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Bombay Jayashri on COMET

German Musicologist Prof. Dr. Hans Neuhoff
Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln
Cologne University of Music and Dance

Indian classical music holds an eminent position in the concert of cultures. Its foundation on strong tonal principles, notably the tonic and the fifth, matches perfectly with the human cognitive need for firm references in information processing.

And the refined techniques to connect tones, and to execute some tones as oscillations rather than fixed pitches (gamaka, alankara), appear as telling means to overcome the notorious mathematical imperfection of musical scales.

What is more, the Indian system has achieved to transgress elegantly the (seeming) contradiction between the categories of the classical and the contemporary. Indian classical music is classical and contemporary. It is classical, since principles developed in the past are respected and adhered to in the present, and musical works, composed by masters of the 18th and 19th century, are considered as exemplary and timeless expressions of the Indian mind in form and emotional content. It is contemporary, because it demands from each and every artist to discover again and anew the essence of raga, and allows each artist to express himself in the creative shaping of alapanam and other improvisatory parts.

Any system challenged to balance such strong forces, needs continuous observation of its changing environments, and intelligent adaptation of its ways and working orders. With the establishment of Brhaddhvani and the development of the COMET system of education in music, Prof. Karaikudi S. Subramanian has contributed significantly to the difficult task of guiding Carnatic music into the cultural formations of the 21st century, and allow for its continued thriving therein.

COMET, as I see it, is based on modern insights into the psychology of creative processes and music making, on a thorough reflection of the fundamentals of Indian music and raga structures (taking advantage both of quantitative and qualitative scientific methods), an intelligent way of using notations and graphic tools, and a carefully designed syllabus to lead students from the very beginnings to higher performance levels. And, COMET works. I was amazed to see on several occasions how even foreigners, who had had little exposure to the Carnatic idiom, were able to grasp complicated melodic structures in short time, and to perform them correctly. The recent introduction of COMET at top schools and pre-schools in Chennai may well mark the beginning only of an effective and sustained pedagogical transformation.

Brhaddhvani, however, is more than the gravitation centre of COMET. It is an intellectual centre and a meeting point of artists, scholars, and intellectuals from all over the world. And it is, above all, the personality of its founder and head, which attracts them. Prof. Subramanian is one of the few top ranking Indian artists who has finished higher scientific training at a Western university as well, taking his PhD from Weslyan University, Connecticut. Studying and living in the West has enabled him to take broader views on things, musical and non-musical, to reflect them from different perspectives, and to stimulate transcultural communication.

Cologne University of Music and Dance (Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln), Germany’s largest and leading educational institution for the training of professional musicians, has therefore decided in 2005 to choose Brhaddhvani as its academic partner for the Indian studies of its students, and for research projects in South Indian music.

A fair number of Cologne students has, since then, benefitted from training by Brhaddhvani teachers and Prof. Subramanian himself. The main thing, however, is a current scientific research project on raga, designed and conducted by Prof. Subramanian and myself. For the first time, to the best of my knowledge, it is being tried to describe raga forms on purely empirical grounds, that is, on computer-aided analyses of what master musicians actually do in performance (but not on what they say).

It is a telling expression of this institutional relation that most of the artists who associated with Brhaddhvani have performed over the last five years at our main hall at Cologne to large and appreciative audiences: Prof. Subramanian himself played a moving Veena recital and a lecture demonstration. Bombay Jayashri gave an elevating presentation of finest Carnatic jewels, Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi gave two powerful violin recitals. Once again Lalgudi Krishnan was one of the key artistes in a big three-continental dance and music production with dancer Sangeeta Isvaran in that same production, and Shankari Krishnan with a lecture demonstration.

I wish the 21 year celebration of Brhaddhvani with a symposium on “Brhaddhvani’s COMET methodology and Conservatories- A perspective”- 2012, all success, looking forward to further collaboration with the institution and the wonderful artists working with it.

Hindustani Musician Dharambir Singh MBE

(A sitar player and a music educationist-UK)

COMET and Hindustani Music

The pioneering work of Brhadhwani was introduced to UK by Dr Frances Shepherd, when Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramaniam visited UK to help with the syllabi of Carnatic graded music examinations. My first meeting with the maestro and musicologist made me realise how he was ahead of the times in thinking of a methodology based on scientific principles yet rooted in an old tradition.

He gave demonstrations and presentations explaining the salient features of COMET (Correlated Objective Music Education and Training).

Personally I could resonate with the concerns of Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramaniam about the University Music education in India. The main impetus of his efforts were clearly rooted in his own background as a Veena Maestro of six generations tradition and the unhappiness in seeing the University education approach in India. His PhD in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, USA gave him the tools and the language needed to bring about his desired vision of combining the traditional gurukula and the modern institution. Since its inception in 1989 the work of Brhaddhvani has travelled through the initial research stage and emerged as a powerful organisation with the experience and concept for the need of the time.

The existing Universities emphasise on the repertoire without the necessary preparation of musicianship including oral skills, performance skills and notation skills, has produced mediocre standard musicians as torchbearers for the future institutional teaching institutions.

COMET system has thought through all the skills and created modern approaches to prepare the musicians for the modern times. The approach is not to undermine the various rich repertoire traditions in South Indian Music but to prepare musicians who could learn faster, digest quicker and make sense of the music using the tools of a well cultured voice, sensitivity and notation skills. Through its various courses devised by Brhaddhvani the institution is striving in introducing the country to a system which would sit comfortably along side the other subjects taught in schools, colleges and Universities.

The biggest success of Brhaddhvani is that it is based in India with a truly global outlook engaging with institutions around the world. Through its work already it has shown how the musicians from around the world have benefited from visits to Brhaddhvani in India and have in return shared their knowledge and skills with the Indian musicians. This approach is very important in order to bring the best practitioners of music from around the world to India.

The technology offers varied opportunities for Brhaddhvani to offer modules, units and courses around the world. It has the capacity to become the Trinity or Associated board of Indian music.

The benefits to Hindustani musicians are no different than to Carnatic musicians. The system is objective and thus able to embrace any style within the Indian Diaspora including classical, folk and popular. The templates created by Brhaddhvani already have been tested to a small scale in United Kingdom within the work in teaching students of Hindustani music. Since my visits to Chennai from 2005 and later as part of NESTA (National Endowment of Science Technology and Arts) fellowship I got some personal training under the direct supervision of Dr. Karaikudi S. Subramaniam during my visits. This has had an impact on all my teaching in UK and advisory work within the Higher Education. I am convinced that COMET is the way forward in offering a systematic approach, preparing students aspiring to learn North Indian or South Indian Music. The system lays a common ground and foundation to help the students pursue careers in performance, teaching or academics. However challenges do remain in bringing the inspiration, dedication, motivation and zeal to practice long hours to the students. This is a strong feature of the guru shishya system and often a difficult situation within institutional settings. There is still no doubt that COMET approach sits alongside gurukula model enhancing and enriching the experience. COMET can in short time of higher education level teaching offer enough skills to pursue jobs in the music sector.

Clearly the following benefits would be evident to Hindustani musicians:

· Heightened oral discrimination in the swara sthanas
· Detailed insight into the ornamentation (Gamaks)
· Better vocal capacity through understanding of the body, vocal mechanism and breathing
· Better voice movement
· Better visualization of music with skills in descriptive and graphic notation
· Enhanced insight into Carnatic music
· Strong rythmic sense with strengths in laya and layakari
· Better knowledge and practical skills to employ cross-cultural concepts for improvisation and composition.
· Better confidence in being part of a global initiative.
· Better tools for research, documentation vitally important and lacking within the current music practitioners.
· Enthusiasm and encouragement in documenting important repertoire within the classical music, semi classical, folk and devotional musics.
· Documentation of the regional styles and preservation of traditions under threat of extinction.
· Taking music into schools in a modern and fun way.
· Develop publications vitally needed for the modern teaching environment.
· Better use of technology in personal learning and all other areas of work.

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