The aura of the music involuntarily creates a halo in the human mind of the one who is listening.
Music has a way of being that endears you to it. It resonates long after you have heard it. It remains in your aural recesses and within your being. It could go round in concentric circles in your mind and heart and return back with cascading memories, intimate thoughts.
Sometimes you do associate it with the singer or the instrumentalist and that also lingers in your mind.
When you listen to a musician performing live, you cannot but link the music and the person.
The aura of the music involuntarily creates a halo in the human mind of the one who is listening. The mind conjures up a portrait of the musician willy-nilly. Such a divine raga alapana, he sang. She sings so soulfully. The halo grows and grows.
Picasso’s wide range of works, from the traditional to the quirky, were intimately related to his life, for example. The melancholic blue tones or the warm pink tones and the stunning transformation into the cubist style are mostly connected with the artist, his life, the people that inhabited his experience, the events that marked his life and so on. The art and the artist become one; everything is visible.
Music however operates at another level. Rarely is the fountain of art a reflection of the person. An absorbing rendition, a spark of genius, is not related to the kind of person the musician is.
It took me a while in life to understand that the two need to be disconnected. Often what I heard was the best; what I saw and experienced were far from that. How can a person who makes such good music be so aesthetically or ethically wanting or even empty on other fronts? It took years to fathom that music does not make the man. Take the music for what it is and leave the rest.
Needless to say, sometimes the best music is at it best in a reclusive state. When there is no pressure of performing, playing to the audience, keeping up with the others, being out of the race, brings to it a serenity and an unending abundance of creativity. Which gives more tranquillity, singing for mortal men or singing for the divine? Thus asks Tyagaraja to his mind, apostrophizing, in the immortal lyrics of Nidhi chala sukhama. As mortals we know the real answer and we also know how difficult it is to achieve that. But sometimes the recluse create gems that never come to the fore, or if at all, partially. Bemoaning the loss of Annapurna Devi, musicians rethink her life and her music. Maybe her hermit-like life, withdrawn from public view and its insanity, helped her reach greater heights in her musical genius.
In the early part of the twentieth century, H.G. Wells wrote Men Like Gods, a parody, based on the imaginary utopia and earthlings. In India we do like our Gods, sometimes very vehemently. We also like our gurus. We love our traditions. Very often we mix up all our likes and make Gods out of men. The problem starts here, leading to the clash between utopians and earthlings within the imaginary bubble. The best option is to separate the art from the artist, enjoy the music and walk away, letting just the music drift along with you. If not, you might be rudely disappointed.
Dr Vasumathi Badrinathan is an eminent Carnatic vocalist based in Mumbai. She can be contacted on email@example.com