I am always wary of reading books on music as I find most of them pedantic. The breadth of classical music can be a daunting subject for any writer. However some books stand out for me for their accessibility. Here are four such books.
Encyclopedic and written in plain English Ludwig Pesch in his book “The Oxford Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music” has written a well-researched and engaging read for carnatic music lovers. Whether it is cultural contexts of the music, technicalities of tala, complexities of instrumental music to anecdotal references and opinions of musicians, the book serves both as a quick reference and an encylopedia of sorts on several aspects of Carnatic music. It is written in plain English and allows the reader to dip into any page. The black and white photographs are a bonus.
Questioning conventional wisdom In his book “A Southern Music” T M Krishna challenges readers, particularly carnatic music aficiaonados to question many of the conventions of classical music, starting with the concert format. The book forces the reader to think about the art form’s received wisdom and succeeds in its intent to shake our assumptions. Parts of the book could have used a little further editing to simplify language but this is one book that needs to be on your reading list.
Lessons from Guru-shishya parampara Namita Devidayal’s book “The Music Room: A memoir” is the story of a music teacher and her interaction with her disciple that is not confined to the classroom alone. The whole learning experience with a teacher whose life revolves completely around music is well captured in this book. It talks about gharanas, the eccentricities of musicians, and the steadfast traditions that are handed down by music teachers through generations in a world constantly changing with the times – exciting for the student and bewildering for the teacher. The student learns several life lessons that goes beyond music.
Western classical for the rest of us I knew nothing of Western classical music until my brother gifted me Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” for my birthday years back. The romance between two musicians is poignantly brought out against the backdrop of the concert halls of Vienna. The reader picks up technicalities of the music in the author’s inimitable writing style. For a musician to learn that he or she is becoming deaf can be a death sentence. Beethoven was one such real example and now Julia, the pianist in An Equal Music faces a similar predicament.
Two fiction, two non-fiction – these books teach you a thing or two about life and not just music.