Random thoughts

As my fingers trace the contours of a Chopin nocturne on the piano, an overwhelming tenderness originates and spreads throughout my whole body. It seeps into my mind and lifts me up into another world. I have been here before. There is immense beauty here.

It’s not just the sound of the music. The sound of the piano is magnificent, but it’s deeper than that. This is where I have known myself. This is where I have seen myself eye to eye. The beauty I have experienced here is what gives meaning to my life, and living is to share this sense of beauty with people around me. That is the core of me.

This me, the core of me, doesn’t get to be expressed often. Most of the time, when I’m relating with others, it is a fragmented me that presents itself. It is nothing short of living a lie. I wonder why this happens. Is it that when you take up a role, you stop being your entire self? Why do I stop being me?

I rebel. I rebel against taking up roles in life. I long for freedom. Freedom to be me. But I know there is no absolute freedom. To be me, is to share my sense of beauty, and this takes establishing a relationship with my fellow beings. There can be no freedom from roles. Can one take a role lightly and bring the whole of one’s being into it? Can this be done with only certain roles, or is it possible with any role?

What am I longing for that I don’t already have? I know it doesn’t exist out there. It’s inside me. The brilliance is made dim by a dark layer of doubt. Doubt about what is practical and what is ideal. Doubt about where truth ends and fantasy begins.

Art removes the doubt and lets the brilliance shine through clearly. Art makes you whole again. It makes you feel fragmented no longer. It is that which I long for, that which is not out there, but inside me. How do you bring art into everything you do? How do you bring art to the forefront of your life, and centre everything else around it? So that living becomes sharing one’s sense of beauty…

Active Listening

Ever since I started learning how to play the flute a couple of months ago, I’ve been slowly returning to the musical world which I’ve been missing for quite a while. The last time my mind was so completely immersed in music was back when I was in the Twelfth standard. The flute is indeed a wonderful instrument. You can carry it anywhere you want, and playing even a single note on it is so gratifying. Needless to state, I’m still a novice at playing it, but to be honest, I’m amazed by my own progress. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could get a consistent tone so quickly, let alone play melodies on it.

Well, this post is not about my flute playing. My thoughts have been wandering about in the realms of listening and music appreciation. How do we perceive and interpret music? Why is classical music so sparsely appreciated? And why is popular music (some of it very poor in terms of musical content) so popular? Is knowledge of music really required to appreciate and savour good music?

I don’t mean to say that each and every person in the world should listen to classical music, but at least those who learn music should be able to appreciate it. Jimmy master, my music teacher, always says that you don’t have to learn music to be able to enjoy its blessings. For that you just have to be an active listener and learn to love music. It is a challenging task, which demands our total attention and devotion, but its rewards are just as rich. Perhaps its the effort involved in the beginning, that makes many people shy away from music with some content. They just want something nice playing in the background, which gives them a “kick”.

While I was browsing, I found a very good online course on music appreciation on the Rice University’s open course material website. It is aimed especially at people with little or no musical knowledge, who would like to be more active listeners. It adopts a top down approach, and illustrates the basic aspects of listening through listening exercises, without going into theoretical details. In fact, it’s just what one needs to learn to appreciate music without learning music. It’s not based on any single style of music, and is universally applicable to all genres. Even if you are not interested in classical music, it could help you to listen to popular music more intelligently.

An Enriching Adventure

You were lying asleep
An unassuming piece of bamboo
Lifeless but beautiful yet
Misleading in your simple appearance.

I picked you up
In the hope of bringing to life
Your sweet soothing voice
By lending my breath of life.

But stubborn you proved
As I blew in vain
For I didn’t know you
Well enough for you to respond.

I kept at it humbly,
Touching you, feeling you,
Trying to understand you,
So that you’d sing for me.

Slowly, a note at a time,
You warmed up to me
As my breath began
Striking chords in your heart

Words cannot describe
My delight when finally
You replied to me

In your sweet soothing voice

I lost myself in your music,
Bewitched by its heavenly charm
And you became a part of me,
Inseparable from my soul.

I may never know you well enough
Though you’re kind enough to sing for me
I’m always learning, as I go along
Surrendering myself to your magic.


It’s a great website- a comprehensive database of Malayalam film music.

At the moment I’m busy downloading all songs by Johnson, year by year, using it as a reference. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of the music in those days, almost every other song is unique and ever green. When I listen to these songs, I always wish I had been born some twenty-thirty years earlier, and lived my youth at the time when Johnson/Ouseppachan/Jerry Amaldev were at their best.

Why I don’t like Rock Music

I had thought about writing this a few days ago, but didn’t get down to writing it. I did have a sort of prejudiced dislike for Rock music when I was at school, but I’m not sure I was justified in sporting it. But having lived for the last couple of years in the midst of 2.1 speakers blaring out Rock music 24×7, I think I’m well enough placed to carry out a critical analysis.

To be honest, I find most of the lyrics to be pretty good. But I find it very hard to relate the music with the lyrics. And I do not like the semi distorted and artificial sound of the electric guitar, which so dominates rock music. And take away the beats and some repetitive tunes, there’s nothing much remaining.

Like S.P.Balasubrahmaniam (SPB) once said in an interview, the “M” in music stands for “melody” and if you take it away, what remains is “usic”, that is- it makes “you sick”!

“The Pianist”

I’ve brought with me from college six DVD’s full of movies in avi format, and am watching them one by one. I saw The Pianist a couple of days ago. It’s an excellent film, based on the true story of the Polish pianist Władysław Szpilman, a Jew, who lost his family in the horror of the Holocaust. But he miraculously survived and went on to live till he was 88. He died recently, in the year 2000. He was helped by a German officer called Wilm Hosenfeld.

There are numerous scenes which touch your heart. I was particularly touched by the scene in which the hiding Szpilman is found by Hosenfeld. The officer enquires about his identity, and he says that he is a pianist. The officer takes him to a room with a piano, and asks him to play it. Then Szpilman, who had been hiding in terror, not having eaten for days, plays the Ballade no.1 in G minor, and the officer is touched. From that moment onwards, the officer develops a deep respect for Szpilman, and brings food regularly to his hiding place, till the end of the war.

The movie is based on the book The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–1945 by Władysław Szpilman. Got to read the book sometime.

A Decade of “Harmony through Music”

Harmony School of Music, where I have been learning music since I was ten years old, celebrated its tenth anniversary yesterday. The main programme was the felicitation of Sri.M.K. Arjunan master, the renowned music director. Actually the celebrations had started three days earlier. A music and drawing competition for children was held during the first two days, and over 200 children, from various institutions participated. The third day was the traditional style anniversary, with the students’ performances. And yesterday’s was the valedictory function, along with an orchestra comprising selected songs by 25 different music directors.

I have many fond memories of Harmony. Since I’m now at Kozhikode, unfortunately I can’t visit regularly, but I do go there whenever I get time. Jimmy master, director of Harmony, and my piano teacher, my guru, my friend- is a man of great character. I’m not eligible to describe his qualities, but he is perhaps the best person I have known in my life. I have been unbelievably lucky to have been his student for the last nine and a half years. I am what I am today, mainly due to the influence of the experiences I’ve had at Harmony.

I received my education – in every sense of the word- there. At school, you just learn to mug up some facts so as to write some stupid examinations. But at Harmony, you learn a lot of things. You learn to be punctual, to be regular, to work in a group, to be humble and to have compassion for your fellow beings, along with music. It’s a holistic process. That’s why the vision of Harmony School of Music is “Harmony through Music” – to be at harmony with everything around you. It is Jimmy master’s belief (and mine too) that music is a divine gift, and it’s not just for entertainment. Those who are learning music should pursue it with devotion and love, so as to experience the higher spiritual ecstasy which music has to offer.

Anyway, for the moment, I’m extremely happy that I was able to be a part of this anniversary which marked a milestone in Harmony’s history.