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Biography, Autobiography, Journal and Anecdotes

Part III - Journal and Anecdotes


I found that the Eastern and Western music are vastly different in spite of one and the same basic principle and in spite of the well-known belief that music is the language of the universe.

It became difficult for me to uphold the superiority of Indian music any longer, even in my own sight, for comparison became impossible. In certain things I found Indian music no doubt much more advanced in some respects, but the Western music seemed to have advanced much further than a musician of India can ever imagine. Nevertheless it seemed easy to convince an Indian artist of that truth by showing tangible examples, but I found it most difficult to prove the superiority of Indian music to the Western person, for the reason that the direction in which the music of India has evolved is in the abstract, obscure to the perception of every person. The chief difference which I found between the music of India and that of the West was that the Indian music was more individualistic, with scope for creation, more psychological, more an art rather than mechanically constructed, appealing to the heart and productive of peace.

The remarks that every Western person made about Eastern music was that it is weird, melancholy, sad. And a musician will say, it is mostly in a minor key and it consists of many repetitions. And a question that was constantly asked was, "Why is there no harmony in Indian music?" This it embarrassed me most to say, for it would need the giving of a whole lecture on philosophy and music to tell anyone fully why we have no harmony. The word harmony, which is the soul of music, is used in Western terms also for a system of playing various notes together. And in order to say "No, we have not such a system", I had to use the words, "We have no harmony", which in the true sense means, "We have no soul in our music."

The ragas in India upon which the art of Indian music is built are characteristic of the nature of the Hindus, whose religion consists of mythology and whose divine ideals, Gods and Goddesses, are the pictures of certain characters of life. So the ragas represent certain characters and we find ourselves intimate with the ragas as we are with our friends. A raga is a natural thing, as character is natural, and ragas even exist in the West. The Western people unconsciously compose and enjoy ragas, but as they do not distinguish their ragas they are not bound to keep in the region of any particular raga, as we are in India. The music of the East and that of the West cannot be judged by an intellectual comparison, but only by its effect upon one. For it is the nature of the soul to enjoy better what it has once already enjoyed. Every pleasing sensation, so to speak, makes a line upon one's soul and retouching the same line, next time redoubles the sensation. It is therefore that the music of every country is liked by its inhabitants more than the music of other lands. The Swiss air, "Ranz des Vaches", was never allowed to be played in the hearing of the Swiss guard of the French kings, because to hear that air made them long to return to their own country. Also, in order to enjoy the music of any country one must know something about it.

To every person music appeals according to his grade of evolution, for every person there is a certain music which can appeal to him. But no one from the East or West of the world can deny that the Western music has an effect of rousing passion or emotion, whereas Indian music has a tendency to produce calm and peace. An Indian artist lives for his art, in the West an artist cannot afford to do so, the demands of life force him to submit his art to the commercial realm of people's demand. The artist in India is the composer at the same time. Even an amateur in India begins his first step in art with a creative attitude. However great a singer or player in the West, he must subject himself first to the composer whose music he sings or plays. His creative faculty therefore has very little opportunity to play a part.

By the kind invitation of Monsieur Dalcroze I had the great pleasure of seeing some of the demonstrations given by his pupils under his personal direction. In Dalcroze I saw someone in the West who has such a great tendency to improvise and, in spite of some crude and most exaggerated gestures which he first teaches to his pupils, he seems to be advancing to the same goal which is continually sought by an artist of Hindustan.

With all the richness of voice possessed by a Western singer, the intricacies of Indian art of singing are such that he cannot easily render it. Nor can a singer of India with his flexibility of voice and with its silky texture make his voice audible to the large audience in the Grand Opera House.

After seeing the Western operas, where one hears the splendor of Occidental vocal culture, I was much impressed to see to what extent the art of singing has been developed. This was a wonder to me. No doubt, it has always been difficult to accustom my ears to enjoy singing accompanied by so many different instruments and different voices. At the same time I saw what facility it gives to a singer to be so supported by the whole orchestra and by other voices so that he may have time to breathe and to give a better expression to his voice. And I saw how much more difficult the task of an Eastern singer was when the whole performance depended upon his one voice, accompanied by nothing but the tambura, which gives one chord to help him keep the keynote. This I found one of the reasons why the voice of the Eastern singers is not so large in volume and so widely audible to a crowd as that of an Occidental singer. However I noticed the quality to be different. The quality of a Western singer's voice is not such that could produce with facility what an Eastern singer could, whose voice is more flexible. But at the same time the Western singer excels in the volume of his voice, which is considered in the West as a mark of his development.

In the stories of operas I found also the difference of the Eastern and Western taste. To the Eastern mind the touch of vairagya, which is renunciation, makes the greatest appeal. Therefore in every drama the plot has something of it. If the same idea was produced in the West, it would perhaps be interesting, but not appealing. What mostly touches the Western mind is heroism, although it is the quality of heart which makes the greatest impression on man, whether he be of the East or West.

The European voice is classified in different voices such as tenor, baritone, bass, soprano. But in India there is no classification of voices for the very reason that there is no choral singing, which gives the Indian singer a great freedom of expression and an individual pitch, peculiar to himself. Therefore each singer has his natural pitch of voice which is peculiar to himself. In India what particularly appeals to an audience is the sympathetic quality of a singer's voice, instead of a large volume of voice. If there is anything which is common to India and the West in singing, it is what they call in the West "oratorio". And there is a reason for this. It is religious music and it has its origin in the East. No doubt, one thing is remarkable in comparing the music of the East and West. That is that the compositions of the great Western musicians which are called in the West classical, are of a similar character, but in quite a different form, as dhurpad and khayal of India.

However Indian music represented in Oriental style in an Eastern voice, even to my own ears appeared poor, as a whistle before the noise of drums. The very ideal is different from that of the West. Indian music is for a few people sitting in solitude, having all their time their own to tune their instruments and to sing, even if it were the whole night, as suits that climate, where in the middle of the night music has more influence than at other times. In the West if a man practices in his flat after eleven o'clock at night he will soon hear from his landlady. To an average Western person that music falls beneath his standard, and a thoughtful person takes it in another way, often out of politeness. He says, "Your music is something which we cannot understand." But I saw some people in the West, most of them sympathetic to the East and its thought, who were more deeply struck by Indian music, which seemed to appeal to them even more than the music of their own land. Some I have seen in the West who felt on hearing our music that this was the music that they thought was something that their soul had longed for all through their life, as if their spirit knew it already. Some called it not music but magic, but such people were seldom to be found.

In whatever form Indian music was presented, I now and then met with people who became fascinated with the music I had to represent, and I met with some who even grasped the idea which was hidden beneath my music. Several became so bewildered after having a conversation with me, thinking: how can a musician have such ideas? It was an unusual thing to them. They thought that it was religion I was representing in my music. They thought that it was making a stage a temple, and a concert hall a church. Some saw that a moral and spiritual Message of reform I was giving from every place where I was allowed to stand, and they marvelled at the idea of someone doing that depending upon his own work for his livelihood, without any support from anywhere and yet not wanting to convert people to any particular religion, only fulfilling his life's mission by showing those who came across his way the straight path that leads to the destination of life.