Cultural Baggage

by Kavita

Three short compositions a week and a phrase of ‘Numb – piano version’ – This is the usual format of my piano lessons. After the initial confusion, I managed to make this work for me. And last week, I realized that I show steady progress in western music lessons. I did however, nod in positive when someone said if the shape in this famous picture is of a Clef. It’s of a note and I didn’t correct myself on time.

Besides these minor, embarrassing setbacks which remind me that I am not a musician if I call myself one; I am happy with the way things are. The lessons add to my confidence and inspire me to devote enough practice-time every week.

I also learn Carnatic Music from a great musician. His wisdom is incredible and his innovative teaching methods have helped me look at Indian classical music in a new way. However, when I look at the kind of progress I make in the western lessons, I find the Carnatic Music lessons direction-less. It upsets me, stresses me out and I am tempted to go back to all those years of childhood when I got trained to be a singer.

I grew up in a typical Tamil Brahmin set up, although my parents are/were relatively liberal and open minded. Music was always an important part of our culture. So, I took training from 3 different teachers and after deducting breaks, my total learning period was 5 years. I performed several times, and won a few competitions as well. My voice was the greatest reason I stood out, whenever I did. But I had a hard time relating to the form of music. Here are some of the reasons for that:

  • I lived in a city in North India and this classical form is a part of the South Indian lifestyle
  • There was a cultural gap between school, college and the music classes
  • Most of the songs were in a language that I don’t understand
  • There is/was very little text on Carnatic Music
  • It evolved in a Gurukul system and hence, the lessons were passed on from teachers without a common structure

The last two reasons continue to affect and pose a problem in my growth as a musician. Compared to the different kind of associations that I can make with western music, there is almost no passive interaction with Carnatic Music. The only conversations I have are with my teacher; there are no constant social media updates on the subject; there is no hobby group where I can immerse myself in the dialogue and questions about the music.

I enjoy Carnatic Violin immensely, and since I remember I have had a violin as my signature sketch. But as I understand, it’s not enough. I need to find a way to make my development flow.