Monday, November 28, 2011

Music of the Heart

Evenings at the NCPA are turning into a most delightfully regular weekend fixture for me. Tonight was very special indeed. On a whim, I'd picked up tickets for a performance by the Bombay Chamber Orchestra at the plush, truly beautiful Tata Theatre a couple of weeks ago, hoping that when I finally heard it, I'd actually like chamber music. And voila! It turns out I needn't have worried after all. It turned out to be so spectacular that time flew by and my mind is swimming with happy thoughts.

It was also kind of a payback treat for KKD (mgeek, if you will) who invited me to watch a fabulous collection of short plays with him at the NCPA some months ago. I asked him if he was alright with chamber music and he said he actually preferred it over symphonies because it was more concentrated and more vivid.

That settles it, I thought. I wondered if I should look this stuff up on youtube to put in, you know, a sort of preparation. A practiced ear is better for appreciating classical music, so my music teacher told me way back in school. But then, I thought, what the hell? There's something to be said for spontaneity. Besides, nobody ever acquired a practiced ear over a fortnight, anyway.

Now, I'm not really trained in music unless one counts eight months of harmonium and three years of tabla lessons in my early teens. Much to the dismay of my music-loving parents, I am nowhere near disciplined enough and I think I tend to get easily distracted from the task at hand. So that was the end of that.

My brother is really the musical one. He plays the tabla and the guitar and aajoba's old harmonica with equal felicity. He is comfortable with classical and popular music and not stuck up about either.

I am mostly a sort of occasional listener. I like listening to music and it doesn't matter if it's a smattering of jazz, or the sharp, exotic wailing of the zither or even, the foot-tapping, hand-clapping of East-European gypsy songs.

I actually prefer it eclectic, which is further testimony to my easily-distracted mind and short attention-span. I cant listen to one thing for too long. And then, certain songs go with certain moods. It's Schumann's piano concertos on sleepless nights alternated with Shubha Mudgal's soulful songs with the tiniest amounts of old Hindi film songs thrown in. For early morning train rides, it's Red Hot Chilli Peppers or U2. And for endless evening bus-stop waits, it's Coldplay or in desperate times, Enya even. Music seems rather deliberately tailored to fit moods.

Which is why I was surprised to find that today, listening to relatively short concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, and finally and most magnificently Dvorak I realised that sometimes, good music creates its own mood.

You cant but smile when a flute pipes up in a mischievous little love song or listen in wonder when the cello purrs the lower notes in the silences before a soaring symphony.

I have often heard people say music is a kind of universal language. This was illustrated rather literally when the conductor was a young Japanese woman and the musicians were a mixed group aged between 15 and 75, not to mention from atleast three different countries. The listeners in the audience were equally disparate. I love people-watching at the NCPA. It's a more polished, more genteel, more eccentric crowd than you'd find at a multiplex. It's also older and more worldly somehow.

There was something palpably electric in the air I thought towards the end, when the applause just wouldn't die down. People seemed proud of the home-grown musicians, especially cheering on an old violinist who looked like she'd been one of the founder members when the Bombay Chamber Orchestra was formed way back in 1962.

The two soloists, the flautist and the cellist had to come out and bow atleast three times before everyone stopped clapping.

It was almost magical to experience how good music evokes in people such strong emotions, and such unique thoughts. But I wondered if I could go one better on my experience. What if I could borrow the ears off of a trained musician and hear, really hear the nuances and the technique that I clearly miss?

But then perhaps, it doesn't matter. It is enough to derive pleasure from it without knowing all the nitty-gritties. After all, it seems tied in with our basic biological design. KKD mentioned a rather interesting fact about the scales of music. That no matter, how we divided sound frequencies, the octave relationship remained constant, a perfect interval, a "basic miracle of music" as wikipedia calls it. So in that sense music really is universal. Well, turns out we wont be needing that famous Babel fish after all!


Sakshi said...

Music truly is universal.
I love listening to music, almost all the time.
But, am not choosy. I am total hindi music kind of person, with a very passive taste in English music :)

But what you described, sounded really wow! And as usual I wish, I too could have experienced what you did!

Arumugam said...

I agree.Music is truly universal .Right from the Beethoven symphonies to Kolaveri Di :-D

I was quite fascinated when I read an article on using music therapy to treat Parkinson's!
In Arthur clarke's Childhood's end,overcome by curiosity,aliens come down to earth to attend a concert.They listen but find it quite unintelligible,and cannot feel the inner experience that humans undergo.They themselves as a species lack music.Really pitiable state isn't it?

And your writing! I doubt if you've ever written a dull sentence in your life :-)

R said...
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R said...

:) i went to the ballet recently. my first time. such an incredible complement of music and dance- coming together to form a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.
This- what you've described. wonderful, isn't it?

Gustaf Valström said...

When you come here I will take you to the Proms and we'll make a dash for every concert we could possibly want to see. They really have everything. Orchestral, chamber, solos, folk, gypsy, soul, jazz, R'n'B. Anything you like. :))

Puneet said...

I remember going to an a cappella concert put on by a Belgian choir - for three hours, I sat dumbfounded. I didn't understand a word of what they were saying, but it was AMAZING. (Also, because they were all very talented young boys in the age group of 8-15!). Music truly has no language!

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sakshi, thank you! :)

Arumugam, Kolaveri Di has really caught on, right? I really like that word's amazing such an innocuous sounding word means 'savage fury'. :D And you know what, they actually practice music therapy as part of the sensory integration programme in our occupational therapy department for helping autistic children and those with learning difficulties. Isn't that fascinating? And they use classical music for it. And I've read Childhood's End a long time ago. Arthur C. Clarke wrote fascinating stories. One of my favourite stories is The City and The Stars. Have you read that one?

And thank you. :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Riddhi, wow! A ballet! Which one was it? I've seen the BBC production of The Magic Flute but I think it was mostly for children. I really enjoyed it though. It was so extravagant and almost circus-like. I really want to watch a real live ballet myself but they dont have those in Bombay. The one time an opera happened here we had to go to Wankhede stadium to watch it. :D Can you believe watching an opera at a cricket stadium? :D

Tangled up in blue... said...

Gustaf, :) London is such an extraordinary city. I am really, really looking forward to that trip next year!

Puneet, an a capella concert in Belgian! Whoa! It must have been so cool really..I feel like there's so much I haven't heard really. Sigh. :)

Deboleena said...

TUIB, I've been missing out on reading blogs for a long time now. So glad to return to a post like this. <3

Was invited to an opera last year, thanks to a friend at the Alliance Francaise - didn't understand a word being sung but remember crying shamelessly throughout. Getting that 'trained' ear is on the long-term To Do list for me as well but if it does happen I really will miss this visceral reaction to it. :)

PS: You played the tabla! Another <3!

Antara said...

Definitely, music does create a whole world of it's own choosing and everybody is welcome in it.

This was a beautiful post. :)

Poppy said...
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Poppy said...

Music influences our mood or our mood influences are choice of music? Now that you've said it in so many words, I think its both. Good music can liven up any party, and I prefer sad music only when I'm in the depths of despair!

Wonderful post but. :)

Poppy said...

Music influences our mood or our mood influences are choice of music? Now that you've said it in so many words, I think its both. Good music can liven up any party, and I prefer sad music only when I'm in the depths of despair!

Wonderful post but. :)

mgeek said...

And you totally forgot to mention how neglected the centerpiece instruments of these works were. And how they could possibly find peace and happiness in the standing ovations that they receive now. Lazarus fate, eh? Atonement, perhaps.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Sugar Magnolia, welcome back! You've been dreadfully missed around here. :) Now that's something I didn't think about. Missing out on the 'visceral reaction'. Oh, and the fact that I couldn't stick with it is one of the reasons I really admire people like you who do! And I always wanted to weep unabashedly at the opera, have a yuppie Dil Chahta Hai moment and all. But sadly, the one I attended was Puccini's famously comic opera, 'Gianni Schicchi'. What did you see? I really hope I get to watch Madama Butterfly sometime. I heard that one's nice and tragic. ;)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Antara, yes indeed! :) Thank you!

Poppy, ah, party music! I have so many awesome memories of dancing crazily to I'm A Barbie Girl at birthday parties as an eight year old. God, sometimes I really miss nineties music especially because it was so bad it was good! :D

mgeek, really! I completely forgot about that cool theme when I first wrote the post and then when I remembered I hoped you'd write a comment and mention it. I'm glad you did. Fits in with 'Atonement'. :)

mgeek said...

And we are back to coincidences now?

Tangled up in blue... said...

I guess so. That's another running theme it would seem. :)