Friday, 28 August 2009

Dead Type-Writers, the role of the voice

Over the next few days my blog files will emerge. This is the first time in a LONG time I have had a good internet connection.

Blog 1. The CAC school

CAC (Cochin Centre for Arts and Communication) is the school that I visited every Monday during my stay in Kerala. Having missed the first Monday due to a severe bout of Dehli belly (apologies if you have just eaten) I was warmly welcomed the following week by the Father who runs the centre and Jimmy Sir who teaches the piano students. The financial status of this school was immediately obvious due to the condition of their only real piano: half the keys didn't work, horrifically out of tune, and the thought of creating any kind of decent melodic line on it doesn't bear thinking about .... in short, a top-notch honkytonk! Apart from that little bad boy they did have 2 Yamaha clavinovas (minus a functioning sustain pedal on 1 and a very dodgy C on the other). To put this into perspective my main school (Amadeus Academy) has 2 working uprights (including 1 Yamaha upright), 1 good clavinova and 2 practice keyboards. The lack of AC and the charming swarms of mosquitoes actually made this shabby chic school a very welcome change.

Now, to my first CAC student... a middle-aged man playing his grade 1 piece shaking with fear. I really wish I was joking because as much as inducing terror in a full grown man is a nice shift in power, I did feel very uncomfortable. This man epitomised the style of playing that I had expected before arriving: completely dead type-writing. I was elated! These CAC students were on a different level to Amadeus, expression in their playing was non-existent. I was very excited about this oppurtunity for change. Back to The Dead Type-Writer, I realised that he was unable to grasp the very basic concepts of phrasing. I found myself telling him what I have had to tell to MANY other students out here - when the notes get higher you get louder and vice versa. Although a gross (in both senses of the word) over-generalisation this is of course the most natural way of producing sound when using your instrument to imitate the voice. I found myself singing a lot, Simi Koshy-styley, to demonstrate.

A quick word now on the importance of voice to both Western and Indian classical music. A new Dehli friend when chatting to us yesterday told us what he thought the main difference was between Indian and Western classical music: the fact that Indian musicians have to be able to vocalise the sounds they make. This, Neil and I have had first-hand experience of as Neil has been learning the tabla over the past 2 months and I have been learning the sitar. On the tabla, all the hand gestures needed to create the different timbres have an assigned plosive syllable (eg. Din, Da, Tin, Ta) and Neil has to learn the rhythms first by speaking them and then by saying them at the same time as playing. Learning the sitar through a solfege system of Sa Re Ga Ma Pas (the Indian equivalent to Do Re Mi). Our friend's theory is that it is due to this necessity to vocalise the music that has led to the purely linear textures of Indian classical music. I think this is a very good point for their traditional instruments are mostly used to create dialogue between melodic lines and the emphasis on horizontal harmonic change is close to non-existent for when a particular raga is decided they stay in it. The status of vocal music that shifted to empower instrumental music in the 17th century in Western classical music has been retained in the Indian classical tradition. The belief that the voice has the power to reach God has kept this importance due to the intrinsic role of religion in Indian music. So maybe the uber-Western Simi Koshy's emphasis on the singing style stems from very Indian principles.

Dead Type-Writer turned out to be tone deaf so I sent him home with the right hand of Brahm's Lullaby to try and phrase with every ascending increasing in volume and every descending, decreasing in volume. Next lesson...

To be continued...

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