Archive | January, 2013

Upon Ballads and Ragams

31 Jan

So I talked to and caught up with Eugenie over skype after more than a year. I am happy.

Talking to an actual native speaker of English reminds me the need to read more proper English books. By ‘proper’, I mean ‘those with beautiful language’. It is frustrating to look for a word you used to know and you know it is there, but does not come through your throat to become a voice. What a shame.

And you know, this is why I don’t take this ‘international language’ thing highly. It is a wonderful media for communication, but it should not creep into your life too much. The English non-native speakers use to each other lacks the depth and wealth of culture- but as I just wrote, it is a wonderful means to communicate with somebody from different linguistic background. But still.

Anyway, I thought I will write about singing ballads, a topic which we couldn’t go into it as much.

When I was studying Sanskrit, chanting the verses was a part of the learning. I used to know a couple of tunes applicable to each meter[certain combinations of short and long syllables]. I am not sure if I still remember them all. So, back then, I knew some set tunes, and knew how to sing poems or epics in those tunes.

Now that I am learning Carnatic music, I have familiarised myself with the concept of Ragams [called Rag, in Hindustani music]. It is difficult to explain what raga is; as difficult as to explain what chords and harmony are to an Indian person.

Ragam is sets of musical notes, and each set produces different feelings, different atmosphere. A friend of mine, when she came to see my carnatic lesson, said “the sound changed. What was it?” Well, that was when the Ragam changed. It is hard to explain what this is. But the word ‘raga’ apparently derives its meaning from ‘colour’ (though the term itself has many meanings). Each raga has different colour, different smell, and different air.

What is amazing about it is, if you know the Ragam well, you are able to improvise with the Ragam- well, you are supposed to. So, if you have poems, epics, some lines- and if you are well acquainted with Indian music, then you are well capable of singing them in different Ragams. I mean, you can improvise it, and sing the lines spontaneously, from your heart. In fact, Kavalam Srikumar does it with the epic Ramayana, and is broadcasted throughout Kerala every year in August (youtube should have many videos. Sorry I don’t have youtube access at the moment so I can’t link).

So in this system, you can always reproduce the poetic works. So I hear many tunes for each meter. The same work can be sung differently, not just because there are many traditions, but also because the music system here allows, and is based on, improvisation; but again, not a total free improvisation, but with rules called Ragams that actually enrich the whole experience.

So. In this sense, if I successfully learn Carnatic, as well as Sopana music, I may as well be able to sing some ballads and poems. Eventually. A possibility.