Classical Music: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Let us look at one sphere of music, which has been completely sidelined from popular culture: Indian Classical music. For the purpose of this article, we consider predominantly the works on string instruments, namely the sitar and sarod, that is to say, Hindustani classical.
Firstly, we need to agree upon the fact that Indian classical music has been sidelined. To say that we don’t appreciate this form of music is fundamentally problematic because it’s not true. A lot of people do in fact appreciate and respect it. But as a matter of personal choice, don’t prefer to listen to it.
Having said that, we also have a certain strata of people, who look at Western Music as a sign of modernity and forsake their roots for the sake of apparent social appropriation.
Pt Ravi Shankar live at Woodstock ’69
Indian classical music is based on the ‘ragas’, which are scales and melodies that provide the foundation of a musical performance. Unlike Western music or Bollywood, for that matter, performances in classical music span a longer duration and are based upon the musician’s skills and improvisations.
There are no set lyrics or notations. The ragas are just skeletons for a performance which is deeply personal and improvised.
There are two main forms of Indian Classical Music: Hindustani and Carnatic. Carnatic music is generally stressing upon vocals whereas Hindustani music has an emphasis on the purity of notes. Both these forms evolved through the medieval period and this inherent organic change was brought about due to the Mughal influences at the time. There was a need to impress the Mughal rulers and subsequently, the music became directed to please the court. One of the most influential composers of the time was Amir Khusrau, who standardized aspects of Hindustani music and introduced several ragas such as the Yaman Kalyan, Zeelaf and Sarpada.
Until the late 19th century, Hindustani classical music was imparted on a one-on-one basis through the guru-shishya tradition. This system had many benefits, but also several drawbacks. The music was restricted to only the darbars and courtyards of a few royal families and there was heavy exploitation of the students by gurujis, the former having to work and please the latter to learn a thing or two.
At the turn of the 20th century, things started to change. Vishnu Digambar Palukar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, great stars, spread the music to the masses, inculcating a household respect for musicians, started various music schools and initiated various music conferences.
Legends at work: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan with Ustad Zakir Hussain
With this movement in place, a number of schools were in place. Most notably was the one in Maihar. Here in this small town, three railway stations from Jabalpur proliferated world-renowned personalities like Pt Ravi Shankar and Nikhil Banerjee (sitar); sarod wizard Ali Akbar Khan; Pannalal Ghosh and violinist V G Jog, to name just a few. Even Hariprasad Chaurasia owes his musical lineage to this tiny princely outpost.
Indian music really flourished during this period all the way up to the 90’s, spreading to the west in the 50’s promoting collaborations, conferences and concerts. One of the greatest example of the time was that of the Beatles and later George Harrison’s collaboration with Pt Ravi Shankar.
For a considerably long time, there was a certain sort of national pride associated with Hindustani music. Indian music had gathered a lot of interest abroad and at home alike. Pt Ravi Shankar’s rendition in Apu’s Trilogy, Ritwik Ghatak’s use of classical tunes and Lata Mangeshkar giving voice to songs based on ragas: Led to this form of music really getting its own niche.
Today, things are a bit different. With the exception of very few “great” artists, this industry is losing its steam. Teenagers, like ourselves have only a vague idea about classical music. Yet, it is essentially enriching and soulful, as music in its true sense is meant to be.
The Traveller concert: Anoushka Shankar
Classical music will exist.
In some form or the other. Even today, we have Anoushka Shankar whose concert “The Traveller” sparked great interest. Classical music shall continue existing in the form of fusions and collaborations, with a lot of metamorphosis.
With the music undergoing a transition phase, what remains to be seen is whether this music starts to cater to a smaller but mature audience or shall it popularize to the proletariat.