Thursday, February 22, 2024

Facing the Music

Music is part of our daily life. We enjoy our connections to music: listening, singing, professional concerts, festivals, family events, celebrations, prayer, worship, seasons, and films. Music is in the air, blasting from vehicles on rooftops and dance floors. I recall in school days, particularly exam days, we were forced to learn how to transform distraction into concentration.

We live in a vibrational universe. The whole manifest existence is a play of energy vibration. Organized or structured vibration is what appears as material form and shape, including ourselves. Vibration causes nothing to become something. This primordial vibration, a soft humming sound, is omnipresent as what scientists call “cosmic background radiation.” Many scriptures proclaim that sound is the original act or fountainhead of creation. And music is vibrational sound- not random but arranged in a variety of patterns. Vedic Hymns were, in effect, the early form of praise or prayer to nature. And certain texts were the first musical compositions, although with fewer notes than the present octave.

According to sage Bharata’s “Natya Shastra”- a treatise on fine arts including music, dance, and theater- there are four basic criteria for excellence in rendition: craftmanship or knowledge of the art form, passion and creativity for mastering the chosen art, entertainment of the audience, and educational content or message of the artist. It appears that the primary focus of “modern music” is on entertainment, although the other aspects are not entirely ignored. Luckily, many accomplished classical musicians are still around, and many popular artists have some grounding in classical music.

Popular music, like literature, is a mirror of contemporary society. This age of consumerism fueled by technological advances has heightened the lust to extract the most out of life by filling it with objects and fantasies. More of everything is seen as a means to enjoy life, more so than living a meaningful life to be able to enjoy things produced by technology. This has shrunk the timescale of experiencing all that is happening all around us. Faster heartbeats, quicker acquisitions, the rapid succession of thoughts, quick turnover of relationships, higher decibels of sound everywhere, and short attention span, etc., contribute to accelerating the pace of our thinking and action. Is this being reflected in the pop music being produced today? I would venture to say- yes. Most of the music we hear on the street and in movie theaters are fast-paced rhythms, high-pitch vocals, and programmed electronic sounds with a heavy dose of low-frequency rhythm beats to stimulate the lower energy centers (chakras) of our psychosomatic physiology.

The music we hear and imbibe has something to do with how it is composed and recorded. The rhythm box for most compositions is programmed along with harmonic tones and side percussion. Then each of the many tracks are sequenced, leaving blank the vocal. So far, only the composer is involved, with no trace of live musicians. Then the vocalists arrive, listen to the existing tracks, and record their voice. All the tracks are then mixed and re-recorded. Hardly any real instrumentalists are involved in the process, much less interacting among themselves. Many such compositions do assure a quick high but are soon forgotten. Perhaps that’s what people want and are willing to pay for it- take it, use it, drop it- much like a commodity.

Compare this with all instrumentalists sitting together with the vocalist and the composer- their body language, eye gestures, smiles, exchange of breath, the merging of energy vibrations, and intermingling of their emotions and musicality. Then something is produced which is alive and coherent and is a genuine act of creation. This is not to say that everything old is better than everything new or that all commercial music is uncreative. But just imagine the kind of music you would listen to relax and heal yourself, quieten your mind, or the sort of songs you start humming unconsciously when you wake up.

Author profile
Dhananjaya Kumar

Dhananjaya Kumar is the Co-Founder and Trustee of India International School and Cultural Center (IIS).

IIS is a non-profit and equal-opportunity educational institution, serving the community since 1982. The main objective of IIS is to: provide quality education in the arts, culture, and languages of India; impart knowledge and skills to younger generations seeking personal growth and harmony with others; and sensitize the youth to basic human values and preservation of the environment. About 100 classes per week are taught by 35 teachers in core subjects including: vocal and instrumental music, classical and modern dances, fine arts, Yoga, and languages. IIS students frequently perform at national and local community festivals, theater, radio, and television.

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