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Dharambir Singh on COMET training

MBE, Sitar player and 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 rhythmic 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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