Music Literacy: Awareness to Appreciation

We take a detour here from the progression of topics. There is a reason of course. I got a few reactions on the plan I posted a few weeks ago. The question is:  We seem to be heading into quite a technical discussion on various topics, is it necessary to understand music in such depth?

I think there is no limit to the depth of understanding any subject, if you are genuinely interested in it. But let us try and apply this in the context of Indian Classical Music.

If we were to grade the levels of understanding on a scale, then we would expect the performing artist to be at 100. The opposite would be of course zero, which we can call completely illiterate in music.

Can we try and estimate the average level of literacy of the audience of any classical program today? We can generally divide the audience into three groups. The core group, which has a high level of understanding, who knows what the artist is doing moment to moment, and can generally make their own decision whether the music is good or not. The second group would be the one on the periphery, with a very low level of understanding, who have no clue as to what is going on, and are there just to be there. And then the third group, the middle one, who is genuinely interested in following classical music, and are trying to learn the nuances by themselves, just enviously looking at the core group. Consider the type of concert, whether it is a private baithak at home ( 25-50 people), or a usual morning or evening concert organized by a music circle ( 100-200 people) or a large festival with more than 10000 people. I will leave you guess the proportions, and also as to which category you fall in.

What is important to understand here is that one does not just reach the level of really appreciating art music (unless you are learning it to sing or play an instrument yourself). So let us define the earlier stages on the way to become an enlightened listener.awareness

I think we would begin with the awareness stage, where you at least become aware of the fact that you need to educate yourself for the purpose. It is not enough to just be literate. Just as being literate is not enough to appreciate poetry in any language. If you become aware, and get on to the quest for understanding, then you go through the next stage of acquaintance, where you get familiar with the basic concepts and terminology. This is a big step. This helps you get rid of any intimidation (fuelled largely by the artists and the core listeners, and by the overall mystique attached to the whole process). This opens the doors of appreciation for you, making the journey ahead really enjoyable.

Like everything else in our life today (from sports to politics to entertainment) Classical music too succumbs to the pressures of commercialization. With the number of artists trying to make a career in music, and the numbers in the audiences ever on the rise, a lot of non-musical elements creep into the performance. So it becomes necessary for a good listener to make his own quality judgment, reject the substandard and choose who and how he wants to listen to. Reason enough to continue on with this musiquest!

We can now get on to understand how the swara and the Laya evolve into the Raga and the Tala respectively, the backbone of Indian Music.


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