Fiddle away the moments that make up a dull day

Hello everyone. Just in case you thought I was wasting my time on Twitter, starting pointless Tumblr memes, whiling away precious hours recording corny music and writing columns for newspapers instead of blogging, well, you’d be right!

I am not given to Web 2.0 prognostications like “Blogging is dead” because that would be like saying that music died when the gramophone was invented. Online self-expression keeps taking different shapes and a blog is but one instrument in the Social media orchestra. Damn, I should copyright that sentence.

So now that I’ve used advanced verbal douchebaggery to slyly justify my own absence on this blog for 5 months, I am informing you that I am back. The country is awash with the white Gandhian caps of rebellion and the Zeitgeist of the times is urging me to add my cogent wit to the flaming conflagaration of opinion already setting the Indian interwebz on fire. So I am going to politely decline and start writing, instead, about a long time obsession of mine, learning to play instruments.

I started learning the violin when I was 7. No, I was not a child prodigy. Legend has it that a colleague of my mother’s played the instrument at an office picnic and a blinding flash of light from the heavens did not light me up and a thunderous voice from the firmament did not tell me “Son, this is your instrument, your calling”. My mother simply noticed that I was paying a few seconds more attention than I normally did to pretty much anything else at that age, so she quickly enrolled me into a music school boot camp gulag run by this chap’s sister and before I could say “Shankarabharanam”, I found myself with a half-sized violin, facing the Tambrahm equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, the Music Teacher Maami From The Depths of Hell.

The unfortunate thing about most classical music education in India is that it does not answer the unwilling student’s biggest question “What’s in it for me?” What’s worse, it’s the super-talented junior savants, the ones who can play the Bhairavi varnam at quadruple speed while the rest of us are still making industrial noises with our bows, that get all the attention and ironically, they are the ones who don’t need teachers. It’s almost as if the only function of most Indian music schools is to clearly communicate to its vast majority of students that they suck. Thankfully for me, my mother decided that she didn’t have a problem with my teacher having a dim view of my skills.

Another problem is the instrument itself. The violin, despite its beautiful shape and inarguably sensuous sound, has, what I call, an unacceptable MTTSP (Mean Time to Sonic Palatability) – the average time it takes a student to play something that sounds tolerable to his own ears.

  • Piano: 0 days. As this man demonstrates, unless an entry-level Casio model is involved, anyone can produce pleasant sounds on the piano.
  • Didgeridoo: 10 minutes. My good friend Harish built himself one using a PVC pipe and a Google search and if you can expel air at high pressure, you can join an Aborigine tea party in the Outback.
  • Flute: 2 days. Buy yourself one from a Balloon wala and you could be playing Pardesi Pardesi Jaana Nahin (which is what 95% of flute sellers play by the way) in no time.
  • Guitar: 1 week. With the help of Youtube videos, it takes less than a week to learn D, A and G chords and play close to 60% of all popular music. The guitar also has the unique ability to make its players sound more talented than they really are. Not surprising therefore that it is the world’s most popular instrument
  • Violin: 6 years. 

The Violin is a troll instrument. It might as well have been designed by 4chan.

Yes, even the instrument’s making involves trolling poor Mongolian horses.

Once you train your right hand to finally stop making the sort of sounds that disturb the local dog populace, you start thinking “Ah finally I will now play some songs”, the teacher smiles (like that Troll face) and says “Not so soon. We need to work on your left hand” and for the next few months, teaches you a principle that Werner Heisenberg might have internalized as a kid while learning to play the violin.

You can either bow properly or find the right finger position for a note, never both.

Millimeters can make the difference between a proper note and sounds that elicit  growling disapproval from the teacher. The worst part – you wouldn’t even know if you are making the mistake or if the instrument is wrongly tuned. Of course, as an adult, one realizes that it’s its fret-less design that makes it such an expressive instrument but as a kid learning to play it, one couldn’t care less.

The thing is, most kids want to learn an instrument to satisfy a fundamentally human urge to master something, to achieve a sense of cosmic purpose and go on an adventure to discover the beauty of music. Well, that, and to impress the short-haired pretty Mallu girl in class. So let’s evaluate the violin on these 3 parameters, shall we?

Sense of Mastery and all that: The violin takes years to master. Pretty short-haired Mallu girl would’ve got married to the eldest son of the proprietor of Chemmannur Jewellers by the time one can play Raravenu Gopala without abaswaram. Verdict: Fail

Cosmic Purpose and Adventure: Imagine Carl Sagan narrating “Pale Blue Dot” set to the background music of Sarali Varise and Alangaram. Or Darth Vader arriving at the Death Star to the strains of Vara Veena.  Not working no? It takes years of training before you learn the first tune that sounds remotely interesting. Guitarists play the chords to Hotel California in a few months. Here’s a reason many people give up on Indian classical music. They don’t teach you interesting things till you get your basics right. That sounds like a good idea per se, but it does little to motivate any student. No one wants to be playing Varnams and Geethams for years. Why couldn’t they teach students who can play geethams, simple film songs? Like this for instance

I am reminded of an incident that happened when I was in my second year of training (I was about 8 then). My parents had bought a cassette tape of this superhit movie called Sakalakalavallavan (Jack of all trades) starring #Grand (occasionally known as Kamal Hassan) and one song in particular caught my fancy. Ilamai Itho Itho. It was the first song whose notes I worked out and I taught myself to play it on the violin. I did, however, make the cardinal mistake of demonstrating this achievement to my violin teacher whose face turned into something resembling Mt Etna on the morning of August 24, 79 AD and she proceeded to lecture me on why I must not dishonor a western instrument that was introduced to Carnatic music about a hundred years ago by playing Ilayaraja’s western music on it.

But as I’m finding out now, Western classical music has a much better pedagogical culture. There’s always some immediate performance goal to look forward to all the time. One learns to play simple, popular songs that everyone knows right from the outset. While the eventual goal is to play Mozart and Beethoven, playing Yankee Doodle went to town as part of the learning process isn’t frowned upon. Carnatic teaching, on the other hand, is ridiculously insular and frowns upon any kind of popular music.

Pulchritude Entrapment: Ok. Let’s even assume the short-haired pretty Mallu girl has a thing for Mohanam and she swoons every time Vara Veena is played. You are all set with your violin to serenade her, and that’s when you realize that you look like this

Do you see this working? No. You cannot be seated on the floor, legs spread in odd directions and expect to be romantic.

While guitarists and flautists cavort around trees indulging in terpsichorean antics, the Carnatic violinist is stuck, grounded and seated in the most ungainly and unromantic position playing the most blade sounding songs. Western violinists laugh at us all the time. It’s almost as if a cohort of Tambrahm maamaas decided in the past that they only way they could keep young boys away from pretty Mallu pulchritude is to teach them to play the violin Carnatic style. And then they all had filter coffees and laughed like this

So that’s the story of my violin. In retrospect, I have the greatest respect for every teacher of mine. For all the childhood frustration they caused me, they did leave me with the ability to make reasonably pleasant sounds on the violin. I have 3 now.

I have 2 goals in the next six months. One is to learn to play the violin standing up so I can dance around a pretty short-haired Mallu chick while playing Nalinakaanthi instead of being stuck like this

And the second goal is to learn to play the only instrument that sounds better than the violin. It’s an instrument that looks like a violin that has spent some time at McDonalds and Pizza Hut. The Cello. But that’s a separate post.

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Categories: Auspicious Ganesha Squiggly

177 replies

  1. Nice to see you back. More later.

  2. I’ve always felt this way about classical music the way you describe indian classical music. As a child my aunt took me to a music teacher so that i can improve my singing skill. The teacher flatly boo-ed and questioned why a boy would want to sing since it has no purpose. Singing is for women and at least they have use for it when the mapillai comes home to ponnu pathufy. That was the 1st and last time i ever set foot in a classical music school.

  3. Absolutely sooper post about pretty short haired Mallu girls. But I find them prettier with long hair :)

    Oh and was there something about a musical instrument?
    :-) Welcome back thala! The Interwebz been boring without fresh jalsa for quite some time…

  4. Nicely put. Go easy on the guitarists please, they are usually a fun lot. I was wondering which mallu chick when it struck me :)
    Btw one advantage of the traditional way of playing the violin compared to the under chin standing up one is that its easy to Headbang while stroke-ing (pun intended) away

  5. And Krish Ashok is BACK :D Missed your posts for a long time.

    Lol at the works and not-works. I had a mental image of Krishna trying this, finding it hard to flit around gopis, and taking up the flute instead :D

  6. A brilliant one as always.. been ages since you wrote on Jalsa with Jilpa.. Kinda still finding it amazing that you can pick up playing so many instruments, where in the world do you get time to practice..?? But i guess put a cute mallu girl into the picture and anything is possible :P

  7. Ha! I think my 7 year old would so agree with you – he made the mistake of listening to someone play on the violin as well for like 2 seconds and bingo, he has been in a class for 2 years now :) SO (not to be a killjoy to the hilarious post but…) maybe you mastered all those other instruments so quickly because you know to play the violin ??

  8. Happy to see you back.. I am going through the same stuff with my daughter. She would rather sing “Va da mappilai” and dance to it at the same time than practice sarali varisai in three speeds, sitting in one spot, and putting adi talam with one hand. aah.. the struggles of a good tambram mom..

  9. Good to see you back with a blog post! :)

  10. The starting “ragas” (mayamalavagowla and then malahari) are not exactly uplifting to most people – atleast in modern times – who knows they may have been considered as “rocking” in those days in purandaradasa’s neck of the woods.

    Also liked the title – quite timely ;-)

    Arun

    • I think raga moods are quite absolute and don’t vary across eras. For example, the general rule that a minor third interval sounds sad/sombre is a universal rule in almost every form of music. The same applies to the dimished second and augmented fifth (both present in Malahari and Mayamalavagowla) so I don’t think they’d ever have been considered uplifting at any point.

      The rationale for Malahari and MMGowla has more to do with ease of learning. For Malahari, if you know Sa, Ma and Pa, the other two notes, Ri and Dha are just one semitone above Sa and Pa respectively, so quite easy for a beginner to sing or play from a frame of reference perspective.

      • Although I agree about the general feel about these intervals, I would note that “uplifting” is subjective and is contextual. So for a (very) pious person these ragas can be quite uplifting if he feels that his/her sense of devotion to his favorite deity is enhanced. That this should expected of all aspirants – especially young is certainly a stretch nowadays, and perhaps so then too :-)

        And yes there is symmetry in the ragas, but as you know it is not unique to this raga-pair. Other melas e.g sankarabharanam have it too. One could argue that it is easier to get R2 and D2 (owing to a better harmonic relationship with sa/pa) in Sankarabharanam than the R1 and D1 in MMG . Also, the prominence of MMG in learning is related to the prominence of that raga in northern karnataka around the time of purandaradasa (there is some textual evidence albeit not rock solid and so all needs to be taken with a grain of salt)

        Arun

        • Interesting. You are right that most of these theories need to seen through the lens of historical obscurity. Although on the concept of “uplifting”, I still think there is a distinction between sombreness and peppy. You can still have sombre, yet uplifting melodies, like “Meru Samaana” in MMG or anything in Saveri. But peppiness does seem to be a function of major intervals. I find it hard to imagine a Nalinakaanthi or Kadanakuduhalam with a diminished second or minor third

  11. *sigh* Violin. I learnt it for the better part of 10 years. And yada yada yada, what do I know about it? Zilch. Nada. Nothing. That reminds me, it is still lying somewhere up in the storage lofts of the house. Eduthu vasikkanum

  12. All ok, but why is The Hindu in Arabic? (This is the second time I’m seeing this; the first time was on tambrahmrage.)

  13. //to learn to play the violin standing up so I can dance around a pretty short-haired Mallu chick while playing Nalinakaanthi//
    Saar unga aathu maami pakkathula illaama paathukkOngO. IllEna Malayalathulaye thittu vizha porathu. Illa antha short haird Mallu whoevere unga aathu maami thaana?

  14. back with brilliance…. :)

  15. In retrospect I guess I should be grateful my parents didn’t get me to learn Carnatic music. With a couple of years of piano background, I recently took up the cello as an adult. One of the reasons was that the MTTSP for cello is much shorter than for violin. My neighbors so far have not complained and they occasionally tell me I am sounding better. Can’t wait to get to the first of the Bach Cello Suites.

    • Oh lovely. As a beginner cellist myself, I’d love to connect more often to bounce off practice routines and scores. I’m still finding it hard to deal with certain specific fingering habits that are good for violinists but bad for cellists. And you are right, MTTSP for Cello is lower than the violin, and I suspect it’s primarily because poorly played lower pitched sounds sound better than poorly played higher pitched sounds :)

      • I’m having a hard time getting my fingering consistently right but, as my teacher says, it’s just a matter of logging enough hours on the cello and building muscle memory. Are you learning with Western notations? If so, is there a specific book you are using? We should connect and exchange tips and tricks. Feel free to email me.

        • Hi David
          I am a beginner cellist and I am using String explorer for cello. It comes with a CD and has the options of listen to a song played at multiple tempos.

  16. Nice post!
    I thought the sitting posture matches with the devotional goals of classical carnatic music…

    How the violin became such an integral part of carnatic music can be interesting to know (the history).

    Good luck with your goals and when you serenade, please sing the very interesting ‘pelli gelli chesi’ song, record&upload too.

    • Haha will do. Planning a Violin/Cello duo version of Pelli gelli chesi :)

      • I started learning violin as an adult (for two years now). Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I have access only to western instruction and so far I have only mastered vara veena by translating it to western classical notation. Now I am tempted to play Pelli gilli chesi :).

        Totally agree with you on the difficulties with learning violin but I thought Carnatic holding was supposedly easier than western one.

  17. Saar.. u have to see bollywood songs..

    One particular movie called Om shanti Om

    it is possible to play violin while movin around :-)

  18. Glad to see a new post after a long gap. This was hilarious! Loved the notation! Images/pics cracked me up :)

    Having said that, it really depends on each individual teacher to make it interesting for a young student. The system itself is demanding and unless one spends adequate time on the basics, you can expect to sing/play mediocre music throughout your life. The Ganamruta Bodhini only outlines a few geetams for beginners. There are, in excess of 60 amazing geetams that are not usually taught. Guess even the teachers don’t know of their existence! My husband, Ravikiran (an instrumentalist), has a lot of young students who seem to enjoy attending class perhaps because they are kept engaged in a cerebral way. My point is, Carnatic music, as a system is amazing and complete, but, practitioners, as in every field, vary :)

    • True. It’s the ones that insist on rigidly following a method that they were taught without thinking to see if the current generation is suited for that that cause this problem. I was only taught the bladest geethams

      • I wonder if you have sufferred some kind of an emotional trauma at some point in your life – related to customs and mama/mamis and filter coffees! No wonder you do not lose a chance to make a mockery of them/these in [almost] every post. Making a mockery of your birth clan and being a maverick does not make you a magnanimous person, if you think i does and that it is cool. We all have had our tryst with all of these customs – but let them stay for a reason.

        Carnatic Music is not something that can be ‘customized’ like a software process – too much tailoring of processes over the years has made you believe everything can be. I mean, schools still teach slope of a line and complex numbers and both of these are not used for running (most of) the businesses. We dont customize education that much, although it may help.

        What I mean is that Virat Kohli needs to go several miles before he hits his 100th century, he cant say I have 5 centuries let me make my 90th century now and let the count jump to 91 then onwards thru 100 and beyond. No.

        Maybe if you had mastered those varnams you may be having the ability to play almost any song today – No offense dude!

        • Dude, if you can’t take a little humour – please STFU. Don’t make a total ass out of yourself by farting loudly and stinkily all over the place and then ending it with a “no offense” dose of room freshener. It just doesn’t work.

          • Did I hear someone crying STFU when they can’t have something better?! Who is making a total ass of whom, lol!

            When Krish is taking this in the right spirit I really dunno what bothers you. Perhaps that explains why he has a nice blog like this one and you dont (perhaps) have one.

            If all YOU want to see is somthing like ‘Wonderful piece of work’, ‘Great’ etc. please go and read comments on some rendering by MSS in Youtube.

            Note that writing in public domain is open for criticism (and I appreciate Krish not censoring comments!) and this is one.

            NOW: Stop fuming and slow your heart rate and keep your hands off the key board – for what you write in anger can never be taken back and will be case in stone.

      • Did you learn the real blade one in saveri?

  19. I finally get that your DP seems to be revolting against years of tucking your chin to hold on to the violin. The “Stare into Yonder” look patented for Pulchritude Entrapment.

  20. This is where the Bong kid has it relatively easy. One is introduced to Rabindra Sangeeth after the basics. And that fans his interest further. Learning both of them is almost parallel.

    I enjoyed the ‘Keen contest on the cards’ very much! Every time you finish your vasichufying I’m sure it is regarded as ‘gripping finish to final session of play’.

  21. Sooper write up.

    pulchritude laam konjam over…
    For a while I thought pulchritude means a fruit….Mallu fruit…thinking “enna solraan paiyyan”…oru kalavara violins bhoomilayum kilukiluppu… My GRE flash cards got mixed up I guess..

    For a while this article felt like reading Escher-Godel-Bach (Could not go beyond the 2nd chapter for a year, as I dont have any idea about music), but then you throw a few tam brahm jokes…and I felt “Namma field” :)

  22. a cello piece i keep listening to..again a cello version of a popular song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjOQac1vOEc

  23. never mind what the violin teacher thought.
    i know that soundara miss heard the asareeree that your mum didnt.

    *to click on refresh.
    go to the orchestra archives. vm. kalyani varnam.
    KA on the violin got his own mike. 99 others playing the veena, flute, mridangam, vocal, etc shared the other mike *

    privately, i think the rest of the vm students heard the asareeree when you played the signature music of “titan”:-)

  24. As a North Indian attempting to understand all the Tamilian references in every single blog post of yours to no avail, thank you thank you for writing something I can relate to!

    I am, as you say, learning an instrument which takes zero days to get right. I have to say, though, that it seems every other person who lays their hands on Scarlet (my non-red “Casio” digital piano) seems to produce magical sounds, unlike yours truly.

    Well, you have made your biggest contribution to Italian classical music, people “ate it up” from the palm of your hands. Thanks for unleashing Madras Madness after 5 months.

  25. Welcome back! And Harikesanallur Jayaraja Iyer is pure genius.

  26. I can so relate to most things in this post. The difference being, I started learning violin (carnatic) diligently for around 2 years, and I could play a couple of varnams by the end, and then I gave up. The learning curve is so steep, and the instrument is so unforgiving of mistakes. Incidentally, I gave up violin and bought an acoustic guitar. In 2 months I could play such a lot of nice sounding stuff, whereas after 2 years of fiddling away my varnams sounded so abaswaram.

    I’m always full of respect for good carnatic violin players for this very reason.

  27. Machaan Ashok,

    Hands off our women dude.

    Sidin
    (All Kerala Womens Defene League – Lenin)

  28. I started reading your blog a couple of days back (from the 2007 entries). Enjoyed each one of your posts. Nice to know that you are back. Hope you continue the good work.

    I have this friend of mine who is learning violin on and off for the past 8-10 yrs. Whether just he is horrible or the instrument is _that_ difficult to manage, i don’t know..

  29. Saar, ” Jaa Chudai “l-le if they can play those awesome pattasu-releasing sitars standing up…indha violin ellam simple matter !

  30. I am dictating this comment to my friend when I continue to roll on the floor laughing my….
    Excellent! May you become excello with your cello and reform Raj, Kans & Kals in their cells.

  31. My son still considers me a weird alien from hell!! all becos i make him learn carnatic music :( the pre-requisite( acc to my music’driven husband) to his learning the umbiquitious instrument- The guitar. Now both -epci fail…the tala on his bare thighs hurt him so he ignores that…much to the chagrin of his music teacher. He wanted to learn the violin too…maybe I should show him your post….it might keep his interests at check and the pretty girl ( there are some ) close at hand for when he grows up :(
    and that posture…ok!!! the less said – the better :(
    Wishing you blessings for the -cello paatu class

  32. did my nudge for the blog made u write this ?
    say yesssss …..plisssssss……’wink wink’ ;)

    glad to see you back, with a violin sound :D

  33. For once someone blogged about “short-haired” women. Mighty glad!!

    Good to read your post after so long

  34. Great post. Don’t disappear again.

  35. Beautiful post as usual. One observation while watching the song you linked – . Ilamai Itho Itho. I am wondering if the Guitar Heroes guys watched this video to get an idea of their idea of the moving guitar neck (refer to Kamal Hassan’s roller skate dance) :)

  36. Enjoyed the post… maybe you will like to listen/ watch to this violinist.

  37. I took violin. I think it lasted some months. My family was glad when I forsake it for maths (violin class took me out of maths class twice a week). To this day, I have a hard time with basic arithmatic.

  38. ah feels good to read stuff on ur blog after quite a while :) my first experiment was our national anthem, and, having happened in the late 90s, didn’t quite elicit the Etna response. Sadly, it took many years of not playing anything on the lovely instrument to fall in love with it again.. this time, non pleasant sounding raagas included :) awesome read, as always

  39. Eh.. mobile web has acquired a penchant for swallowing up fullstops it seems. pliss excuse.

  40. You should put a parodesi tune with that phamous “India is Anna, Anna is India” and other similarly uttered non-sense. You also have ilaya-thalapthy’s anna speech in ram-lila. Waiting for a blockbuster remix!

  41. Its about time…I’m a new fan,by the way. but i’ve read most of the “maal”. Its brilliant!

  42. Haha. What better way for an inexperient Bong to gain a deep insight into the machinations of a cabal of powerful maamis. Delightful.

  43. When I finished 12th, I wanted to learn an instrument to impress girls at college, you know.. as quickly as possible. I then called my violinist friend and asked him, “How much time does it take?” and he replied “minimum 3 years da!”. Then I realised that its not right to learn instruments for the sake of learning :D Later I ended up learning keyboard for sometime, till I could play “jana gana mana” :) Awesome post indeed!

  44. Errr.. Someday i want to tune my violin in western style and play varaveena without changing the (carnatic-style) fingering..

  45. And, i never heard you playing the sahana / antonia… Your soundcloud sets have only chiquita plays… Share some acoustic versions..

  46. I think one of the major challenges of the violinist Carnatic musician is when you have to sing the lyrics to the Pallavi you painstakingly wrote for your Ragam-Thaanam-Pallavi? Lalgudi would make his daughter do it, and she would do it, koral piriyaama paavam kashta pattu on keezh sthaayi? Also after a while(5-6 sangadhis on that pallavi) you have forgotten what those words were( Was it Muruga Shanmuga ennai kaaka va velava or Shanmuga Muruga Kandha Kadamba Kadhirvela?).
    Just saying

  47. I saw you recently (think July mid) in Chennai Airport taking a picture of Sivamani in the Zone Audio booth, I thought you are gonna come up with something related to mani , but completely different..its alright .. good one :D

  48. Cello! Does that mean your next project is ApocalypTRica?

  49. This post is brilliant! As a Bangalorean (Kannadiga Carnatic musicians have a certain vendetta out against the Madras Carnatic musicians), I was trained in Bharatanatyam (epic fail), Veena (epic fail) and vocal (partial success, passed B.A., with flying colors, about 7 years ago)…. while I am proud of my partial success, I feel your pain.. i guess what got out of hand in my case, was the fact that my father constantly hid my walkman, cd player, cheap mp3 player any time he found out i had western music on there! (harmless stuff like britney spears and backstreet boys). Oh well..

  50. I remember a dialogue from a telugu movie Aditya 369. Amrish Puri is torturing the kid & tinu anand by amplifying the sound of his henchmen playing the instruments.

    Gollapudi sniggers: “tamare aa Violins ne entha Voilence gaa marcharo” i.e. “how you’re turning the Violins into Violence” :D

  51. Unga aathulae mallu ponnu patthi theriyuma?

  52. Pink floyd ka titilaaa laga key tum logon ko kyun satharey miyaaaan :)

    I made attempts to learn western classical both Guitar n Violin… did make decent progress.. And totally relate to missing/messing the bow just few mm n creating musical noise !

    great to see u back Ashok chicha … after longtime ! Ram

  53. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and you’re brilliant. I really enjoyed this last post, because I’ve studied Carnatic music for a long time with another sister of this chap. Kudos on sticking to it!

  54. Loved your post. I am from a Tambrahm family where everybody sang and a couple of aunts were stage artists. So, in order to carry on the family tradition, I was put into vocal classes at the age of 4. Never mind that my tonal quality was like that of a broken flute. My mother actually would shut windows and doors when my teacher came home to give me my weekly lesson. 11 years of inflicting this torture on my uber patient neighbors, I gave up. I picked up music a good 2 decades later and went with Hindustani classical this time. I am proud to say i can sing a couple of bhajans decently.

    To your point, though, I am incredibly indebted to my parents and music teacher who didn’t give up on me once during the time period. They all believed a singer was hiding somewhere deep inside me. Who knew it was so deep inside me that it would take 3 decades of my life to find :)

  55. Ok, I’m comment number 101 and probably in spam-land territory right now, but you make me laugh in office at 11:42 am on a cheerless thursday morning, and for that I will be eternally grateful. :) thank you Krish Ashok. x

  56. Nice to see you back in the blogs, KA!
    Have been checking in from time to time…
    I had to laugh at how your mother started you in lessons at age 7 when you showed a slight interest…did the same to my son at the age of 5 with violin! The weekly lessons were a nightmare with me dragging him kicking and screaming from playing in the backyard and finally had to give up after 5 years (you can’t say i’m not persistent ;)
    Anyway he chose the trumpet when he started middle school, and loved it – even ‘composed’ and recorded a little song for me for my birthday one year – guess it’s all about being ready and being his choice!

  57. Unna solli kutramillai, not everyone has a Tiger-Mom :-)

  58. Interestingly, Ilamai Idho Idho has a killer violin solo in the first interlude…just two lines, but it took me several listens before I realized what that instrument was, actually…classic Ilaiyaraaja innovation…

  59. pelli gilli chesi lechipodama..what epic lyrics man:D. The gult in me was rofl’ing. where did u get that from?

  60. You sir, have discriminated against us second-filter-coffee-in-the-morning types for long enough. You shall be hearing from us soon.

    • Spent 5 seconds looking for the like button on this post, before I realized that I was spending too darn much time on Facebook :P

      But yes, Krishashok, you will be hearing from us, the filter coffee snobs/ devotees/addicts…

  61. Man, you got it all totally wrong. To say that to emote on violin you have to stand up and be free to move your legs is not logical at all. To emote, is to think with mind the emotion, how it sounds and bring it out on your fingers of both hands. For doing this you need to focus on your mind with hands and if you are while doing it going to walk, god save your music… I am not saying it is not doable. I am saying it is unnecessary. If it is required, tell me how in an orchestra, lines of violinists sit, watch the notes (with careful attention to the different signs for all the tonal, volume changes) and play… You seem to hate sitting cross legged. You can comfortably sit on a chair and still play… you do not have to dance around with your fancy mallu girl…. you will get only lot of distractions if you do that. All the pictures of dancing musicians are all recordings where someone standing still played the music while this actor acted it out….. or the music notes played were silly few notes in open strings or such easy stuff ….

    I do agree teachers can be more creative to bring that sense of achievement in students by enabling them with a few interesting pieces, but any serious music (be it vocal, instrumental and what not) takes a minimum 3-6 months to just get started correctly. And then to get decent skill, you have to spend at least > 5000 hours of practice (in any skill and it is scientifically proven people who did >10000 hours of practice reach performing level). To master it, one life is not enough, but you draw a line somewhere accepting at what quality you are happy with your music to be listened to by others and start performing for your audience, starting with your own family, your teacher, your school, your community temple/church, your community events and if in at least 1% of these events you had people asking for more, then move on to a concert stage. Otherwise it will be a simple disaster. Only difference is people are gracious enough to not call it so. So, do not think you are making any great music.

  62. Did you ever get that 100 yr old violin appraised? I have one with similar vintage based on a Stradivarius 1904 design.

  63. Brilliant graphics and even Meethoven would have been proud of those violins.

  64. Hi Krish,

    I work at a leading publishing house. Are you interested in writing a book for us? I have some interesting book ideas in mind.

    You can email me at this ID. I can share my real details once we connect. Thanks. Hope to hear from you.

    publishingfromindia@gmail.com

  65. great read! I myself do not play an instrument but do have a was-once-a-violinist and a to-be-pianist at home so a whole lot of nodding my head as I read this!

  66. EPIC. :)

    i’ve always wanted to play a violin, No short haired mallu girls involved.:-D

    you are awesome. Keep blogging funny stuff, don’t go off like the likes of mandar kolkate. He was a great blogger…. Then he released his book.

  67. So, as punju bahman (no amit123 for me, thankyouplz), with a tambram wife, I’m still having trouble with the Madrasi (yeah, Madras, deal with it) references in this blog. How about hot linking to a magic decoder ring?

    BTW, I first saw a Very Famous Carnatic violin teacher teach a bunch of kiddos back in 1985 and the methods were exactly what you describe – a low growl and a fierce look at the kid messing up. Very intimidating. Put me off any plans on learning this thing back then itself.

  68. So relieving to read this. Now I can console myself!
    For years I have been thinking I was musically challenged. After reading this I realize i just chose the wrong instrument to attain “the sense of mastery” and “cosmic purpose and all that”. I tried learning it for three years. and then I gave up three years ago. I was learning Western Classical, not that easy either. I love the instrument, despite the horrendous ghostly noise I make every time I play it, but violin-learners should buy a truckload of patience along with the instrument.
    There has not been a single day in the past three years, during which my violin rests in peace under my bed, when i haven’t felt like starting from the top. But the success of playing the instrument like a robot without sense of rhyme or rhythm overwhelms my humble intentions.
    And then there is the ever supportive family. After ten classes parents hope to see us play like SRK in Mohabatein. What they don’t know is SRK doesn’t even place the bow in the right place and NO ONE can play the violin like they are having a freaking seizure.
    And unless I become Mahima Almighty or an alien blesses me with musical powers, I don’t think I am even close to finishing my first Trinity exam.
    This entry was awesome! For the first time I was able to sigh in peace over my inability to learn violin.

  69. As a tambrahm, the average age to introduce one to the beauty of Carnatic music is 7. Blissfully unaware of what my parents had planned, I spent Saraswati Poojai doing absolutely nothing. Vijayadasami came around and so did a music teacher. My parents had a thaamboolam with apples, oranges, the toek vethalai paaku and the Rs 101/-. I had my first lesson in the hall, only to realize my eager grandparents had slowly ambled away into the kitchen/ verandah 5 minutes into my lesson. Needless to say, the teacher never came back (- citing lack of absolute talent and pocketed the Rs 101/-). I was scarred for life or so I thought.
    Now, as a grad student, I am looking at every possible distraction to keep me from writing my dissertation. I found inexpensive cello lessons and a cello:).
    I am rather pleased to discover that I am not as musically challenged as I was made to believe 20 years ago.

  70. Enna sir idhu. Office-la ippidi siruppu mootina, boss enna paithiyamnu nenakkamaataaraa?

  71. Hi… Your blog is a great and entertaining read..

    About this post: yeah i always thought every child went through that “skills phase” as i put it. It should be either instruments, singing, dancing, or any of the arts… And when you go to the various maamis house around, they all pat your mom in the back for bringing such a “chamathu ponnu ” who can sing like how her own mother used to!!
    Haha… anyways good going!!

  72. Thanks! That was hilarious! You hit the nail on the head (on the heads of all the violin teachers and the all suffering pupils). I had some of this myself and vowed never to force the fiddling on my son. So he is happy (?) with his flute.

  73. I was a little gurl in two plaits with coconut oil but I heart after I was led into this!

  74. Saar,

    Waiting for ur next post eagerly!! Please blog more often..

    Nandri hai!!

    Anusha

  75. Hahaha…damn funny as always! But the post also fills me with regret…I really wish my parents had insisted on me learning something musical when I was young. Somehow that just doesn’t happen in North India, and I think its quite a shame…

    So basically I think you are way better off learning violin than nothing at all!

  76. What is this obsession with Mallu gurrls? :) Considering my bf is Aiyangar, and I am mallu, I am starting to think he’s with me just because I am a Mallu girl :/
    And FYI – I think Carnatic Music is nice when played well on a violin. but yeah you can’t serenade a girl with it, cos well, you have to be seated all the time and she could just as easily walk away. Unless, you try Kamal Hassan’s way of doing it in Singaravelan (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9L8yIcC7Mo)

  77. I still remember the day over thirty years ago when my parents decided to sign me up for music classes after I picked up a few songs on the piano at our friends place. The piano was considered too western for our traditional tambram upbringing, and the choice made for me was naturally the violin. It was an unmitigated disaster. After a few classes I started picking at the strings like a guitar, the already constipated looking music teacher maamaa transformed into mount Krakatoa as on 27 Aug 1883, choice tambram curses were heaped on me, I was banished forthwith, never to darken his door again.

    Then I was signed up for guitar classes with great expectations. That was slightly better but didn’t work out in the end because I wanted to play electric guitar that sounded cool like Messrs. J.Page or S.R.Vaughan, not some silly boxy sounding guitar with a big hole in it. The moment only came when the interest was rekindled naturally, I started playing for a few small bands and even made some cash from the shows.. much to the distaste and displeasure of the uncles and aunties in the family.

    Yet, nothing beats the magic moments when it all comes together – the right sound, the right feel, the right music and the right mood. I realise now that one major roadblock was the instrument itself. My Paul Reed Smith and Vox combo today gives me the tones and playability I could only dream about in school, that itself was a major disincentive.

    Now my little girl plays the piano, but this is a reminder to me not to pressure her too much and let her blossom at her own pace.

    Still, the violin has a special place in my heart, specially when I hear people like Jean Luc Ponty or Jerry Goodman. Takes me back to the lost opportunity over three decades ago, but who knows… maybe I’ll pick it up in another lifetime.

  78. Very very funny :) Aug 25 ? That’s like so long ago! Would love to see this space updated !

    • Heh. I check back every six months or so, just because I love the way Ashok writes. Then I’m surprised when I missed a post which must have been written shortly after the last time I checked. But it’s not like there is a honking great backlog of content to catch up on, which is cool, too.

  79. I’m going to be somewhat pedantic (some may say even dickish):

    You wrote: “Zeitgeist of the times”

    That is a redundancy, since Zeitgeist means “spirit of the times”

  80. well cool post .. i got some more pics of the above at this
    beautiful blog

  81. Brilliant :D

  82. Terrific post! One of the best that I’ve read online (sipping filter coffee..)

  83. You should see David Garrett at his concerts !! I would trip if I tried that :P

  84. Dude ! You have got one hell of a vocabulary and a narrating style that simply is awesome.

  85. I Like toko Child Play biola.

  86. That was wonderful (and entertaining) reading.
    Like your illustrations ….. especially the one with Romeo and Juliet.
    Coming back to the Violin I too had a short tryst with the wonderful instrument. Learned it for about 1.5 months and then gave it up. Why? Like you said, no frets. And then my nimble fingers were paining like hell. So that was the end of it.
    Instead took up the Guitar (after a gap of about 25 years)

  87. I am very happy to read your article, it’s very useful for me, and I am completely satisfied with your website. All comments and articles are very useful and very good.
    Online Travel Booking

  88. Haha! I can totally relate with the pose, every time someone asks me to play something the first thing that comes to my mind is the position and then the thought of wailing sounds that emerge when I start playing. This is the first time I’m reading your blog amazing post! :)
    P.S. I found this in the search results while I was looking for ‘violin jewellery’

  89. hi

    Hilarious. Good one. Even though I was brought up in an agrahaaram, my parents were dead against me learning violin or anything related to carnatic music. So at the ripe old age of 25, I requested a bhagavathar mama to teach me. May be he had a filter coffee just then as the Mama uvaacha,” you cannot start learning violin once you’ve past 14….blah blah blah..” Disappointed to say the least I wrapped my dreams and kept on slogging away with career, family and other such matters of the mundane world. Now past 40 I decided to try this once again. May be the effect of mid life crisis; but what the hell …. I Joined a carnatic violin class where classmates are of my son’s age.
    no exams to worry…
    no girl to impress…
    no cutchery to perform..
    me and my music at my own pace….
    I am going to fiddle the rest of my life.

  90. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice,
    keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back in the future. All the best

  91. Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News. Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it|

  92. very nice post, something I can relate to in parts, having spent close to 20 years on the instrument and still nowhere in particular ;-P

  93. I could not stop laughing while reading it! :D Enjoyed it thoroughly!

  94. Hilarious. The odd sitting posture is the very reason I took up western classical violin two years ago. Still going strong WC. But could not make money as I was making doing Carnatic Kutcheris though.

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