Bengali Music: Of Changing Times and our Robust Aspirations - 2
"O innocent victims of Cupid, remember this terse little verse: To let a fool kiss you is stupid; to let a kiss fool you is worse." American lyricist E. Y. Harburg (1896-1981)
Since time and space is the hypotheses to advance arguments in this essay – the digression above on poems/SMS was necessary as we have been criminal accomplices to a thought process that dilutes Music, as if it were a ‘stand alone’ entity in our culture. That Music is a hugely mind, imagination driven and an intense cultural component is seldom discussed, and rarely if ever acknowledged by pundits. ‘Writing songs’ has always been made out as the easiest thing possible and lyricists quite unfairly fit into domains of inarticulate and plain ‘dull headed people’ for a starter, condemned to remain the most underrated link in the entire process of ‘songster-ing’ to this day.
Yet in all fairness the responsibility of a lyricist far outstrips those of a Poet, Composer or even the singer. Other than a solid knack for poesy, he has also to be an accomplished mathematician, understanding well the complexity of bars, rhythm, meters, quantize etc, as much as a complete control and mastery of rhymes within lines, to an acute sense of tackling bizarre phenomenon’s that differentiate sound-patterns of a word reflecting its inherent meaning (onomatopoeia) and how they eventually correlate in its completed meaning – and that is not all.
Way before Music could be preserved in what we call ‘recorded’ formats today; the lyricist had to add a ‘signature line’ – stamped as a seal of intellectual proprietorship, the only known way copyrights could be protected. The lyricist had also to handle matters that would best suit musicologists: pre-Chorus, Chorus, Verse, and Bridges – and much, much more before a song could be …well called a song. That is if we are talking only about songs and not music.
Indeed the lyricist/poet/bard took it on himself to imbed in his compositions ‘sound signatures’ (different from signature lines) – which were basically written words that gave directions to what the background scores would be or could be. Who wouldn’t work this hard to protect work – meant he also had the most rudimentary knowledge of intellectual property right laws?
Then there is the very hard job of taking stock of ‘written scores’ for Music. For reasons best know to our beloved ancestors, this was an area that we have remained the weakest, and while International Staff Notations (ISN) and the hand pumped poor mans keyboard – the ‘pseudo-religious’ Harmonium -- were still centuries away, what we have been left with is a legacy of reams upon reams of ancient text, basically lyrics and poems, with absolutely no clue what the tunes were like, and worse if there was at all any music to go with it, that we can recapture for benefit of a millennium audience.
4. The Gaan Wala – Of Music Makers Extraordinary
"There is nothing which tends to develop a higher degree of coordination between mind and body, nothing which demands more accurate thinking, nothing that develops the memory to a larger capacity and a higher degree of responsiveness, nothing that accelerates the mental processes to a greater speed; nothing that imparts a finer sense of form and balance than does Music." - Anonymous.
Music Makers from our tradition were essentially creating history in ways more than one. Music being the vessel that traditionally encapsulated and fired Mans ideas and inspirations at the shortest possible time to move the farthest at speeds that could never be determined, controlled or manipulated – meant Music and its Makers were viewed with understandable awe and reverence. What a ‘gaan wala’ could accomplish in minutes – in only a few lines – authors, poets, playwrights, journalists i.e., the entire gamut of ‘wordsmiths’ could never ever contemplate in thousand and thousands of words, and a lifetime would go by without even being noticed.
He was an acknowledged authority on how the complete idea of a Novel or Novelette could be interpreted in less that 10 lines, or maybe less than 50 words, of how a ‘cold poem’ written on colder paper, or a magnum opus play, tucked in an ignored corner of some ‘rich archive’ of useless paraphernalia’s (with or without dry rose petals!) could be literally lapped, wrapped, gift packed and power-delivered to please the auditory senses of fellow Man.
There was also the reinterpretation of ancient words that happily addresses our recent problems whether they be in our spiritual, private or public realms, to the more rudimentary and basic needs in difficult times – an old story that stood tests of times and answers our diabolical distresses, a battle cry here, a rallying point there, a song that unifies in seconds despite all our frailties, surprising even the politicians who have pathologically divided us in the decades gone by.
Importantly Music lays bare the critical synergy that beguiles us between the ‘spirit’ as in spiritual – as opposed to ‘religious’ as in religion. Music is hope, because it takes grueling hard work bordering on ‘divinity’ and is the end results of very many in the creative process: lyricists, composers, singers, musicians – and the audience or listener who then accepts or rejects the final outcome.
In the centuries gone by ‘Making Music’ in Bengal was never a profession, nor restricted to any particular class or community, neither were they commissioned works. More often they flowed from inspirations dictated by time. They were thoughts and aspirations of men and women of great wisdom and intellect, whose talent lay in fact that they best knew the fastest way to communicate, a skill which is inherent in Man’s nature. Music attracted our ancestors as it had the innate ability to capture the speed of Time – at any time, and Music Makers were always a time driven and restless lot, who wanted to ‘move furthest’ in the mental realms, when all too often, it was not possible to do so physically
Why we sing when we can very well talk, write and hear is unknown, but social-scientists find Music’s dominant acceptability in all cultures and societies because it has valuable therapeutic qualities. Other than creating a rush of adrenalin and the whole retinue of merry-making, dancing, festivities that it triggers, it also played a significant part in calming the human race: chants and incantations were possibly initial music forms which invoked deeper contemplations and meditation all too often leading to tears, as much as on the flip side, rapturous serotonin ‘spiritual highs’ representing the ‘Whirling Dervishes’ dance ensembles of the 13th Century Sufi orders in the Ottoman Empire.
Quintessentially, it is also in Music that we have the ‘all in one’ geniuses to contend with – men and women who are lyricists, poets, composer and performers. From Man’s earliest time this breed has carved its niche and its individual schools of thoughts. Ironic that it is possibly because of the accomplishments of these ‘one-man citadels’ that Music as indicated earlier has been confused a ‘stand alone’ entity. Ruefully – it may not be inappropriate to make a note at this point: Music like many other demanding fields of performing arts, is not Democratic – but feudal and autocratic in character, and explains why at the dawn of civilisation, as and when Music came to be noticed, it was the landed gentry, and aristocrats who turned its biggest patrons and promoters. They well understood the phenomenal possibilities at exploitation simply by being associated with the fine arts and in a round about way helped retained some of the oldest forms in it originality, by infusion of wealth.