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T.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration ofthe tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Takingnothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum - musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople - Krishna provides a path-breaking overviewof south Indian classical music.


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T.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration ofthe tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Takingnothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum - musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople - Krishna provides a path-breaking overviewof south Indian classical music.

30 review for A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

  1. 5 out of 5

    Girish

    Edit 2018: With all the scandal around Carnatic singers singing Christian songs, the author seems to be promoting this book as a proof of what is happening. It is not even related. Just thought should let anyone who bought this book based on the promo know what they are getting into. This book is equally snobbish When one reads a book over 3 years - the writing on the wall is quite clear as to the liking of the reader. However, if I have to objectively look at the book as a reader who enjoys the Edit 2018: With all the scandal around Carnatic singers singing Christian songs, the author seems to be promoting this book as a proof of what is happening. It is not even related. Just thought should let anyone who bought this book based on the promo know what they are getting into. This book is equally snobbish When one reads a book over 3 years - the writing on the wall is quite clear as to the liking of the reader. However, if I have to objectively look at the book as a reader who enjoys the Kutchery for the musical experience having absolutely no idea of the grammar and syntax - The book is not for me! In fact, the book is not for anyone who is not already trained in the theory of music. Personally - I am a fan of his all engrossed singing, but as an author he is too engrossed to take the reader along. The book is a thesis and critique on the form, presentation, evolution and innovation in the musical forms that originated in the Deccan peninsula and the 'corruption' of an art form into entertainment. The latter part is a historical evolution of each component of the Karnatic music. The book reads either like an Op-Ed in Hindu - High on opinion and pseudo-logical extrapolation of facts but low on merit - or like a scholar reference book (brought back memories of antenna design)! The silver linings of the books: - I felt The evolution of Kutchery format with the societal changes was a brilliant analysis. It takes upon the impact of religion, caste, sex as parameters to explore how the format has now inched out all other factors to become almost a Brahminical identity. This is very much plausible given the dominance of Brahmins in the South and the popular opinion on Devadasis and nadaswaram sidelined to marriages and temples. One of the reasons why Brahmins earned the irk of the society was their elitism that excludes the rest of the society. So it was ironical that the author does the same with you the reader - he leaves you out! - The technology of music chapter on how the microphone impacted the modern kutchery and the acoustics of different pakka vadyams suitability for the kutchery was a revelaing analysis. Also, the chapter on history of musical presentations and how it could have evolved into today's kutchery format was well researched. - There was some credit in the concept of manodharma within the syntax of the language. Afterall art cannot be for the performer but for the sake of art. However, I found the artist a bit contradictory with his view on evolution of the music. While he seems to be admitting all the while that evolution is inevitable with progress in so many factors, he becomes pedantic when it comes to artists who want to stick to the format or explore innovations. If each person's manodharma wants different things - what makes him all judgmental? Coming to the rest of the book (80%): As a person with some amount of pride, I think I am fairly intelligent enough to grasp a book. The book made me feel stupid for a good part of part 1 and part 3. See, what the author seems to have forgotten is that without an aural explanation - the words do not help understand. Could it be done any better - I don't know, but I am sure this was not the best possible presentation. When the author actually makes statements like (no kidding!) "I am aware that this can be extremely confusing for the reader" or "I am not using the technical terms, so that we can understand the concept without getting caught in jargon" - I felt like shaking the author back to reality! Even some part of his musings are neither here nor there. Sample this "A raga belongs not to the literal but to the inferred. The inferred comes alive when the perceiver can be invited into the sound of the raga, which is born from every svara, every phrase, every phrase connection and the raga as a whole" The snobbishness in the tone of the book and the unwarranted high handed critiquing are a turn off even for a neutral reader like me. Mr.TMK, it may be so that for the true beauty of music - words might not be important. When writing a book - words are all you have - so you cannot expect to exclude the reader. It is a 'take notice' scholarly book - which I only had to read because I got it autographed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GS Nathan

    A remarkable book written by a brilliant musician and artist. Krishna of course, is a famous Karnatik vocalist, with a deep understanding of the music, its idiom and its art. And that understanding and scholarship illuminates the book throughout. Speaking as an ordinary rasika, I have to say that this helped me understand the music I will always love, that much more. Karnatik music is, as David Shulman says in the foreword to this book, a 'most subtle of musical traditions'. How this music came a A remarkable book written by a brilliant musician and artist. Krishna of course, is a famous Karnatik vocalist, with a deep understanding of the music, its idiom and its art. And that understanding and scholarship illuminates the book throughout. Speaking as an ordinary rasika, I have to say that this helped me understand the music I will always love, that much more. Karnatik music is, as David Shulman says in the foreword to this book, a 'most subtle of musical traditions'. How this music came about, what it means and should mean to the performer and the rasika, what it has gained, what it has lost, what it has influenced and what influenced it, and more, is covered in magnificent scope through the twenty seven 'essays' in the book. If nothing else, I will forever 'receive' a kutcheri with an enhanced respect and understanding, and that is a big plus. It is extremely rare that an artist is articulate (and interested) enough to explain his art in terms that even a layman can understand and appreciate. TMK (as he is known with 'Tamil English flair!'), provides a window into the performer's mind and art that the average listener has probably never been able to peer into. And I think, he has been deeply honest in the way he has gone about it, touching upon all the hot buttons and the arguments and the controversies that hover around the music - like in any human endeavour - taking a position on these and bringing it up for discussion and hopefully, debate. It would be deeply unfair to him and to the music if people dismiss his arguments without engaging with it or appreciating or matching the passion and the quest behind it. Written beautifully with precision and nuance, it showcases his love for the art and the concern that, as it inevitably changes, the aesthetic that roots it and that the artist brings forth and shares with the rasika is not compromised in any way. A book to treasure!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ritika

    A total of 27 essays completes this book and it took me three months to read all 27 of them. Amartya Sen called it one of the best books he has ever read. The book also received praises from Aruna Roy and David Shulman, apart from Zubin Mehta - the only music practitioner mentioned on the cover. I am not big on Karnatic music. In the few Karnatic lessons that I had had as a child, I never went beyond the basic svara exercises. I did not grow up listening to Karnatic music. The Suprabhatam record A total of 27 essays completes this book and it took me three months to read all 27 of them. Amartya Sen called it one of the best books he has ever read. The book also received praises from Aruna Roy and David Shulman, apart from Zubin Mehta - the only music practitioner mentioned on the cover. I am not big on Karnatic music. In the few Karnatic lessons that I had had as a child, I never went beyond the basic svara exercises. I did not grow up listening to Karnatic music. The Suprabhatam record by MS Subbulakshmi - a mass consumed commodity of Tamil brahmin households but hardly a reflection of MS's brilliance - played in the mornings. It stopped eventually when it lost its relevance in the early morning grind of trying to catch the train on time. I became a TMK fan without having ever listened to his music. It was easy. [ PS: Not a TMK fan anymore. At the time when I was reading this book, I did not have the understanding of how TMK's politics is problematic. Time brought some perspective. His patronizing attitude is casteist AF. (13/12/2016) ] He has, perhaps, been the only outspoken critic of the Karnatic music / kutcheri community. He has consistently called out the gender and caste discrimination in the community - a norm made prevalent by the stakeholders. He went even further when he started an inclusive music festival in the open air as an alternative to the December season kutcheris / gallery shows. Recently, a concert organized by Solidarity Foundation, Bangalore, witnessed a recital by TMK and six Jogappas - transgender devotess of Yellamma devi - from Karnataka and Maharashtra, together. A show that was first conceived as Jogappas's opening act to TMK as the headliner. Instead, they decided to perform together by drawing similarities in both the forms. Several stories have referred to him as the enfant terrible of Karnatic music. His piece in The Caravan, 'MS Understood', balled my amaze! TMK is a fantastic writer - If I could, I would have written that sentence with sparkles and huge exclamation marks. Therefore, I decided to read this book despite my negligible amount of knowledge of the art form. Therefore as a result, there were commentaries on technicalities & fundamentals of the music that I completely missed. A very ambitious exploration of Karnatic music through these 27 essays, the book is divided into three parts - The Experience, The Context and The History. In The Experience, TMK explores the idea of aesthetics, the self vs the art form, the intent of music that decides its melody and rhythm, imagination & skill enabling creativity & improvisation, the raga, svara, tala, compositions and their intricacies, voice and style. In the second part, TMK contextualizes Karnatic music with Bharatnatyam, Hindustani music, fusion music, films, use of language, role of religion, the gender inequality, caste discrimination, practice of Karnatic music by the Indian diaspora in America, and technology. The History explores the evolution of the raga, the tala system, compositions, instruments, the performers and the place they occupied in the performance fold. Some of the definitions provided by the author are very poignant. Aesthetics of art music is paramount to him. So much that even the lyrical element / sahitya is subordinate to abstraction in musicality of the composition. Understanding aesthetics is to go beyond the personal self and taste to understand the intent, structure, form, changes, developments & history, thereby, also examining why an art form is what it is. He makes a very beautiful point about the fleeting moment where the stimuli and sense intersect while singing - the minuscule time frame that does not admit a personal baggage of conditioning. The fleeting moment is a moment of beautiful emptiness. He says, "Karnatic music is a result multiple streams of practices. This includes temple music practiced by the nagasvara vidvans, the music and dance of the devdasis and the music of brahmin scholar musicians and veggeyakaras (composers). 'A Man's World: Gender inequality in Karnatic music' and 'An Unequal Music: Caste and discrimination' were the most engaging essays in the book. Following the crackdown on devadasi culture, the powerful urban brahmin class of Madras appropriated dance and music by ridding it of its devadasi history. In the background of how the perceived impurity of devadasis stigamtized women performers as those with loose morals, he gives an interesting anecdote of Bangalore Nagaratnammal, of devadasi descent, who went on to conduct an all-female musical homage to Tyagaraja when male musicians refused to accompany her. Just as the devadasis were discredited of their immeasurable contribution, the brahmin sanctification of music left nagasvara and tavil vidvans in jeopardy, while royal patronage and temple culture broke down after independence. Krishna states, "A mediocre brahmin Karnatic musician could find his voice in the modern narrative, but an average nagasvara vidvan had no place." Caste superiority also made Palghat Mani Iyer the 'Nandi' (the lord of mrdanga) as opposed to equally brilliant percussionists such as Pazhani, Murugabhoopathy or Dakshinamurti Pillai. The Kutcheri narrative of Karnatic music by the brahmins led to it. Even the Tamil Isai movement could not champion the cause of the Isai Vellalars. He argues that the centrality of temple culture still made Karnatic music more accessible despite untouchability [ PS: nihaayti casteist bakwaas (13/12/2016) ]. He believes that only collective action by the best musicians and government-driven reform can uproot caste injustice in the Karnatic world. In the essay where TMK explores religion and music, theism, atheism and secularism do not form the point of discussion. Here too, he holds aesthetic of art music above religion. Equally interesting is TMK's take on the dynamics of Karnatic practice and the politics of Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival among the Indian diaspora in USA. TMK is the ethnographer inside the musician. I can't quite conclude on the kind of readership the book is intended for. A good understanding of Karnatic music becomes important to be able to appreciate the commentary on the fundamentals of the form, as it can be quite overwhelming in the first read. A select bibliography given in the end of the book can be helpful for a better understanding.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sravya

    What is music? That’s what this book attempts to answer. This book is excruciating to read. As many of the previous reviews have stated, it is quite long. 27 essays and 500 plus pages- this book is not for those merely interested in music. It is more directed towards those who already have a background in music and would like to further challenge their understanding of their art, just as T.M Krishna has done with this book. My appreciation for T.M Krishna’s intellect is immense. I have religious What is music? That’s what this book attempts to answer. This book is excruciating to read. As many of the previous reviews have stated, it is quite long. 27 essays and 500 plus pages- this book is not for those merely interested in music. It is more directed towards those who already have a background in music and would like to further challenge their understanding of their art, just as T.M Krishna has done with this book. My appreciation for T.M Krishna’s intellect is immense. I have religiously (no double meaning intended, sir) followed all of his political articles, watched most of his interviews and lecture demonstrations, and of course enjoyed his music as it is notoriously known to sweep its listeners into an aesthetic plane of paradise. Therefore, when I first discovered this book in the midst of 2016, my first response was to gather all the gift cards I had and order the book home. From that date, it has taken me 2 years to complete this collection of essays. The book is split into 3 parts: the first, second, and third book. The first book, titled The Experience, is meant to slowly ease readers into understanding the technicalities of music and the creative process that goes into improvisation. It’s very rigid in terms of writing and reads more like a textbook, especially for those who are already knowledgeable in the technical aspects of music. My favorite part of this book was the essay on creative thought and the katcheri format. What is commendable about his analysis of the katcheri format is T.M Krishna’s ability to view the katcheri not only from an artist’s point of view, but also from an audience point of view. The katcheri has really become a way to please the audience because as time increases, it is true that the artist’s success is based on the ability to appease the audience’s expectations. However, T.M Krishna does a good job respecting the audience’s role while also questioning their intentions: what, really, do we want out of the katcheri? Audiences get finicky during long alapanas, leave during Tanis, and talk loudly before the concerts while the artist is getting prepared. This form of unsaid acceptances are called into question to make an insider garner an outsider’s view. And that’s difficult to do. Book Two is really the essence of the book’s spirit. Book Two delves deep into cultural aspects of music. Many of the thoughts presented in these essays are thought-provoking. The book explains a lot of unquestioned ideas such as why Brahmins are particularly associated with Carnatic music and why Nadaswara artistes have remained as temple and procession artists. More importantly, it questions ideas that have never been seen as wrong. In this book, the best essays were the ones about religion, caste, the Tamil Isai, gender, and machines in the realm of Carnatic Music. These essays bring about some amazing points about why Carnatic music does not have a bringer audience and are definitely worth a read. But, the main problem with this book was the redundancy. The book repeats the same history in various portions of the essays but fails to bring any new insight about what the event’s role was in the analysis of this phase of history. The idea that Devadasis were lower is established a hundred times, but each time it is established making the same point that they were not “pure” to the Brahmin community rather than making some other unique point that compels the reader to think differently. In this, the editors should have taken more care into cutting unnecessary phrases and sections. This book can easily be shortened by a 100 pages, just by removing redundant information. Krishna sir, once it is established, it needs only to be referred to not explained again. Special insight though, I will be giving to the essay about NRI students and music. Everything he said is true. I assume his insights do come more from Ramakrishnamurthy and Sandeep Narayan than his own insights, as they are NRI musicians whom I respect immensely. The mindsets of Carnatic music students here in the U.S is hindering the musical environment. Unfortunately, my self-confidence has also taken a large beating because of the competitive nature found here as has been the case of many students. However, wherever there’s something worth fighting for, there are obstacles too. Book Three was a blur. Frankly, I have nothing much to say about it. The reason I say this is because everything is already discussed in the past, and the editing is done so poorly that even reading is cumbersome. It reads like a history textbook and can be- once again- cut short by a large amount. Plus, the amount of times T.M Krishna asks the reader to bare with him or agrees that what he is saying is complex already gives leeway for the reader to skim or skip than stick with him to understand the content. The editor and Krishna should have paid more attention to giving this last book succinctness. If it’s too complex, they should have made the collective decision of cutting information out if they cannot simplify it further. Rather, the form of acceptance that the author is not doing much to simplify the book does not help the reader’s enthusiasm. It’s a rather shoddy ending compared to the previous book. Overall, this book is a gem in Carnatic musicology and will be cherished greatly in the future. It brings about many interesting and important viewpoints and helps integrate paths for change; however, lack of editing and complex explanations that can be simplified demote the reader’s enthusiasm for understanding and eventually make this an unnecessarily tiring book to read. I give it 4 stars, only because I've gained a lot from it as a Carnatic music student. That being said, I solely recommend it to serious musicians and students who wish to understand more about the music. Otherwise, my Carnatic music recommendation would be to read a Carnatic Summer by V. Sriram.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abhishek

    This is a difficult book to read simply because of the task TMK has taken up, which is to seek to understand fundamental questions. The book starts off with trying to understand what music is. It might be easier and perhaps more rewarding to simply listen to music instead of trying to make this difficult intellectual journey, but undertaking it is important. To quote TMK, "But whether it needs to be defined or not, it certainly needs to be understood; so important it is to our beings. It needs t This is a difficult book to read simply because of the task TMK has taken up, which is to seek to understand fundamental questions. The book starts off with trying to understand what music is. It might be easier and perhaps more rewarding to simply listen to music instead of trying to make this difficult intellectual journey, but undertaking it is important. To quote TMK, "But whether it needs to be defined or not, it certainly needs to be understood; so important it is to our beings. It needs to be understood in order to give us a concept of what it is we hold so close. It also needs to be understood because, by understanding something so vital to us, we understand something of ourselves." The book is a series of 27 essays which seeks to deconstruct Karnatik Music. It might be difficult for somebody who has never heard Karnatik Music to relate to and appreciate it. This is despite TMK's wordsmithing skills which have helped to trace the arc of his thoughts as he makes a logical persuasive case for his arguments. The book is much more palatable and a "must-read" for all connoisseurs of karnatik music who are interested to know more. Not all the essays are of the same difficulty. The ones on caste, language, gender, film music, technology are all much easier to read compared to the ones on certain fundamental concepts. The last few essays trace the evolution of Raga, Tala and the presentation format right from the 12th century and are filled with a lot of detail. I ended up skimming through them as I wanted to finish the book. Reading the book also helps us understand and question arts in general in terms of the aesthetics, intent and form. As TMK says every art form is different in terms of these. One essay has him traversing and charting the origins of different forms of music such as jazz, Rock, Rap, R&B etc. To him, Karnatik Music is "Art Music". Its power lies in its ability to create emotional abstractions. It is not meant to evoke religious feelings(as many people might have understood) or patriotic feelings or for some other practical utilitarian purpose. Arts Gratia Artis(Arts for Arts sake) comes to my mind. All of us can relate to this in some sense. Listening to any piece of music generates sublime evanescent feelings which takes us elsewhere. But other forms of music such as film music, religious hymns have a particular end at sight which Karnatik Music doesn't. Overall, a very admirable effort to write on a difficult topic by a top-notch artist, public intellectual of our times.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Abhay

    Some insightful and thought provoking essays about the evolution and direction of Carnatic music as it stands today - how can it become more inclusive and offer avenues for artists to grow? Other essays that get into the history and technical aspects of the music did not interest me much.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dinesh Jayaraman

    An educational collection of essays critiquing various aspects of Carnatic music from a man who is considered by many to be among the more important figures in this era of musicians. Given that the Carnatic music community rarely ever washes its dirty linen in public, the fact that TMK is willing to straight-talk and raise uncomfortable questions is in itself laudable, as is his intellectual curiosity about his art and its evolution. This book is at its best when TMK laments how the relatively r An educational collection of essays critiquing various aspects of Carnatic music from a man who is considered by many to be among the more important figures in this era of musicians. Given that the Carnatic music community rarely ever washes its dirty linen in public, the fact that TMK is willing to straight-talk and raise uncomfortable questions is in itself laudable, as is his intellectual curiosity about his art and its evolution. This book is at its best when TMK laments how the relatively recently evolved kutcheri form of presenting Carnatic music might have changed it forever, how caste and gender chauvinism among the predominantly Brahmin male musicians in the last century have deprived the art of a wider community of musicians and listeners, and how the music must not lose its essence and patronizingly "adapt to modern tastes" to gain a greater audience. TMK also believes that the Hindu ownership of Carnatic music is a lie and that religion should have nothing to do with the music. In fact, TMK comes across as agnostic/atheist, which is especially great considering how most Carnatic musicians make a fuss about how it is only in complete surrender to a deity that the music may be produced or even truly appreciated. That said, my first criticisms of this book still stand. TMK and his editors are guilty of that great writerly sin - laziness. Laziness to re-draft and condense what I can only assume is a first draft, riddled as it is with grammatical errors, repetitions, clunky-sounding turns of phrase and generally vague passages. And laziness to think about any clear target audience - parts of the text seem addressed to performing musicians, others to connoisseurs, yet others exhibit a pedantry that could only be aimed at the layperson (such as myself), whom too it would annoy. End result: at over 500 pages long, the book demands of its readers a lot of what it itself does not exhibit - diligence. No fair!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Madhavan

    Good narration style. It is interesting to read the story from a practitioner of music having a revolutionary thinking.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shravan Tata

    Krishna takes you on a journey of life through music. His take rational and logic into abstract concepts is amazing. Gave me a comprehensive picture of Karnatik music and its evolution through Indian history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yuvan Aves

    A great companion to students of carnatic music. The text and insights of the author augment the traditional lessons and kindle interest to plunge deeper into the art form.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Balasubramaniam Vaidyanathan

    Carnatic music is given a classic status. The performers and listeners adore the music. It poses formidable difficulty for the new listeners to appreciate. I have grown listening to this wonderful music. But it is very difficult for me to explain why I like this music. This book attempts explaining the experience of listening this wonderful music. Not only that, it also points out the problems the music is facing - Some I agree and some I don't. But TMK is honest in giving his view points. All ov Carnatic music is given a classic status. The performers and listeners adore the music. It poses formidable difficulty for the new listeners to appreciate. I have grown listening to this wonderful music. But it is very difficult for me to explain why I like this music. This book attempts explaining the experience of listening this wonderful music. Not only that, it also points out the problems the music is facing - Some I agree and some I don't. But TMK is honest in giving his view points. All over the world, classical music ( be it western, Hindustani or any classical tradition) faces a declining listenership. This is a cause for concern as these arts are highly evolved and provides an experience that popular music traditions cannot give. Unfortunately, Carnatic music today has become a preserve of a classicist community. Also, today we are at a situation where most people want to be performer than an appreciative listener. TMK explores issues, the historical context and genuine concerns. As TMK himself acknowledges, there is no solution that is in sight. But this book is soul-searching exercise that is coming out of extreme passion for the art. Many of the points will also be applicable other other classical music traditions. A must read book for Art Music lover....

  12. 5 out of 5

    Gayatri Lele

  13. 4 out of 5

    Surasika

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Devi Rajmohan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karthik Thiagarajan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Puru Kaushik

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ramaprasad Kv

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tor

  20. 5 out of 5

    Purnima Rao

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael Nixon

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bharathi Ram

  23. 5 out of 5

    Purav Jagad

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karthik Thiagarajan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sudharsan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharmila Ganguly

  27. 5 out of 5

    Prakash Jayachandran

  28. 5 out of 5

    Satishmeriga

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teju

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anuradha Sarang

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