Bonnie C. Wade is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California at Berkeley. She is also a member of the Council of the American Musicology Society. She is the author of several monographs and articles on Indian Music. Her book on music in India is a useful treatise on Indian Music with a special emphasis on the Hindustani style of the Art. It also covers in fair detail the Karnatic tradition and a section that interestingly has alternate pages that compare western music to Indian. This book is directed to the interest of the western reader, and is detailed and copiously supported by footnotes, charts, musical examples, many plates and illustrations. It is a practical manual that tells the Western reader how to listen to Indian music and appreciate it.
Like all verbal descriptions of an essentially non-verbal art most of the book is a series of signposts that point in various directions, indicating the features of the art’s constituent theory and practice. Like a recipe for a meal, no book however well conceived can be a substitute for the actual meal of listening to music.
In this music, there is an additional problem which makes listening to recordings of it, a limiting experience. Unlike western music compositions, Indian music compositions are not finished things. Like sculpture or a painting, western music is a complete and concluded thing, whereas Indian Raga music is unfinished, always in a state of becoming, quivering at the edge of discovery. This music is always momentary. That is one reason why older schools of musicians refused to be recorded. ‘’Why do you want to eat yesterday’s cold mutton’? Asked one of India’s famous musicians when requested to be recorded. He continued ‘my music will no longer be the truth. The recorded music was, it is no more.’
That is why Indian Music should be called Raga Music. Its Indianness is only a geographical accident. ‘Raga music is a particular approach to the notes of the scale, a special way of knowing it’ says Sufi Pir Inayat Khan.
A Raga is much more than a melody. A melody is closer to a Harmonic approach to the scales and in the world there are in actual fact only two major substantial musical systems—the western and the Raga. There are chapters in Bonnie Wade’s book very painstakingly put together and conceived with the close focus of the researcher.
There is a chapter on the aesthetics of Indian music, the Raga, performance ambience and another on the comparison of Indian and the western in alternate pages each face to face on the two traditions. Notational systems are also explained. A chapter discussess the classification of Ragas in the Hindustani and the Karnatic traditions. There is a chapter that deals with the instruments of the two schools, their construction and historical evolution, another chapter discusses the western and Indian rhythm and Tala system, the metre and the scansion, the approach to pace and arrangements. The instruments discussed are the Hindustani Tabla and the Pakhavaj and the Karnatak Mridangam Ghatam and Kanjira and several types of compositions are illustrated and explained. Another chapter discusses the genres of performances of Hindustani and Karnatic music. The alap, the Pallavi, the Kriti the Ragamalika and so on. The last chapter discusses the good and the bad and the less than good music. There are pictures and illustrations, appendices, discographies, filmographies, an excellent glossary and index. This is a first rate introduction for someone who wishes to grasp and understand an ancient and almost immortal tradition.
Raghava R. Menon is a music critic, author of several books on musicology.