21 November, 2005

Harmony - lacking in Indian classical music ?

It amazes me to learn about the interest of Westerners in Indian classical music. Not only is there interest, but also they are begining to understand it better than us! I came across a blog post by Rob http://robquick.blogspot.com. His post is mainly about the harmony that is present in western music, which is lacking in ours. The closest to harmony in our music is the Drone (Tanpura/Swarmandala etc) on which two notes, fifth apart are continuously played. Its on the background of these two notes that the melody or Raaga is expounded.
Yes, I accept that there's not too much harmony in Indian classical music. But then, our music has rhythm and melody which more than makes up for lack of harmony. Imagine, there are only 12 notes in the octave of western music, but 22 notes in ours! It is these micro notes that give our music its variety, richness and melody! In Western music, lot of stress is given on tonal clarity and harmony, which is produced by playing different notes simultaneously (Chords) many times on different instruments. On the contrary, Indian classical music is monophonic with the singer or the instrumentalist singing or playing the notes and other accompanists viz, percussionist, drone player only providing the rhythm and melody base respectively. Yet, inspite of it being monophonic, Indian classical music is much appreciated in the west. What is it that attracts them to it? Is it its inherent spiritualism, rhythm , melody, soothing effect or something else? I want to know the answers to it!


Rob said...

Sundeep..a few thoughts for what they are worth...

Each approach to music has its advantages and disadvantages: harmony provides great riches but comes at the expense of much
flexibility in rhythm and melody.
Also harmonically based music is a bit like a story that gradually unfolds.. there are events on the way and moods alter. This provides interest but it excludes the possiblity of finding a stillness.In other words, it enhances drama but diminishes spirituality. Some harmonically-based music is very spiritual nevertheless.

I do not claim to understand Indian Classical Music. I mentioned it in my post to give a perspective on Western music. I am interested in learning more about Indian Classical Music.

Please bear in mind that my post was short and therefore did not cover developments in Western Music in the Twentieth Century. At this time Western music took a radically different direction and some composers were more interested in rhythm, polyphony and timbre than in harmony. Also they began to experiment with micro-tones so there were many more than 12 pitches to the octave. Some composers (like Debussy) were excited by the sound of the gamelan and their compositions were influenced by this.

I like Indian music because it provides a refreshing change to Western music. I can see that it offers something that Western music does not. Temperamentally I am a reflective person and perhaps this is why I am drawn to its meditative qualities.
Best wishes, Rob

DD said...

best wishes for this blog!

keep the good work up!