Deep Voice, Tenacious Spirit
I first heard her on AIR’s National Program of Music when I was about 7 or 8. I don’t remember the Raag (melodic scale) she sang but her powerful voice and divine resonance of the Tanpura had left me mesmerized. Since then, I had revered her as my maansik Guru (a teacher you accept as your own without ever having met or learned from, directly). In my naïveté, I dreamt of singing like her. I didn’t know her story of struggle. I had no awareness of the enormous sacrifices she had made in her musical journey. Dr. Gangubai Hangal’s gift to Indian Classical Music was immeasurable but I didn’t quite know that. Despite a botched tonsillitis procedure that changed her voice forever, her legacy withstood the test of time.
On her birthday, I wanted to listen to one of her recordings, to honor and worship her music. I chose to play this exquisite and pristine recording of Raag Yaman from an April 1974 recording from the archives of NCPA Mumbai. What happened next was not something I’d anticipated. Now, it’s a known fact that music, (especially Indian Classical Music) can be deeply moving, uplifting, grave, romantic, contemplative, or playful, depending on the Raag (melodic scale) and the mood it creates. That said, intellectual understanding and emotional response are not the same! Barely a few minutes into playing her recording, I found myself tearing up and after a point, I couldn’t stand it anymore. The tears flowed freely and I didn’t know how (or what!) to explain to my bewildered family.
After 4 weeks of not singing or listening to Yaman (more on that in a future post!), it was unbearable. The long absence from the sweet notes of this beautiful raag had left me with such deep yearning that the floodgates opened, when I pressed ‘play’. And listening to this exquisite music in my Guru Ma’s voice was almost too much to bear. It was like finding my lost mother again.
Haunted…in Berlin, Germany
In October 2013, I traveled to Berlin on work. Our office was in the heart of Kurfürstendamm, one of the loveliest places in Berlin. As I was returning from work one day, I heard the most haunting piece of music being played on the street. It was so powerful and filled with such longing that I stood there awestruck. And out came the tears, with no warning. Imagine a short, South Indian woman (amidst really tall Germans) standing in the middle of that boulevard, in a trance-like state; eyed filled with tears, unable to express (or explain) what just happened.
I’ll never know what that piece was but I’ll never forget how it made me feel. It was almost as if the universe had conspired in my favor and assuaged my fear of not speaking German by saying: “It’s okay, sweetheart. Here, have some music, instead. It will warm the cockles of your soul.” I had a new appreciation for the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran’s words: “Tears are music in material form”.
The Genius of Maria Callas
A few years ago, I was introduced to Maria Callas, the Greek-American Soprano who defined opera music as one of the most renowned and influential performers of the 20th century. I had never heard of her before so in true musical curiosity, I ventured out to learn more. During that time, I stumbled upon this gem with 7.5 million views and her rendition of Carmen with another 4.2 million views.
Flawed, ugly, sublime, penetrating, dark, voluminous – critics have said all this and more about her voice. But beyond the grammar, analytics, and technicality lies a musician’s ability to impact a listener. And impact, she did. I was moved, inspired, and thrilled. Her voice tugged at my heart-strings. There was such a magical quality about it. The effect it had on me was inexplicable. Beyond the lyrics, there was depth, melody, and texture that touched my very soul.
Adagio in G Minor…Gallipoli
A few decades ago, while studying Australian History and reviewing Gallipoli, an Australian war film, I had heard another piece of hauntingly, beautiful music. Perhaps it’s music-related memory or maybe the episodic memory was actually stored inside my brain cells as this new study explains. I just never forgot it. But thanks to YouTube, I found it several years later and recognized it immediately. 23 years on, it has stayed in my heart, indelibly linked to my trip and all the emotions associated with it.
The Day The Music Died…
No, this isn’t a reference to Don McLean’s revelation of the true meaning of “American Pie“. Nor is it about the incalculable loss of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and his team. In fact, I see this statement as the very antithesis to how great music will continue to live on, long after the musician is gone. Such is the nature of music itself. Real music has a deep voice and tenacious spirit. And the capacity to be your anchor, for life.
Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.
THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS.