In Indian classical music a raga is a pattern of notes having characteristic intervals, rhythms, and embellishments. So, there is a structure to it and there is a discipline required to ensure any song based on a particular raga follows the defined pattern. However, even within the structure there is room for improvisation. Singers who are highly skilled and have a flair for improvisation can deftly move from one raga to another (and then another and so forth) and make it back to the original raga seamlessly. I call it S(w)inging in, S(w)inging out! Sanjay Subrahmanyan is one singer who has the vocal chops, mastery of the individual ragas and discipline allied with creativity and improvisation to sing ragamalikas naturally. 👍
As an analogy in a different context think of monkeys swinging on a tree, say a fig tree ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wsotv_N2B5Y ). The way they go about swinging in and out of different branches it appears they were born with those skills naturally. Biting a fig from one branch and then swinging to another branch for bite of another fig is akin to singing in one raga, then moving on to another raga. Why am I comparing singing with monkeys swinging? Just as swinging from one branch to another requires physical dexterity swinging between ragas requires vocal dexterity. There is timing and decision making involved too. Swing has to happen between branches that are strong. If a monkey swings from a strong branch to a twig it can make for an awkward landing to put it mildly. Similarly, the results can be less than desirable if the transition between the ragas is not smooth and seamless. One more factor that needs to be considered is room and ability of those following the leader (accompanying percussionists in singing). Only the very accomplished can achieve that with relative ease.
On another note it’s been raining all day. I don’t mind it as it’s raining ragas too. Continuous supply of strong coffee or tea along with potato and onion fritters would make for a perfect combo for the music and weather. 😀 With wife wanting me to eat healthy, onion/potato fritters idea ain’t gonna fly though. 😢 Hey, improvisation is the name of the game today and I don’t want to fritter the opportunity. I can pop some corn instead! 😉😅
Noted Carnatic (South Indian Classical Music) vocalist TV Sankaranarayanan passed away couple of days ago. Wanted to share my own TV Sankaranarayanan (TVS) personal experience. Dates back to early 1980s. Classical music used to be played regularly at home, on radio and cassette player, as both mom and dad are classical music lovers. In addition a local music association in my Mumbai suburb, Mulund Fine Arts, used to arrange concerts by professional musicians one weekend in a month. At that time I was more into old Hindi movie songs, not that I did not like classical music. Movie songs offered instant satisfaction similar to fast food whereas classical music required some patience and more discerning taste to enjoy fully, similar to a multi-course meal. One weekend dad was either out of town or had some other prior commitment and he couldn’t attend that weekend’s concert. The performer scheduled to perform was TVS. Typically concerts started at 6pm and ended by 9pm. So, mom went by herself and asked me to reach the concert venue before 9pm for the walk back home after the concert. I went there before 9pm and waited outside. By then the singer had sung the more elaborate songs and was moving into short pieces (tukkadas) which, like desserts, are very tasty and crowd pleasers as those pieces can be appreciated even without technical knowledge. TVS was singing a familiar song (Srinivasa Thiruvenkata) starting with a prayer called viruttam. In the context of a meal viruttams are like free bread or chips and salsa offered to set the stage for the pièce de résistance, the main course, to follow. I like viruttams quite a bit (just as I like the bread/olive oil, chips/salsa and wouldn’t mind eating them as entire meal ). I digress. As TVS sang a familiar viruttam (before the main song Srinivasa Thiruvenkata, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpzI3BpCmU8 , I stood transfixed. As the singer moved to the main song I found myself drawn into the performing hall to hear even closer. That song was followed by another favorite of mine song “Eppa Varuvaro” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVMkzDWhMII ) and followed by the popular English note (starts at 2:16:35 of this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjegI6T9JJc ) . I realized then even a classical song can be enjoyed without much technical knowledge if the lyrics are divine and the singer is inspired. At the end of the concert as we were walking back home I was speaking with an elderly gentleman from my neighborhood who had more knowledge and finer taste than me. I mentioned to him I really enjoyed the concert and he said it was inded a fantastic concert. Sometime later I remember reading it was one of the best concerts organized by the organization, Mulund Fine Arts. The concert venue was an open hall in a pre-school (called Shishu Kunj). Not exactly a location that was acoustically designed! TVS probably has sung better and in better venues but his singing that night was special for me. In the intervening period of 35+ years some things have changed (music is now available on demand anytime, anywhere ), some things haven’t changed (my knowledge is still the same as is my love for fast food ) but some memories are indelible . Thanks for creating that moment for me, TV Sankaranarayanan. Rest in peace