Teaching Of Indian Music

The report on the International Seminar on Teaching of Indian Music (Sruti 165) was succinct and admirable. I would like to offer additional notes, in some detail, on two aspects.

The Conservatory System

The first, discussed at some length in the seminar, concerns the possibility of incorporating the essential characteristics of the gurusishya parampara in the institutionalised system of music education adopted by music schools and colleges and in university departments. Dr. Suvarnalata Rao, Research Scientist at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, gave her observations of the teaching of music at the Rotterdam Conservatory, Holland, which she visited, along with Dr. Ashok Ranade, the noted musicologist, on a sponsored programme.

The Rotterdam Conservatory is designed and developed exclusively for providing arts education, including music education. There are separate departments for vocal music and instrumental music. The Conservatory aims at preparing students for careers as professional musicians and music teachers. The main degree course takes four to five years to complete. Its programme includes a course in Hindustani music also.

Students arc selected by a committee of experts. The intake is limited to a small number. Each student is assigned to a specific teacher; this ensures individual attention. Teachers are given freedom to design the course of study, the teaching method, the system of assessment, etc.

There are classes for advanced students, though these classes can be attended by other students as well. Great emphasis is laid on the quality of learning, rather than the quantity. Only a limited number of raga-s and tala-s are taught in detail, though, at the end of the course, the student should be familiar with a large number of raga-s and tala-s.

Along with theory and history of music, the students also acquire knowledge of ancillary aspects such as voice modulation and the reading and writing of notation. However, weightage is given to performing competence.

Students of Hindustani music, who are mostly non-Indians, are also given lessons in Indian history, culture and ethos. This helps them to learn and practice Indian classical music in the appropriate ambience. While performing, they have to wear Indian attire. They are also encouraged to visit India and, whenever possible, the visits arc funded too.

As a means of widening their musical horizons, the students are encouraged to have exposure to other systems of music as well.

There are special full-time courses for talented students. Practice rooms are available where they can experiment with innovative ideas, as well as do riyaz. They can also benefit from allied courses such as electronics and sound engineering (as they relate to music); they can also major in them, if they so choose.

Training in teaching methods is also imparted to the students so that they can become good teachers.

 Along with music, the students are given a wideranging and comprehensive liberal education so that, at the end of the course, they become not only competent musicians and/or teachers but informed citizens as well.

Dr. Daniel Newman, Dean of the School of Arts and Architecture of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in the U.S., Ken Zuckerman of the Ali Akbar College of Music in Switzerland, said that their schools are also run more or less as conservatories. There are separate departments to teach to play a variety of instruments. Students are given the choice to major in the history of music, theory, ethnomusicology, music education, etc. Needless to say, they are also provided one-to-one learning facility.

The conservatory system of music education does not exist in India. However, there is one institution which has adopted the conservatory pattern, and this is the Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) of Calcutta. Vijay Kichlu, Executive Director of SRA, explained the functioning of the Academy.

The SRA was established by the ITC Group in 1977 as a residential school of (Hindustani) music. Only promising boys and girls arc selected and they are put under the charge of teachers of the Academy and or visiting guru-s and taught on an one-to-one basis.

The intake of students is small; during the last 20 years, the SRA has admitted only 30 students. Training is spread over 10 to 15 years, and for this reason the upper age limit at the time of admission is fixed at 25. The Academy does not interfere with the teacher's decision on the syllabus or the method of training. A committee of experts assesses the students every four years. Depending upon the progress of study, the students are promoted to the next higher grade and the amount of scholarship enhanced. Only select students are allowed to give performances or provide services as tutors.

SRA also arranges seminars and workshops for the benefit of the students.

Because of financial constraints, SRA has confined itself to teaching vocal music only.

Role of Research in Music Education

The other aspect which I wish to report in some detail concerns the role of research in music education.

Dr. N. Ramanathan, Head of the Department of Indian Music at the University of Madras, presented a paper on the subject, focussing on Carnatic music. His presentation contained many interesting research findings which were somewhat different from the 'obvious' conclusions which researchers, in general, reach. According to Ramanathan:

The lakshya sampradaya of music which is passed from guru to sishya gets altered when music is performed in a recital. This happens because of the elements of 'entertainment', such as indulgence in virtuosity or novelty for its own sake, and playing to the gallery. Because many performers also happen to be teachers, such changes, subtle and not so subtle, that creep into the recitals also influence the teaching, including the course content of contemporary music education. Only a researcher can observe and point out such deviations to the artists, as no performer can be his own critic unless he has a bent for research which is rather rare. It is for the practitioners either to accept or not to accept the researcher's findings. However, to be effective, a researcher (and for that matter, a musicologist or critic too) should be be able to perform, though not necessarily as a concert performer; otherwise his opinion would carry little weight.

[It should, however, be remembered that, firstly, theory is not an unalterable entity and, secondly, theory itself is a codification of practices, though quite often it is one generation behind the latter. Fortunately, music has an admirable tradition of accomodating change].

Dr. Ramanathan also voiced the view musicians should ponder over the question whether violin and percussion accompaniments (as also the tani) serve any aesthetic purpose in art music performances.

Dr. Ramanathan then disclosed that research in his department had resulted in the dropping of many raga-s from the syllabus. His explanation:

Among the 72 mela-s postulated by Venkatamakhi, only 19 had janya raga-s; the remaining 53 had no janya raga-s and, in order to make them functional, raga-s were 'artificially ' created by providing them with krama sampoorna aroha and avaroha. The raga-s so created had only swarasthana-s; they had no melody shape and hence were not raga-s at all. Hence the department's decision to drop a number of such raga-s from the syllabus.

The significance of this research finding would have dawned on the audience, particularly lovers of Carnatic music, had Dr. Ramanathan revealed the names of the melakarta raga-s that were removed. It is also a great pity that no one cared to N. Ramanathan undertake research of such importance during the period linking Venkatamakhi and the Trinity for, if undertaken, the Trinity might not have wasted time in composing kriti-s in such 'artificial raga-s' which, by Dr. Ramanathan's definition, have no melodic shape.

Dr. Ramanathan then cited instances where research had helped in the rectification of mistakes in the rendering of swarajati-s of Syama Sastry and chitta swara-s included in some of the compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar; and in determining the authenticity of composition s in regard to their pathantara.

Altogether his presentation was educative as it highlighted how a true researcher might contribute to the healthy growth and development of a performing art like Carnatic music.