Music & India Homework

Writing about music is an important tool for understanding it. MusicAtOurHouse solidifies class content with a short writing assignment following each session. Homework for the live class is posted on the discussion forum. For anyone participating in recordings-only, please feel free to post on the forum on an ongoing basis.

There's a famous quote attributed sometimes to Blaise Pascal, sometimes to Winston Churchill, sometimes to Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes to George Bernard Shaw (!): "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I wanted to write a short one but I didn't have time." In other words, being concise takes a lot of work! Please say your full thoughts about the topic you choose, but condense them to the most economical form, the smallest number of words needed. The most important thing to cover are literal sound descriptions and emotional identifications.

Homework 1

Our first writing assignment is mainly vocabulary-oriented.
Where do the words "India," "Hindu" and "Hindi" come from etymologically? What are the Vedas and when were they created? How are the Vedas transmitted from generation to generation? How is this different from the Jewish/Christian method of preserving religious ideas? What is a "Mantra" in the original Hindu sense?
Describe the Sound of Vedic Chanting. (Hear examples of Vedic Chanting here, here, and here.) What is the purpose of Vedic Chanting?
(Please make use of our new resource page here to help with the answers.)
Extra question for the Junior-Senior High Level: What are the two meanings of Shruti?

Homework 2

Describe the difference in sound between Vedic Chanting and Indian Classical Raags. What makes chanting merely useful or utilitarian while the Raags are a form of art? Be as specific as you can in naming the sound elements, and also their effect on the listener. For Vedic Chanting examples, see above; for an example of a Raag (the Yaman Raag), listen to Bhimsen Joshi sing "Adhik dekhane tari" (you can also view the translation of the words in the video).
Extra Credit: Describe the sound of the Sitar. Examples here and here. What is the usual job of the sitar when it is not a featured solo instrument?

Homework 3

A Raag is an emotion-category in Indian music, mainly set by the particular notes of the scale used. Compare the simple Yaman Raag to the complex Bhairavi Raag. Yaman uses a major scale, with a raised (sharp) 4th step. Bhairavi uses a minor scale with a lowered (flat) 2nd step. What is the difference in emotion or artistic impression? The Yaman example I played in class is not available online anymore, but here is a similar example in Raga Yaman. Here is a performance in Bhairavi -- notice the choreography in the video as well as the singing.
Extra Credit: How is the improvisation in Indian classical melody related to the pathas?

Homework 4

What are the three "movements" or paces used in the progression of a performance of a raag in Indian Classical Music? Please give the Indian names for these (see our resources page here), and explain what the effect is of the progression. In the song sung by Bhimsen Joshi here, the first few seconds are one "movement", then the drum comes in marking the second "movement"; the third "movement" starts at around the 5 minute mark.
How is the Indian clasical progression similar to, or different from, the order of movements in the standard, traditional Western Classical Sonata, such as a Mozart Piano Sonata? (See the Mozart Sonatas on the album below)
Extra Credit: A raag means a certain defined emotional theme or flavor. Is the speed of the music at a given moment a distinguishing feature of a raag? Does tempo set one raag apart from another? Explain why or why not.
P.S. You may find the chapter on "Time" in my book relevant or helpful. Also, the chapter on "Scale" addresses some of the modes in Indian classical music.

Homework 5