Composer, musician and writer
COMET & Integrated Musicianship
I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with several remarkable Indian musicians for many years. In these collaborations I have noticed that the structure of musicianship is quite different in India as compared to the one in the West. In a nutshell one could perhaps say that whereas in India each musician has to be able to display skills in creative music making, as well as in the execution of music invented by others, in the West each musician tends to specialise in one single aspect of music making. There are notable exceptions, to be sure, but normally one cannot expect a Western performer to be able to improvise or a music composer to play or sing very well.
This has, however, not always been the case in the West. When the great organist and music composer Andrea Gabrieli applied for the prestigious position of first organist at the main church of Venice, the basilica of San Marco (Saint Mark), in the year 1566, he had to undergo a demanding audition:
The notebook of the church was opened at random, and musical theme was selected, the notation was copied on a piece of paper and given to the organist. He then had to improvise a four voice setting of the melody, respecting all the rules of melodic movement and harmonic progression.
Then another theme was taken at random, and this time the musician had to improvise a polyphonic piece of music on it so that the theme appeared in all the four voices, one after the other.
Finally the choir was asked to sing phrases from some unknown work, and the organist was made to improvise appropriate responses to each phrase.
To pass all these tests the organist had to be an expert performer, but he also had to have a total knowledge of the theory of musical composition, and the ability to apply this theory to practice on the spot, as well as a remarkable facility as an improviser. He had to be a complete musician.
Five or four centuries ago a musician could not hope to get any important musical position in the West unless he posessed a well rounded, multifaceted and integreated musicianship that comprised all the various aspects of making music.
For various reasons things then changed in the West, but no comparable development has happened in India. Most expert musicians here are excellent improvisers, and a good many also compose music. The traditional model of the vaggeyakarar even includes the ability to write poetry.
I have had the opportunity to observe the development of Dr. Subramanian’s COMET method from it’s beginning many years ago. I have been struck by the great emphasis that the system places, not only on the development of various aspects of the students’ musicianship, but also on the re-integration of all these skills into a unified, comprehensive musicianship.
By carefully planned stages COMET isolates various dimensions of music making and guides the student through rhythmical excercises, development of voice culture, careful study of ragas and gamakas, and notation excercises, concentrating on one thing at the time, until the student is ready to re-integrate it all into a versatile musicianship, and learn to perform the important works of Karnatak music in an effective and compelling manner.
I am happy to report that improvisation is finally making a return into Western classical music as well. I have been involved in some of this work, and my dual inspirations have been the great Western tradition of improvised music on the one hand, and my experience of collaboration with Indian musicians on the other. My involvement with Brhaddhvani, Dr. Subramanian and COMET have been very important models for my work.