Thursday, July 16, 2009

RIP Damal Krishnaswamy Pattamal (1919-2009). I didn’t listen to much of her except that her name ringed well with me, reminiscent of the women trinity (comprising her, MS Subbulakshmi and ML Vasanta Kumari). I watched DK's youtube interview conducted by her granddaughter-singer, Nithyasree. From the little Tamil I know, all I could garner was she was amazingly humble for her august fame and had that innocent childishness (that most senior citizens seem to rediscover late in life). It’s really heartwarming that such fantastic folks (and their legacy) are still with us.

I recently learnt, from a TED conference, about a glorious man who wanted to turn art away from serving the elites and towards the service of the society. Venezuelan conductor, composer and economist, Jose Antonio Abreu is a lank, balding man—true to his age and wisdom. Wanting to elevate the poor, out of poverty as well as deprivation, Abreu founded El Sistema (The System). It uses classical music to replenish the vacuum in kids lives—giving an identity to them. The System catapults these kids from mind-numbing Carcas barrios into brain-warming orchestra halls. One of the many orchestras that Abreu has helped find is the Simon Bolvar Youth Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned one. Its conductor, Gustavo Dudamel was one such kid that Abreu raised and the kid, now an adult, conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

I was just wondering if carnatic music can do something on these lines and in the city, said to be its Mecca, teeming with slums. Music can be really an elevating experience, providing a nice identity to the nameless in these shantytowns.

Musical memory in fact is said to cast one of the most effective emotional impressions on us. It is “astonishingly accurate”, according to Daniel Levitin, a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. And the accuracy with which we can encode musical information when we listen to our favorite song is far too great. When we rehear this song, our ability to hum or even sing till the last note is amazing. Maybe, that’s why much before our ancestors wrote, they took to music as a way to pass on knowledge. Songs that describe a past generation’s life prepare us in this generation. We swing to rhymes precisely because of this as well. Recent research also indicates that if we listen to a song in a certain posture, the brain tries to put you back in that position when you rehear the song.

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