The question of how exceptional artists emerge, sometimes as an efflorescence in a particular period of time, is what animates this collection of essays about musicians in North India. The point of these articles is not, however, about the lives of exceptional musicians per se, but the communities and families from which they emerge, and the social and cultural systems that provide their foundation. Until very recently, professional musicians were preponderantly members of hereditary families and castes of musicians; this has been true for musicians practicing raga-based Hindustani music as well professional performers in the countryside.
This collection also includes historical studies starting after the mid-nineteenth century. Focusing on the emergence of stylistic schools emerging out of core extended families of territorially based hereditary communities known as gharanas, these essays provide a way to understand how large numbers of professional musician families were able to produce the core of most of the truly outstanding musicians of the twentieth century. Importantly, it was from the ranks of ordinary musicians, mostly families of sarangi and tabla accompanists, that the majority of great vocalists and instrumentalists arose. And even the significant exceptions to this process-those who were not hereditary musicians or whose background was not located in the families of accompanists-learned their art as members of hereditary families or from members of hereditary families of musicians.
This collection then is also a celebration of the genius of Indian music and the hereditary families that created it.
Author of the Life of Music in North India and Other works, Daniel Neuman is currently professor of Ethnomusicology and the M.B. Sambhi Chair of Indian Music at the University of California, Los Angeles ( UCLA) where he has also served as Dean of the School of Arts and Architecture and later as Executive vice-chancellor and Provost of the University.
STUDYING INDIA'S MUSICIANS is the tide of this collection and an apt description of my own research that actually started when I first arrived in India forty-five years ago at the end of January, 1969. The essays in this collection are almost all directly related to issues concerning the social organization of hereditary musicians. The two exceptions, namely the essay on Indian music in North America and the one on discourse media, were both written based on research that had been conducted with Indian musicians.
There is one previously unpublished article in this collection dealing with the issue of Muslim castes in India .Although theoretically dated, the article addresses issues concerning Muslim castes that were current in the late 1970s, and my take on this issue was directly informed by my research on hereditary families of Muslim musicians. Why have I been so singularly focused on performers? In part this is due to my interest in how societies support the exceptionally expensive training - through years and years of study and practice - that goes into producing first rate musicians. This interested me particularly because unlike other kinds of productions, music performances were, until recently, ephemeral productions. Unlike the plastic arts, you can't frame a performance or have it standing in your vestibule. Unlike the literary arts, you couldn't, (until the advent of cheap recording technologies which emerged in India only in the 1970s with cassette recorders), publish your work and even now no one would collect a fine library of works to display. Unlike other practical arts, you can't make your physical life more comfortable or secure. Music and its sister art, dance, can be notated, to be sure, but notations provide only a guide, and in the Indian art traditions, only a very rough guide, to actual performances.
Music is a special instance of human behaviour. The fact that it is universal - no peoples are known not to have music - and species specific to homo sapiens, suggests an adaptive basis for music in the evolution of our species. In other words music has been important in the evolution of our species although it is not yet clear in what way this is the case. But the fact that societies such as India's spend so much energy in the training of musical specialists raises for me questions of why this is so.
But there is another phenomenon that has exercised my obsession with musicians and that is how it comes to be that there are certain historical periods that seem particularly rich in the production of art generally and music specifically. My short answer is intensive training at an early age such as one finds in hereditary families of musicians. Although obviously not limited to such families, the probabilities of musical genius, if you will, emerging in hereditary families would appear to be greater than the more random selection we would expect in the general population. And this is by no means limited to India; think of the hereditary environments of great composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
Personally I have never been interested in exceptional musical figures as such, except for their musical productions. What I have been interested in are the more ordinary musicians, some more and some less accomplished, who provide the rank and file necessary for producing ordinary musicians, without whom musical life could not exist, as well as producing the exceptional 'genius' just through sheer numbers. But one of the consequences of the privilege I have had, and privilege it has very much been, of studying Indian musicians, is the sheer joy of many wonderful and a few transcendent musical experiences in the half century I have been listening to Hindustani and Carnatic music. I had already been involved with the Western classical tradition since I was a child. The discovery of the Indian systems taught me more than most can imagine, through the discovery of multiple worlds of that magical experience we know as music. The fact of all these other musical worlds is what has made ethnomusicology a very special experience for me as it has for many of my colleagues. The ability to listen to and love Bach's 'Ebarme dich, mein Gott' from his St. Matthew Passion and then switch to Vilayat Khan's Raga Yaman is a privilege for any of us who can do it. The world would be a much better place if more people could listen without translation.
Those who were among the ones who helped me in this translation were my wonderful parents-in-law, DP. Sen and Sati Sen. You can see them in figure 1 along with the outstanding musicians, DT. Joshi and Mushtaq Ali Khan along with their disciple, my sister-in- law, Sharmistha Sen.
This work has ultimately depended on the excellence and dedication of the two main teachers from whom I have been privileged to learn so much. I dedicate this collection to them, with my deepest respect.
North Indian Music (285)
Original Texts (60)
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