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 Meaning in Music
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Meaning in Music
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About the Book

To look for meaning in music is not to look for isolated units of meaning, or to connect isolated aspects with something 'other' whose meaning is easily deciphered, but to take the music as a whole and to understand the meaning in musical terms alone. Through an analysis of the various elements of a raga the author attempts to show how an emotive significance is inextricably bound up with a raga, and how, in a meaningful exposition of a raga the various elements of musical expression are combined organically to create a musical entity which is supremely edifying, and as such has profound aesthetic and spiritual significance.

 

About the Author

A keen lover and promoter of Indian music, both classical and folk, ROSHMI GOSWAMI is a doctorate in Philosophy from North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. She was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1990-91. She is now wholly involved in working for the economic upliftment and promotion of artisans and craftspersons of North-East India, and through her work attempts to translate her deep convictions about life in concrete terms.

 

Preface

My Ph.D. thesis on Language of Music was based primarily on the analysis of music by applying philosophical concepts to music. Later, during my taleem in music from my Guru, the late Pandit Birendra Kumar Phukan, I felt that the right and perhaps only way to understand music, is to free ones mind from intellectualism and receive music passively without interposing oneself. Nevertheless, not being entirely free from academic grooming one still wanted to say 'somemething' about music, with may be a little more understanding, and so one undertook this work, only to doubt at the end of it all, whether one was competent enough to undertake the study of such a vast and subtle subject.

For the augmentative parts of the book, I have largely depended on my Ph.D. thesis, the work for which was done in the Department of Philosophy of North-Eastern Hill University: For sensitivity to music and to its subtleties, wherever there is any evidence of it in the book, my greatest debt is to my Guruji, Pandit Phukan.

My tenure at the Institute was an enriching experience, and I would like to record here my deep gratitude to its Director, Profess or J.S. Grewal who despite his busy schedule, always had time to listen to my problems and find solutions for them. Without his encouragement and positive support this work would perhaps not have been completed.

It is not possible to mention individually all my colleagues and staff members at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, so I take this opportunity of thanking them collectively for their help and co-operation at various stages and on various things. Some of them however I just have to thank individually; my friend and well- wisher, Dr. Uma Rao, who brought life to the Institute making it seem like home, and whose personal experiences with many great maestros of music added dimensions to my understanding of music. The endless cups of tea with Professor Jaidev not only gave warmth in cold misty Shimla, but also raised basic and profound questions about life and ultimate directions in life; Professor Dhar's jest and lightheartedness helped to cheer the homesick mind and Professor Mahulkar's scholarly interpretations of Sanskrit texts made a vast difference in my understanding of music.

I would also like to express here my deep gratitude to my husband, Dhruba, who has always been bedrock of strength and support and whose intuitive knowledge of things has greatly helped to shape my own thoughts, and to my two little children, Varun and Tara, who bore my absence bravely, silently fighting back tears.

But my greatest and most profound debt is to my mother-in- law, Kiran-bala Goswami, who so selflessly and cheerfully took on all my responsibilities so that I could go to Shimla, and to her, who is no more, I humbly dedicate this book.

 

Introduction

Despite the typically modern denigration of the idea of "truth" of the arts it is becoming increasingly apparent that this attitude is clearly the outcome of certain philosophical prejudices. The arts express "truths" which are inextricably bound up with the truth of Man. Music, more than any other form of art perhaps, gives us profound insights into Man - or it expresses man's basic relatedness to the world around him. While folk music does this in a direct, primordial way, the classical forms do it in a more abstract manner. And, in contemporary thought where the focus is on "conversations" about human rationality, an understanding of music and the "meaning" in music would bring out the significant features, not only of human rationality, but delineate ways of talking about it.

In talking about "meaning" in music, one could be referring to both the "aesthetic" interpretation, and the cultural interpretation. The question is whether the two are in fact distinguishable. It may be said that an understanding of "meaning" in folk music is necessarily culture-dependent. Folk music is quite literally "music of the people", for it gets its life from the life of the people whose music it is, and the performance of folk music, divorced from its normal socio-cultural context deprives it, as it were, of its very soul. Classical music, on the other hand, could be understood independently of its socio-cultural context, and in my present work, the focus is really on "meaning" in classical music, more precisely in the Hindustani form of classical music. All artists aspire to present a piece of music meaningfully, and this is achieved when there is a dynamic interaction between the piece of music, the performer, and the audience. By analysing the basic elements that contribute towards the coherence of a piece of music, my attempt is to interpret this dynamic unity. What does it take for something to be meaningful or when does something have meaning? The minimal requirement of meaningfulness for a sentence is that it must be able to express a proposition, either true or false, for if there is no meaning then there is nothing that can be true or false. Thus, when something is said to be false it is thereby implied that, that something has meaning known to the one who says it. There is then a significant difference between that which is "false" and that which is "meaningless". As music does not express a proposition this criterion of meaningfulness, obviously, does not apply. Nonetheless we do talk about "meaning" in music. This criterion of meaningfulness is not applicable to metaphors either and one suggested criterion of determining the meaning of a metaphor is the possibility of translation into language of common unsage. Following the same argument, attempts have been made to attribute meaningfulness to music by connecting it with something commonplace and extra-musical - he popular but controversial choice being emotions.

In this work I take on this aspect of meaning in music. My general argument is that although there is a very intimate relationship between music and emotions, the meaning of music is not thereby determined by the emotions it claims to express but how the emotions are expressed. And a meaningful presentation of a piece of music is one where the various elements of musical expression are combined organically to create a musical entity which is infinitely rich and appear to be endowed with a life force or prana. To look for meaning in music then is not to look for isolated units of meaning, or to connect isolated aspects with something "else" whose meaning is easily deciphered, but to take the music as a whole and to understand the meaning in musical terms alone. I contend that looking for meaning in music in musical terms alone does not mean that I advocate a formalistic approach to music. Through the elements of the raga I attempt to show how an emotive significance is inextricably bound up with the music itself.

Whether music can independently and adequately express emotions? I dwell briefly on the philosophical analysis of an emotion. A significant aspect (an aspect which has a direct bearing on the analysis of meaning in music) is that, while objects determine the spatio-temporal specificity of an emotion, feelings make an emotion, as distinct from other thought processes. And this "feel" of an emotion, with all its intricacies, is what the artist attempts to present. The argument against such a view is that the "feel" of an emotion does not contribute towards making an emotion definite and that which is not specifiable is not knowable. Since music can only present emotions that are indefinite, one cannot intelligently talk about these emotions. My contention is that the expressive power of music is such that even without having all the elements of meaning of an emotional expression, music can present emotions, and present them in a way that they appear to be woven into the very fabric of the medium itself. An emotion is said to be a "hermeneutic mesh" of a feeling, its expression and its object. A meaningful articulation of an emotion is achieved when this hermeneutic circle is completed. A musical expression despite the lack of object - the vibhava able to complete this circle, which again is possible, because of the peculiar expressive powers of music. And in a raga, the expressive power is nor due to its shared similarities with something extramusical, but it is something built into the music itself. Just as the meaning' of a text is realized when it is understood, the meaning of music consists in its "being heard". An analysis of svara brings out the aesthetic significance of this apparently simple statement of Gadamer's. A svara is not only that which is audible but also that which has resonance or volume, and "delightfulness" built into it. In individual performances then, the attempt of the artist is to make the svaras come "alive" and vibrate expressively. Given the basic fixed structure of a raga, the performance of a raga consists in the individual artist's interpretation of it, and which, given the historicity of the artist, may be different at different times. This however does not mean that the elaboration of a raga is dependent merely on personal feelings and moods of the artist. An analysis of sthayi-bhava shows how a raga has an inner coherence and how a raga is meaning- fully presented when the artist is able to bring about a subliminal balance between the subjective and the objective, the constant and the variable, the structured and the unstructured.

After dwelling on the elements of meaning of a raga, I take on a discussion of the critical evaluation of a raga. The question that arises is whether there are in fact fixed standards of intelligibility, and thereby, fixed standards of appreciation. The primary requirement of appreciating something is that there is a minimal understanding of the thing under consideration. The subjectivist position, of course, rules out such a possibility, while the objectivist approach would rob music of its musicality. Analysing the raga on these lines, I have attempted to show what goes into a performance that makes the presentation aesthetically meaningful. Carrying on this discussion further we arrive at the metaphysical question of what kind of the ultimate value does the raga or the recital of one have?

 

Contents

 

  Preface vii
  Introduction xi
I Music and Emotions 1
II Music and Expressiveness 20
III Sthayibhava and the Aesthetic Structure of a Raga 48
IV The Value of Ragas 65
V The Musical Experience 86
  Bibliography 95
  Glossary 101

Sample Pages









Meaning in Music

Item Code:
NAJ802
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
1995
ISBN:
8185952140
Language:
English
Size:
9 inch X 6 inch
Pages:
130
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 270 gms
Price:
$10.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

To look for meaning in music is not to look for isolated units of meaning, or to connect isolated aspects with something 'other' whose meaning is easily deciphered, but to take the music as a whole and to understand the meaning in musical terms alone. Through an analysis of the various elements of a raga the author attempts to show how an emotive significance is inextricably bound up with a raga, and how, in a meaningful exposition of a raga the various elements of musical expression are combined organically to create a musical entity which is supremely edifying, and as such has profound aesthetic and spiritual significance.

 

About the Author

A keen lover and promoter of Indian music, both classical and folk, ROSHMI GOSWAMI is a doctorate in Philosophy from North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. She was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1990-91. She is now wholly involved in working for the economic upliftment and promotion of artisans and craftspersons of North-East India, and through her work attempts to translate her deep convictions about life in concrete terms.

 

Preface

My Ph.D. thesis on Language of Music was based primarily on the analysis of music by applying philosophical concepts to music. Later, during my taleem in music from my Guru, the late Pandit Birendra Kumar Phukan, I felt that the right and perhaps only way to understand music, is to free ones mind from intellectualism and receive music passively without interposing oneself. Nevertheless, not being entirely free from academic grooming one still wanted to say 'somemething' about music, with may be a little more understanding, and so one undertook this work, only to doubt at the end of it all, whether one was competent enough to undertake the study of such a vast and subtle subject.

For the augmentative parts of the book, I have largely depended on my Ph.D. thesis, the work for which was done in the Department of Philosophy of North-Eastern Hill University: For sensitivity to music and to its subtleties, wherever there is any evidence of it in the book, my greatest debt is to my Guruji, Pandit Phukan.

My tenure at the Institute was an enriching experience, and I would like to record here my deep gratitude to its Director, Profess or J.S. Grewal who despite his busy schedule, always had time to listen to my problems and find solutions for them. Without his encouragement and positive support this work would perhaps not have been completed.

It is not possible to mention individually all my colleagues and staff members at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, so I take this opportunity of thanking them collectively for their help and co-operation at various stages and on various things. Some of them however I just have to thank individually; my friend and well- wisher, Dr. Uma Rao, who brought life to the Institute making it seem like home, and whose personal experiences with many great maestros of music added dimensions to my understanding of music. The endless cups of tea with Professor Jaidev not only gave warmth in cold misty Shimla, but also raised basic and profound questions about life and ultimate directions in life; Professor Dhar's jest and lightheartedness helped to cheer the homesick mind and Professor Mahulkar's scholarly interpretations of Sanskrit texts made a vast difference in my understanding of music.

I would also like to express here my deep gratitude to my husband, Dhruba, who has always been bedrock of strength and support and whose intuitive knowledge of things has greatly helped to shape my own thoughts, and to my two little children, Varun and Tara, who bore my absence bravely, silently fighting back tears.

But my greatest and most profound debt is to my mother-in- law, Kiran-bala Goswami, who so selflessly and cheerfully took on all my responsibilities so that I could go to Shimla, and to her, who is no more, I humbly dedicate this book.

 

Introduction

Despite the typically modern denigration of the idea of "truth" of the arts it is becoming increasingly apparent that this attitude is clearly the outcome of certain philosophical prejudices. The arts express "truths" which are inextricably bound up with the truth of Man. Music, more than any other form of art perhaps, gives us profound insights into Man - or it expresses man's basic relatedness to the world around him. While folk music does this in a direct, primordial way, the classical forms do it in a more abstract manner. And, in contemporary thought where the focus is on "conversations" about human rationality, an understanding of music and the "meaning" in music would bring out the significant features, not only of human rationality, but delineate ways of talking about it.

In talking about "meaning" in music, one could be referring to both the "aesthetic" interpretation, and the cultural interpretation. The question is whether the two are in fact distinguishable. It may be said that an understanding of "meaning" in folk music is necessarily culture-dependent. Folk music is quite literally "music of the people", for it gets its life from the life of the people whose music it is, and the performance of folk music, divorced from its normal socio-cultural context deprives it, as it were, of its very soul. Classical music, on the other hand, could be understood independently of its socio-cultural context, and in my present work, the focus is really on "meaning" in classical music, more precisely in the Hindustani form of classical music. All artists aspire to present a piece of music meaningfully, and this is achieved when there is a dynamic interaction between the piece of music, the performer, and the audience. By analysing the basic elements that contribute towards the coherence of a piece of music, my attempt is to interpret this dynamic unity. What does it take for something to be meaningful or when does something have meaning? The minimal requirement of meaningfulness for a sentence is that it must be able to express a proposition, either true or false, for if there is no meaning then there is nothing that can be true or false. Thus, when something is said to be false it is thereby implied that, that something has meaning known to the one who says it. There is then a significant difference between that which is "false" and that which is "meaningless". As music does not express a proposition this criterion of meaningfulness, obviously, does not apply. Nonetheless we do talk about "meaning" in music. This criterion of meaningfulness is not applicable to metaphors either and one suggested criterion of determining the meaning of a metaphor is the possibility of translation into language of common unsage. Following the same argument, attempts have been made to attribute meaningfulness to music by connecting it with something commonplace and extra-musical - he popular but controversial choice being emotions.

In this work I take on this aspect of meaning in music. My general argument is that although there is a very intimate relationship between music and emotions, the meaning of music is not thereby determined by the emotions it claims to express but how the emotions are expressed. And a meaningful presentation of a piece of music is one where the various elements of musical expression are combined organically to create a musical entity which is infinitely rich and appear to be endowed with a life force or prana. To look for meaning in music then is not to look for isolated units of meaning, or to connect isolated aspects with something "else" whose meaning is easily deciphered, but to take the music as a whole and to understand the meaning in musical terms alone. I contend that looking for meaning in music in musical terms alone does not mean that I advocate a formalistic approach to music. Through the elements of the raga I attempt to show how an emotive significance is inextricably bound up with the music itself.

Whether music can independently and adequately express emotions? I dwell briefly on the philosophical analysis of an emotion. A significant aspect (an aspect which has a direct bearing on the analysis of meaning in music) is that, while objects determine the spatio-temporal specificity of an emotion, feelings make an emotion, as distinct from other thought processes. And this "feel" of an emotion, with all its intricacies, is what the artist attempts to present. The argument against such a view is that the "feel" of an emotion does not contribute towards making an emotion definite and that which is not specifiable is not knowable. Since music can only present emotions that are indefinite, one cannot intelligently talk about these emotions. My contention is that the expressive power of music is such that even without having all the elements of meaning of an emotional expression, music can present emotions, and present them in a way that they appear to be woven into the very fabric of the medium itself. An emotion is said to be a "hermeneutic mesh" of a feeling, its expression and its object. A meaningful articulation of an emotion is achieved when this hermeneutic circle is completed. A musical expression despite the lack of object - the vibhava able to complete this circle, which again is possible, because of the peculiar expressive powers of music. And in a raga, the expressive power is nor due to its shared similarities with something extramusical, but it is something built into the music itself. Just as the meaning' of a text is realized when it is understood, the meaning of music consists in its "being heard". An analysis of svara brings out the aesthetic significance of this apparently simple statement of Gadamer's. A svara is not only that which is audible but also that which has resonance or volume, and "delightfulness" built into it. In individual performances then, the attempt of the artist is to make the svaras come "alive" and vibrate expressively. Given the basic fixed structure of a raga, the performance of a raga consists in the individual artist's interpretation of it, and which, given the historicity of the artist, may be different at different times. This however does not mean that the elaboration of a raga is dependent merely on personal feelings and moods of the artist. An analysis of sthayi-bhava shows how a raga has an inner coherence and how a raga is meaning- fully presented when the artist is able to bring about a subliminal balance between the subjective and the objective, the constant and the variable, the structured and the unstructured.

After dwelling on the elements of meaning of a raga, I take on a discussion of the critical evaluation of a raga. The question that arises is whether there are in fact fixed standards of intelligibility, and thereby, fixed standards of appreciation. The primary requirement of appreciating something is that there is a minimal understanding of the thing under consideration. The subjectivist position, of course, rules out such a possibility, while the objectivist approach would rob music of its musicality. Analysing the raga on these lines, I have attempted to show what goes into a performance that makes the presentation aesthetically meaningful. Carrying on this discussion further we arrive at the metaphysical question of what kind of the ultimate value does the raga or the recital of one have?

 

Contents

 

  Preface vii
  Introduction xi
I Music and Emotions 1
II Music and Expressiveness 20
III Sthayibhava and the Aesthetic Structure of a Raga 48
IV The Value of Ragas 65
V The Musical Experience 86
  Bibliography 95
  Glossary 101

Sample Pages









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