Carnatic Music vs Hindustani Music vs Other forms

I simply couldn’t resist penning down my views on this subject after reading Smt. Lakshmi Sriram’s article in The Hindu (Chennai):

http://www.hindu.com/ms/2007/12/01/stories/2007120150210600.htm

I must admit that I am hardly familiar with forms of music other than Carnatic (and maybe to some extent Western Classical). However, I have attended a Hindustani concert or two, and I hope I do make sense when I talk about Hindustani music or other forms. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course, this post might be highly biased, but that is natural because it’s a personal opinion – take it or chuck it!

While not purely so, most forms of music have some aspect that results in ‘intellectual enjoyment’. One must be able to understand the nuances of the music to wholly appreciate it.

In my opinion, the ingredient of music that requires the least amount of musical training to appreciate is simple rhythm patterns. Somehow, I’m inclined to believe that this is why the likes of Shivamani are extremely popular – because they come up with simple, but yet innovative, rhythm patterns which the common man can understand and appreciate. The other ingredient is Lyrics, preferably in English. I attribute the popularity of those forms of “music” that I would love to derogate by branding them as ‘noise’ to the fact that they are rhythm-intensive or Lyrics-intensive, and thus understandable by most people.

Then there’s harmony. I found out from my friend that not everyone can actually appreciate harmony. Western music primarily relies on harmony. Western Classical music utilizes ensembles of instruments to produce harmonious tones. Other ingredients like the tonal content or rAga, are harder to pick up unless one is trained in the particular form of music.

Carnatic music involves not only a lot of rhythmic complexity (eg: Pallavis, or stuff played in a taniyAvartanam) that is hardly understandable to the untrained ear, but also a lot of tonal complexity (heavy bhRgas and gamakams) that requires a really fast ‘Fourier Transform’ in your brain! What is suprising is that training can make the brain capable of ‘parsing’ every single note in a tonally complex phrase of music.

While Hindustani music might be tonally complex, it is mostly mellifluous and doesn’t involve as much rhythmic complexity (unless I’m mistaken) as Carnatic Music. Carnatic music is sharp, whereas Hindustani is mellifluous; and unless your ‘Fourier Transform’ is fast enough, you can’t appreciate T N Sheshagopalan’s 3rd kAlam swaras in the Alapanai (I still can’t!), which will just sound like drab nonsensical oscillations with no tonal beauty, explaining the popular impression of Carnatic Music. Hindustani Music, especially when rendered popularly, on the other hand, doesn’t require as fast a Fourier Transform – except for some parts of the concert. Thankfully, Hindustani music has these slow phrases which the untrained ear can appreciate, making it more popular.

So I would conclude that the popularity of non-classical forms of music, and above that, that of Hindustani over Carnatic is mostly because Classical Music, and in particular, Carnatic Music doesn’t pander to the average unacquainted man but offers a steep learning curve and calls for appreciation at various levels – emotional and intellectual.

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