Friday, February 27, 2009

The Sound of Music

Since I've talked about my love for music in one of my previous posts, it wasn't going to be long before I wrote a post on the subject. So here goes. Of late, I am constantly reminded of my music student days. This thanks to my roommates who are equally interested in the same kind of music as me. We can spend hours on end singing, listening and exchanging "notes". :)

As a seven year old, I was enrolled into a music class that my Mum had found out about after extensive consultation with the Maamis of our neighbourhood. Of course you know that a Maami refers to the quintessential Tam-Bram Aunty who is well informed about schools, music teachers, dance teachers, summer camps and what not! My teacher was a locally well known AIR artist who performed at kachcheris (concerts) conducted around the city. But what nailed the choice for my Mum was that my teacher was the sister of a world famous violinist. Why look further! Like in any other art form, in music, lineage is of prime importance. Since my teacher was related to this hot shot violinist, it was guaranteed that the school of music that I would be trained under would be widely accepted and hence, I would turn out to be a good singer. Quite straightforward actually. They refer to this lineage as paaNi in the Carnatic world.

And so I obediently began attending music classes twice a week. The start was pretty good because my teacher certified that my voice was decent enough to be trained in the first place. Moreover, I was grasping stuff rather quickly. So all was well. The first few months were spent in familiarizing with the notes - swaras as they are more technically called. Many a time I've been spanked for not singing in tune to the shruthi (the pitch) or messing up the taaLa (the tempo). I don't blame myself. Seven is not really an age to start mastering multitasking! Nevertheless, only after perfecting these fundamentals, did I progress to the next level where I was taught to sing "songs" - ones which had sahityam (lyrics).

It was probably around this time that I began to subconsciously hum to myself. I would walk back from music class, humming the tune that my teacher had just taught me. Gradually this escalated to a level where I began to hum any song that I might have heard on the TV or in a movie. The humming continues to this date. Only, it has gotten louder, much to the annoyance of the people within earshot!

Five years into Carnatic music and I fell in love with it. And it was as though my voice approved of this love, for, it just transformed from its nasal, timid self to what it is in its present form - loud and mature. Naturally, my guru was the first one to sense this change. She capitalized on the metamorphosis and immediately got me to sign up for the state level junior music exam. After five months of rigorous practice and no ice cream, I gave the exam. Whats more, I did really well on it further cementing my bond with music. By now, I was the star singer of the family. Something I didn't really enjoy! Any function in the family, I would be asked to sing- my Mum egging me on to sing each time, and me glaring at her, vowing that I would not take this kind of embarrassment ever in the future. All in vain of course!

Sadly enough, my dream run wasn't going to continue forever. Once in high school, I simply couldn't give music as much time as it deserved. It would sometimes be weeks between two consecutive practice sessions. It was terrible. Thankfully, my humming habit helped me stay in touch. While in the shower, I would practise one of the many kirtanams (devotional compositions) that I had learned and try and improvise. :) It wasn't much. But it was just about enough to keep me going.

It has been about 5 years since I discontinued music classes. But, I still believe that I am a student of music. Learning something from each song I hear. Even today, if I feel down and out, I sit in a corner of my room and practise. To me, this exercise is more liberating than any other. It elevates me to a state of complete satisfaction. There lies the true beauty of this art. Its an asset nobody can steal away from you. It is yours for posterity. Whether you decide to flaunt it to the world or you use it to better yourself, its yours!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Caught in the Web

Until a few years ago, the first things I set my eyes on when I awoke in the morning were one of these - the poster on my wall that cried "NEVER GIVE UP", the tumbler of coffee that my Mom threateningly left on my study table saying "This is the last time I'm heating this coffee for you! You better get out of bed!", the clear blue sky outside my window (In India I lived on the 6th floor of our building, so there wasn't much to obstruct the view of the lovely sky) and sometimes if I woke up really really late (read 10 AM or later) then I was most definitely woken up by our maid servant sweeping the floor of my room. Ah, those were the days!

Nowadays, I invariably wake up to one sight - the desktop background on my laptop! In fact, my laptop is closer to my bed than my cellphone, or even my spectacles! Subconsciously, the first thing I do when my eyes open up in the morning is to boot my laptop up, login to Gmail hoping to see some unread messages in my inbox. :) This is followed by some other inboxes, facebook, the news, some music and back to more facebook snooping before I can actually drag myself away from my computer!

Its funny how much all of us are dependent on the internet. This other day, one of my friends missed a call on his cellphone from a number he didn't recognize. This friend I talk about is quite a slave of the internet. So, instead of calling the number back, he "Googled" out the number! Turned out that the number was one of those promo offer numbers from the service provider and in fact, there was a forum online that had discussed how annoying the calls from that number were! Man! Gone are the days when you used a 1000 something page telephone directory to painstakingly find the number of the local restaurant so you could reserve a dinner table for your big, fat family on a Saturday night. Now you just google out the restaurant and what's more, some of them allow you to check the menu online, so you can order over the phone itself!

Two years ago, when I first came to the US, I never took the internet seriously. I would check my email once in a day. My instant messaging stints were limited to 5-6 line conversations. I didn't know the first thing about ordering stuff online. A big jerk came when I learned that most of my courses' study material was online. That was then. Now, I check my email every five minutes. I chat with my friends incessantly about the most trivial subjects. I've ordered everything from airline tickets to backpacks online. And for the most embarrassing part - I borrowed five books from the library last month in an effort to do some self studying. Ironically, I've been doing all my self study from online resources while those books gather dust in my living room! And if you think this is a lot, I know of people who take music classes over Skype. Beat that! :)

But I wonder where all this is taking us. How much more virtual can we get? I do have an idea in that direction actually! It occurred to me the other day when I was video chatting with my Mum while cooking. I wished I could communicate to her the aroma that was emanating from the food that I was cooking! That was the only thing that was lacking in that whole conversation. My Mom could see what I was cooking, she could hear the crackling and spluttering of oil. Hopefully, there will soon be a day when she can smell it too! Atleast then she'll believe that I'm a decent cook. :)