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Prof. Hans Neuhoff on COMET pedagogy

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.

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