Saturday, March 20, 2010

Music or Words, the Presentation

I recently attended a concert of Indian music performed by the local sitar master, Neeraj Prem. I have enjoyed such music for a long time, since I first heard Ravi Shankar’s work on the sound track of Pather Panchali and purchased a recording of his performance in the mid 1960s. The depth of the emotional experience this music evokes continued to amaze me.

Ravi Shankar was the main exponent of bringing the classical music of Northern India to the Western world. His understanding and ability to explain won a following of Western musicians as diverse as Yehudi Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal, John Coltrane, and George Harrison. But something Prem said about the music echoed what I had learned from Shankar. Western music is written down and precise, almost mathematical in harmony and counterpoint. It is based on scores to be followed. The ragas for sitar are based in mood, colour, and emotion as expressed by a basic pattern from which the musician works. A form that approaches this is the jazz soloist improvising over and around the basic chart of his piece of music.
So often in these entries I find myself talking of music. What has this one to do with poetry?

Well, late that evening as I was lying in bed preparing for sleep it suddenly struck me that the way to appreciate the different musical performances was much the same as the way to appreciate different presentations of poetry. For poetry on the page, in a book, you need an analytical mind to see the relationships between phrases and images. The layout, line breaks, stanzas, all help to guide the mind into processing the words. But spoken word material, though coming from similar fundamentals, depends on the ear alone to register. The mind cannot take time to analyze, but must therefore react viscerally and emotionally.

This also may be a partial explanation why I have an unusual reaction when I hear someone else read my poems. Rather than the sender, I become the receiver but with a much different perspective than any one else. In a way I become both ends of a conversation.
The poem on the stage is not the poem on the page. Not even combining an audio-visual presentation would work; the visuals would overwhelm the audio. It always does.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Very interesting article on the performance last night.

You are very good with detail.