hear music everywhere.
In every aspect of my life.
In the chirping of early morning birds, catching the
worms. In the rapid beating of my heart, as I sprint to
my destination. In the laughter of my younger sister, as
my doting mother tickles her. Even in the pitter-patter of
rain, as the water cascades down. I perceive these moments
as musical and essential to my being.
Music has stood by me, as my constant companion, for as
long as I can remember. Because of my Indian heritage and
my American upbringing, I have had a blend of cultures
that has made me who I am today, with music as a central
My family surrounded me with traditional Indian classical music from a young age. Both my parents and grandparents actively enjoy listening and singing this kind of
music and they hope to pass the traditions on to me.
In addition to Indian music, I also study Western classical violin and vocal music, through private lessons and in
school. My initiation into this style of music was based on
minimal knowledge of the art form from my family. But to
me at the age of eight, the idea had an untouched and fashionable appeal, which automatically gave it a “cool” factor.
So I decided to give it a try.
Devi Srinivasan feels that
music has the power to
change the world.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
Indian classical music or Carnatic music specifically, has
three main components to it: The raagam, the shruthi and
the taalam. The raagam, or the scale, is the basis for
each song. It has a pattern of five to seven notes in
an ascending and descending order that forms
its structure. There are 72 main raagams
in total, and derivatives from these can
be created in any combination. The
shruthi, or the pitch, is the
anchor for an artist’s music. It
ensures that an artiste stays
in tune throughout any
taalam, or the rhythm, is
the backbone to any
piece. It keeps the
beat of a given
song and allows for
a constant tempo.
Without these three essential elements, Carnatic music
would not exist.
Western classical music holds the
mentioned rudiments in a similar place
of importance, but with the addition of
intonation, dynamics, and articulation. Both styles have a scale of some
sort. But instead of 72 main scales,
Western music has four main patterns of notes: major, minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor,
although variations can branch out
from these basics. Intonation means
pitch, which directly connects to
shruthi in Carnatic music. Western
music also has a similar concept of
rhythm as the frame of a piece,
though the systems between the two
are completely different. Even though
dynamics, the level of the volume, and
articulation, the style of the music,
have a place in Carnatic music,
Western music holds them at a higher
level of emphasis.
As a student of Eastern and Western
violin and choral music, I can say that
both forms, though differing in lyrical
language and cultural roots, are similar in essence. For example, one of the
72 parent raagams in Carnatic music,
called Shankarabharanam, has the
exact same pattern of a major scale in
Western music. The scale has a high
level of popularity thanks to the movie
Sound of Music.
Both styles give ample room for a composer to emote his
or her stories, which has reflected the cultures they originated historically in. But it has been demonstrated time
and again that while lyrics make the music unique to a culture, music transcends boundaries of any one culture.
Anyone will understand a slow, solemn dirge, or a happy,
lilting ditty, irrespective of the lyrics. For example, in my
chorus class we learned three Spanish based songs for
Hispanic Heritage month. We immediately fell in love with
the music and eagerly practiced.
Notice how I said music and not lyrics. The lyrics them-
selves we had no interest in because of the language barri-
er. Until our conductor translated the meaning for us, we
could not make head or tail of the story expressed, but we
could make out the mellow tone of the Hispanic style in the
notes and the energetic patterns of the rhythm. That
understanding allowed the music to connect with us well
before the words did.
Devi is a junior at high
school in Brookeville,