Western Classical Music (WCM) or Indian Classical Music (ICM); which is the superior genre? An urge to discern the delicate discrimination between the two divine forms of music has beguiled my ignorant mind, ever since I assumed pretensions of being a WCM connoisseur, through my myriad associations with maestros in the domain. Must confess though, my own vainglorious efforts at learning the violin has contributed, not insignificantly, to the affair.
Not that my appreciation of ICM is any more illustrious! Thanks, largely to attendance at carnatic music concerts during the formative ears, and a short stab at learning vocal carnatic music (contemporaneously), I perceive (could be incorrectly though!) to have developed an eye (or ear, in this case) for the divine stuff belted out by Indian classical musicians.
Comparisons, they say, are odious. Specially, when it involves exalted styles of music. And, it becomes doubly so, when engaged in by frivolous minds (like that of yours truly), with no formal underpinnings on either of the art forms. Whatever be the allegations (the cognoscenti contend that the extent of my knowledge (or the lack of it) on the subtler nuances of both forms of music can be equated to that of an ignoramus), no one can blame me for not being a rasika alike of Chopin or Chowdaiah. Period.
So on to the great debate! My beliefs have been built based on discussions with two towering personalities in WCM and ICM, both of whom I hold in very high esteem. I refer to Biju Lawrence - currently my younger son's violin guru (and formerly mine), and the Late Sadanam Murukajyoti - my elder son's maddalom guru. Both the maestros have had the benefit of formal education in learning to play the instruments that they wield with gay abandon, much to the pleasure of their devoted listeners. The first difference crops up here. While Biju has had the privilege of formal training in an academic setup (the Associate Board of Royal School of Music of London, going on to earn a Diploma from the institute), Murukajyoti was steeped in the traditional gurukulam style of didactic learning at the famous Kathakali centre at Sadanam, Kerala. Both qualified (with distinction, one has no doubt) from the respective hallowed portals, and went on to play (and create) music that is divine. So, the inevitable Q! What sets apart one form from the other, and as a corollary, which form is better? Any answers there?
The next major difference relates to the way music is played. WCM is structured and institutionalized through documentary artefacts like musical notes and sheet music. For instance, a musical composition can be played exactly as it was intended to, by the composer. Thus you get to hear a Bach or Beethoven piece (composed at the turn of the 18th/19th century) in all its pristine glory - accents, tones, dynamics, key signatures and all. No scope for any adulterations there! This undeniably, lends it a quaint historical edge. However, it is moot, if such rigorous adherence to originals, robs WCM of creativity and ingenuity, since the instrument player is restricted to "greatness" only on the basis of her/his virtuoso performance, and not on how she/ he can improvise on the original composition.
ICM, on the other hand, is not held hostage to such severity. Owing to the fact that it is usually taught by 'word of mouth', ICM lends itself to improvisations that at times, result in the generation of sublime creations. For instance, would the vistaaram of "pranava swaroopa vakratundam" from "vaatapi ganapatim" have been as melodious and entrancing had not Yesudas and TN Krishnan lend their own delightful variations to the original? As any self-respecting guru is quick to acknowledge, "prodigy shishyas", in emulating their gurus, often have a way of surpassing them in performance. Doesn't ICM have an edge in moulding geniuses then? Moot question that!
The last word on the subject however, has to be privileged to the venerable Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, who chose to take the wind out of the sails of such superfluous arguments by putting it rather succinctly "Music is the universal language. Here, one soul speaks to another."
Touche, is all one can offer to that!