Sunday, October 25, 2015

Learning, Teaching and Musical Identity: Voices across Cultures

Edited By Lucy Green (Book Chapter: Continuity and Change By Sophie Grimmer)

The bond between the master (guru) and disciple (shishya) plays an important role in the training of the arts in India, particularly the Indian classical music. The guru-shishya parampara has enabled the oral transmission of knowledge through generations in both the Carnatic and the Hindustani forms of music. The word parampara literally means ‘uninterrupted succession’. According to gurukulavasam traditionally the disciple becomes a member of the guru’s household, living with him, practicing his art and also running errands. Typically, they are ranked higher than the biological parents, the guru becomes a metaphysical entity representing God. The central idea behind this ancient pedagogical model is that the student imbibes the atmosphere of art and imitates the disciplined lifestyle of the guru thus internalizing the knowledge and the contextual information. The student emulates the guru by ‘becoming absorbed in him or her’ (Weidman 2006: 276). Quoting Naresh, a student from the study,

The guru never used to tell the shishya, “come ill teach you”….You live the music and after a point of time, you literally live the music.

Thus, it also provides a social context for the two modes of transmission, cultural and cognitive. (Booth 1996) The author argues that although ethnomusicology has contributed enormously to the structure and the cultural context in Indian music, why is it still problematic to implement such knowledge in the field of music education? The process of training in India has invariable undergone significant modifications with time, in response to dramatic societal changes and diverse pedagogical approaches in modern India. However, the guru shishya parampara still persists among independent teachers in a modified and much adaptable form, holding on to the essence of the apprenticeship model. Musicians learning this traditional art still believe in the model, the relationship between the guru and the shishya, their bond, adapting to the lifestyle and practice habits of the guru and emphasize that all of the above combined, help in creating successful performers. Thus the fundamental principles are kept alive in spirit if not in practice.

An ethnomusicological study of investigating the process as an insider, by becoming participant observers in the field, brings much insight into music pedagogy. In this process the not only the structure of music is apprehended but also the socio-cultural context of learning, performance and teaching in future is addressed. In the present scope of the study, the researcher chose to adapt a ethnographical methodology to facilitate a broader understanding of the bonding relationship between the teacher and the student in the Carnatic music context. Here the textual content is predominantly religious, emphasis is given on ornamental material and improvisatory boundaries are defined more prominently in the renditions of the compositions. This has given rise to different pedagogies and associated networks.

The shishya embodies the music of a particular bani (school, style or lineage) through blind imitation of the teacher, over an extended period. The lyrics (sahitya) forms one of the structures while the ornamentation (gamakas) forms the individual rendition styles. Through the study the researcher found that in most of the cases the learners are seduced by the intoxicating qualities of their guru’s style that gives the learners an intense thirst for the art. Thus, the trust comes naturally, implicitly and wholeheartedly which leads to absolute surrender. They do not question the instructions or the process, aim for perfectionism, keep high expectations, develop meticulous attention to details, develop careful organizational skill, and meticulously plan exercises all of which becomes a part of the teaching learning process. Talking about the emotional attachment, the students find it extremely difficult to explain in words. The process transcends in them a spiritual yearning of the becoming one with the other, an intense love or the sense of belonging, be it the art or the guru that then appears one and the same. Students reach this point of their educational path only through unquestioned and complete devotion and trust. Their sole purpose is not to contribute to the art but rather to preserve the uniqueness of the art through complete and holistic understanding of its content, form and structure. Post this stage comes a time when the student is essentially on an autonomous journey, gradually becoming an identity of the artform, taking a step ahead towards contributing to the form and practice improvisation when the guru is in a position to guide, mostly relayed vocally, now having intimate knowledge of the student personally and musically. These lessons are personal to the extent that the same content is improvised for two different students, depending on their understanding.

While dialogues during lessons are essentially sung, the social relationship outside the class is mostly informal, the subjects touching the art, stories of their origin, other musicians of their art form, their mannerisms and techniques, habits and practices of the guru’s guru and so on.

The changing times and pace finds few students ready to dedicate the duration and intensity of training through this method. However, the process is preserved in the hearts and minds of the present gurus while they are constantly trying to find a balance and improvise on the pedagogy of the apprenticeship model to suit the present time and requirements. The contemporary student is encouraged to feel a part of the ongoing history of teaching and learning and become a part of the broader cultural picture of oral tradition.

- coutd

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