shakthi Oonga Vendum- Ulagile"-(Peace shall reign everywhere, Spiritual strength shall rise all over the world).
    back to Popularity of Carnatic Music, Part I

    R. Jayakumar is a physicist based in San Diego, CA. He is an amateur singer/songwriter. say_cheese74@yahoo.com

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updated on 11/18/2008