Sanskrit is among the oldest languages, of all our Indo-European tongues. Now [Frits] Staal* says mantras, rhythms of sound that do not quite make sense, may lie at the roots of Sanskrit. Here’s an ancient song from the Vedas to be sung in the forest: Ayamayamayamayamayamayamauhova. Literally all it means is “thisonethisonethisonethisonethisonnnnnne …”
You are supposed to sing it when you consecrate an altar out of doors. Staal believes such resonating, repeating measures of sound may be older than human language itself. It may have worked like this: Our ancestors chanted rhythmic patterns of sound long before we ever thought that sounds should signify specific things. Sound came before sense, before we had history, back in the time of birds. Language came out of ritual rather than the other way around.
“The many dimensions of the musical persona of Berlin-based Manickam Yogeswaran of Sri Lankan origin are not easy to fathom just from hearing him sing at one recital. […]
However, a conversation over coffee at Chamiers, days after a performance for Tamil Isai Sangam at Raja Annamalai Mandram, gave a glimpse of the different facets of the disciple of T.V. Gopalakrishnan and his exposure to Hollywood. […]
Yogeswaran’s forays into western classical ensembles, and his key role in global music forums for nearly three decades is a career graph, perhaps, typical of the wider scene in the performing arts these days. At the same time, it is the emotional need to stay anchored to the cultural milieu of one’s roots that probably explains Yogeswaran’s crucial engagement with Carnatic music. […] The challenge now, he says, is to nudge current generation of South Asians from a false sense of security about the future of this traditional art form. The conveniences afforded by technology, in terms of access to the treasure trove of recordings of great masters, ought not to breed complacency in the search for creativity, he argues. The key lies in continued reliance on the rigours of relentless individual ‘sadhana,’ a hallmark of classical music.”
Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin – Rabindranath Tagore*
During this presentation, musical figures from several distinct traditions were explored in a practice-oriented manner. The figures selected are appealing beyond South Asia where they originated many centuries ago and continue to play a key role in classical and applied music.
Our shared goal was to enable young and old to collaborate in a memorable learning process that blends seemlessly into any chosen subject, academic and otherwise.
The criteria for selecting a particular figure were (1) its flexibility as for combining it with another subject, for instance mathematics, geography or history; (2) its appeal going by prior experience with learners from different age groups; and (3) its scope for variation, movement, visualisation and analysis in accordance with learners’ specific needs and abilities.
As part of integrated music education, Indian music enables even complete strangers to share a useful learning process. This calls for a natural and playful approach to melody, rhythm, hand signs and body movement. In this manner we are prepared to include newcomers – children and adults lacking a common language – to instantly participate in music.
Indian music is valued for fostering memory, analytical thinking, concentration, and cooperation among peers. Its basic concepts are exhilarating and liberating whether or not there is scope for studying Indian culture in its own right. This is a boon in circumstances where verbal or written instructions fail to engage learners. Rather than resigning in the face of such formidable challenges, educators are free to experiment and spread solidarity through instant inclusion – the essential joy of “creating” music oneself. This aspect addresses a common fear among learners, namely to be left behind (again!), be it in music or other subjects – a fear that is all too often justified in competitive modern society.
To help educators to overcome such fears, we build lessons around simple figures that bind tunes, rhythms and movements together into a rounded whole. Some of these may appear familiar enough to “break the ice” if needed; and others are so fresh and mind-boggling as to trigger further experimentation among peers in informal settings – anywhere and anytime. For this to happen, we dispense with technical resources of any kind.
Adaptation is the key to rapidly changing learning scenarios wherein cultural stereotyping, a known stumbling block for educators all over the world, must be overcome. This is easily achieved by integrating Indian music into discussions of academic concepts, or by letting its rhythms enrich social and outdoor activities. Such activities are by definition location specific and all-inclusive.
Educators from Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Singapore and Switzerland were among the eleven participants in this one-hour session. They explored a time proven method suited to the needs of a wide range of abilities and learning goals; and this irrespective of participants’ cultural roots.
For more details, kindly check the isme2016glasgow.org website during the conference (24-29 July 2016)
Music counts among the proverbial “64 arts and skills” of ancient India where it became synonymous with “leading a fulfilled life”. Thus, having evolved along with other pursuits, Indian music is an interdisciplinary concept that connects people irrespective of age and cultural background. It is in this context that we explore the world of musical figures: figures that convey subtle meaning while symbolizing the very joy of participating in music making of a high order. Rather than borrowing sounds from a supposedly exotic culture, we apply the building blocks of Indian music for several good reasons: for their accessibility in the context of intercultural education and, of course, for their intrinsic value and beauty.
Learners tap into the mind-boggling world of India’s musical ideas. Tiny musical figures are adapted in a manner that has stood the test of time. While being fun on first hearing they also lend themselves to being visualized and analyzed for non-musical purposes.
This teaching method lends itself to classroom and lifelong learning across the entire social spectrum: it adds colour to other school subjects like maths, languages, geography or physical fitness; and requiring no more than voices, hands and open-mindedness, it kindles communication where there is a lack of time and resources, or even a common language. Figuratively yours, ours truly!
Ludwig Pesch studied at Freiburg University from where he went to India in order to be trained and perform as bamboo flautist. Since then he develops intercultural activities that suit the needs of children, music students and teachers; and also for museum education (e.g. family programmes for Museum Rietberg Zurich in conjunction with Indian art exhibitions).
“Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered” by Ludwig Pesch (Amsterdam) in Gardner, Matthew; Walsdorf, Hanna (Hrsg.). Musik – Politik – Identität. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag, 2016 (Musikwissenschaften)
This essay evolved from a presentation for participants at the music conference “Music | Musics. Structures and Processes” held at Goettingen University (4-8 September 2012); with due credits to the editors.
To download this essay (PDF 500 KB), click here >>
The “classical” music of South India is an amalgam of regional traditions and practices. Increasingly codified in the past five centuries, it is now known as Carnatic or Karnatak music. Like the Sanskrit term Karnâtaka Sangîtam, these Anglicisms denote “traditional” music besides distinguishing South Indian music from its northern (Hindustani) counterpart. Progressive scholars have long espoused the common goal of making teaching more effective for both idioms while safeguarding “authentity”. It may therefore seem odd that detailed notation has not been embraced by practitioners.
This paper probes the resilience of oral transmission in the face of modernity. It looks into the concerns shared by musicians who, while belonging to different cultures and periods, have much in common as far as performing practice is concerned: close integration of vocal and instrumental music. The role of manuscripts in Minnesang, as described by McMahon, also applies to Carnatic music: “songs were handed down in an oral tradition [and] the manuscripts were not intended to be used by performers.” (The Music of Early Minnesang Columbia SC, 1990.)
It will be argued that this fact is not just a question of some musicians’ conservatism, ignorance or irrationality; nor would it put the continuity of a living tradition at risk. On the contrary, Carnatic music reaches global audiences today while “ancient” roots are claimed even by those who cherish its association with musicians from other cultures throughout the 20th century.
About this publication
Music – Politics – Identity
Music always mirrors and acts as a focal point for social paradigms and discourses surrounding political and national identity. The essays in this volume combine contributions on historical and present-day questions about the relationship between politics and musical creativity.
The first part concentrates on musical identity and political reality, discussing ideological values in musical discourses.
The second part deals with (musical) constructions, drwawing on diverse national connections within our own and foreign identity.
Matthew Gardner & Hanna Walsdorf (eds.)
Musik – Politik – Identität
Musik ist immer auch Spiegel und Kristallisationspunkt gesellschaftlicher Paradigmen und politisch-nationaler Identitätsdiskurse. Der vorliegende Sammelband vereint Beiträge zu historischen und gegenwärtigen Fragestellungen, die um das Verhältnis von Politik und musikalischem Schaffen kreisen.
Im ersten Teil sind Beiträge zusammengefasst, die sich mit „Musikalischer Identität und politischer Realität“ befassen und dabei ideologische Zuschreibungsprozesse im Musikdiskurs thematisieren.
Der zweite Teil des Bandes umfasst Betrachtungen über „(Musikalische) Konstruktionen von eigener und fremder Identität“ aus verschiedensten nationalen Zusammenhängen.
Matthew Gardner & Hanna Walsdorf (Hg.)
Inhalt / Contents
Hanna Walsdorf und Matthew Gardner
I Musikalische Identität und politische Realität
Deutsche Nationalmusik? Ein diskursgeschichtlicher Annäherungsversuch
Mauro Fosco Bertola
„Die Musik ist mediterran“: Orient, Latinität und Musikgeschichte, oder: Wie Nietzsche 1937 Italiens koloniale Macht legitimieren sollte
„Nordische Musik“ als Faktor der Propaganda der Nordischen Gesellschaft und der DNSAP in Dänemark um 1940
„Was ließen jene, die vor uns schon waren…?“ Musik in der Bündischen Jugend nach 1945
Methoden musikalischer Opposition in Portugal während der Salazar-Diktatur bei Jorge Peixinho und José Afonso
Paul Christiansen ‘The Stakes Are Too High For You to Stay Home’: Divergent Uses of Music in TV Political Ads in the 1964 U.S. Presidential Election
II (Musikalische) Konstruktionen von eigener und fremder Identität
‘Das Land ohne Musik’? National Musical Identity in Victorian and Edwardian England
Reflections of European Culture in the Grey Collection (National Library of South Africa)
Jazz and the Emergence of the African-Roots Theory
Achim Freyers Mr. Rabbit and the Dragon King: Eine Interpretation des koreanischen P’ansori Sugungga
Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered
“Unity in Diversity, Antiquity in Contemporary Practice? South Indian Music Reconsidered” by Ludwig Pesch (Amsterdam) in Gardner, Matthew; Walsdorf, Hanna (Hrsg.). Musik – Politik – Identität / Music – Politics – Identity. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag, 2016 (Musikwissenschaften) | Abstract and contents >>
Of all living creatures in the world, man has his vital and mental energy vastly in excess of his need, which urges him to work in various lines of creation for its own sake […] Life is perpetually creative because it contains in itself that surplus which ever overflows the boundaries of the immediate time and space.
Rabindranath Tagore in The Religion of an Artist *
For ten years this exhibition celebrated the sources of inspiration shared by Indian and Western artists; and at the same time, it traced the role of migrants from India via Surinam through songs, memorabilia, and documentary film footage.
Concept and research: Ludwig Pesch (www.aiume.org) in collaboration with museum staff and Architectenbureau Jowa (www.jowa.nl).
This exhibition was one of the five themes in the exhibition “Round and About India”: Wanderings
Storytellers and actors brought their stories to every corner of India. Today their narrative boxes, scrolls and performances are increasingly being replaced by modern mediums, but they have not yet disappeared.
India is a country of stories and storytellers. Opportunities abound in the exhibition Round and About India to watch and listen to narratives about people, ideas and objects. Every item has a tale, every person has something to tell. Whether it is festivals and processions, commerce and history, gods and heroes, pilgrimages and wanderings.
In this exhibition these stories are the central features of performances in dance, theatre and music.
On display until 2017
Visit the Tropenmuseum
This museum is one of Amsterdam hidden treasures. Located off city centre in a beautiful old building in East Amsterdam (Amsterdam Oost), Tropenmuseum often remains forgotten, like an old collection of post stamps. However, if you are interested in other cultures, other countries and distant lands – do no miss it.
Amsterdam Tropenmuseum exhibit is modern, fascinating on many levels and inspiring. […] Modern and intelligent presentation makes the visit pleasant to a larger public, including children. | More information: www.amsterdam.info/museums/tropenmuseum
Some notes on Rabindranath Tagore and his role in fostering “sympathy of the East and West” during his visit to The Netherlands in fall 1920
In his poetry, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature as Asia’s first awardee in 1913, Tagore uses musical instruments as metaphors for self-realization and transcendence; notably the vina (or “veena”, often translated as “harp”) and the flute. In a letter to Frederik van Eeden, his Dutch translator, he wrote:
“Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute – the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. I am sure you have seen me in my book and I shall never be able to make myself seen to you when we meet; for the body of the lamp is dark, it has no expression, only its flame has the language.” (signed in London, 9 August 1913) 
This recurring motif may excuse the amusing blunder by a cartoon character (the alter ego of the museum’s former Curator for South Asia), who hails Tagore as “India’s greatest flautist”! 
In an earlier letter to Van Eeden, written seven years before visiting the Netherlands, Tagore wrote:
“Still I cannot deny that this award of the Nobel Prize has been a great thing. It is the handshake of sympathy of the East and West across the water – it has proclaimed the oneness of humanity.” (signed in Shanti Niketan, 12 December 1913) 
In 1920 Tagore spoke before packed houses including the “free congregation”: the humanistic and cosmopolitan “Vrije Gemeente” whose highly placed members had built a magnificent church at the Weteringschans in Amsterdam. (It now houses Amsterdam’s prime pop venue, known as “Paradiso”.)
Tagore’s lecture tour made a lasting impression on countless listeners:
“Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and the Dutch writer, psychiatrist and Utopist Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) exchanged correspondence between 1913 and 1928, and met in Amsterdam in 1920. When Van Eeden discovered Tagore’s poetry in 1913, he experienced a feeling of profound recognition and went on to translate a considerable amount of Tagore’s poetic work into Dutch, starting with Gitanjali [Wijzangen]. Van Eeden’s translations became very popular in the Netherlands, also among composers.” 
Van Eeden’s father (the elder Frederick van Eeden) was in fact the co-founder of what later became the Tropenmuseum, established as the “Colonial Museum” in nearby Haarlem in 1864. The grand building in Amsterdam dates from 1923. 
 Learn more about Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932) and the spread of Tagore’s educational ideas through Noto Soeroto in “Tagore in The Netherlands” by Liesbeth Meyer: www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pMeyer.html
(visited 14 March 2016)
 For the record: it is a well known fact that Tagore did not play any musical instrument other than the drone:
“I practiced my songs with my tamburā resting on my shoulder.” (My Boyhood Days, p. 38,Calcutta: Visva-Bharati 1997).
Later he was depicted as playing a similar string instrument, namely as a participant in his own music dramas (see the detail from Abanindranath Tagore’s painting reproduced here). So if you visit the exhibition and watch its audiovisual contents, kindly ignore this blunder by an over-enthusiastic museum team member. Here you may enjoy the rare and instructive media contents supplied by many contributors including the Embassy of India in The Hague.
 More information is found in the English Abstract by Rokus de Groot for his article titled “Van Eeden en Tagore. Ethiek en muziek” in Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis, D. 49ste, Afl. 2de (1999), pp. 98-147. The abstract and article (in Dutch) are found here: www.jstor.org
 In 1923 the building on the corner of Mauritskade and Linnaeusstraat was completed and the collections from Haarlem could be moved to Amsterdam. On 9 October 1926 Queen Wilhelmina officially opened the new Colonial Institute. The history of the Tropenmuseum is outlined here (in English): www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/en/instellingen/tropenmuseum
Listen to “Tagore: Unlocking Cages” from the series of podcasts by BBC 4 titled “Incarnations: India in 50 Lives”. Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the Bengali writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore. The series is found here: http://bbc.in/1KVh4Cf