31 October, 2008

What is Perfect Pitch?

Perfect pitch means different things to different people.

In several systems of music in the West, perfect pitch is usually used to refer to someone who has an ability to identify and recognise the exact pitch of a note rendered (a gift apparently given only to a rare few).

In Indian music, one finds the term being used in the context of alignment to the source of pitch (such as a tanpura/shruti box).

Specifically in Carnatic, this goes a step even further. When we say someone is pitch-perfect, we refer to their ability to distinguish the micro-tonal shruti values of the same note from raga to raga (say the Da and Ri in Anandabhairavi vs the Da and Ri in Reetigowla) as well as the values of the same note from context to context within each raga (like the Ma or Ni in Shankarabharanam in different contexts).

A perfect pitch in cricket could mean quite a different thing to a batsman than what it could for a pace or spin bowler, or to various spectators.

To a salesman or marketing executive, it could again represent something else altogether!

However, the one common thing to all of us is that perfect pitch has always been (and will forever remain) a quest... The term perfection is itself a very deep word and not to be used lightly. Perfection is more a journey than a destination...

Even going by my earliest memories, I can recall how my father and guru, Shri Chitravina Narasimhan, inculcated an awareness of the concept of perfection and placed me on that never-ending-perpetually-challenging-but-perennially-rewarding path. And it was not merely about just singing or playing a note or phrase attractively. It was more about visualising it and conceptualising it the right way first and then attempting to execute it. Needless to say, this approach was extrapolated to rhythm and lyrics as well.

And my father's greatest ability as a guru was to make me enjoy this quest from day one... To me, this was as valuable as him teaching me hundreds of ragas and talas by age two and around half a thousand compositions by age five...

I firmly believe that these are perhaps the two greatest responsibilities of a guru - (a) instill the awareness and relentless pursuit of perfection in an aspirant and (b) create a sense of self-enjoyment from the very first step.

Thanks to my father and another early guru of mine, Shri A Narayana Iyer (to whom I will dedicate another post soon), I also realized very early on that any talk of perfection would only be lip service without an emphasis on correctness first. In other words, there is little to be gained by perfecting things incorrectly and even more to be lost by perfecting incorrect things... This is another story altogether and I will share it with you all sometime soon...

17 October, 2008

Hi there

I am thinking of penning my thoughts and sharing my experiences as and when time permits. I do hope that you all enjoy these ramblings and also find them useful...

More later,

Ravikiran