Chants sans Paroles (Songs without words)

I realize there has been quite a dearth of musical posts, and there is a reason for that. Every time I go to a concert, I am so overwhelmed by everything I see and hear that by the time the concert is over I can’t think of how to begin writing about it.

I vaguely remember hearing of a study where a rural tribe (perhaps in africa?) was shown a video, a few minutes in length. In this video were images of machinery, electric circuits, and various other constructs and symbols of industry, and somewhere in the middle was thrown in two seconds of footage of some chickens. The members of the tribe were asked what they remembered, and their clearest memory was of the chickens.

This is kind of how I feel sometimes — that in the moment, I see and hear such beautiful things, but I don’t yet have the vocabulary to articulate what those things are, or even have the frame of reference to describe them to you. I have pages and pages of notes which haven’t yet made it onto my blog for this very reason.

My perceptions are changing every day. Last weekend, a fellow fulbrighter and incredible young poet, Britain, came to stay with us for a few days on her way to Bangalore. She has spent a great deal of time outside the US, in both India and South America, and her writing style, which works a lot with the breakdown of conventional syntax, opened my mind to the possibility that our language may not really be set up to accurately describe the essence of experience in other cultures. I often feel that if I’m going to bother to share something with people, I have to make a definitive statement: this was good or bad, this means this, these are the things I experienced, and here is the singular thesis point to which they can be reduced.

That is not how things have been here – one moment I’m on the Delhi Metro and notice that because I am finally surrounded by other Indian girls, I can look at how they do their hair and makeup and actually get ideas about my own style (which, for most of my life, has been non-existent), and the next moment I arrive at a Bharatnatyam ballet and notice that the phrases in both the music and the dance (and even art) have this element of filigree over broader strokes that we are not trained to recognize in the west, but that is critical to all Indian art forms. And a few hours later, I’m trying to remember how to say thirty-five in Hindi, and realize that because I’m too busy thinking about that, I’ve actually said, “I need 35 rupees” instead of “I will give you 35 rupees,” to a rickshaw-wallah. These are three seconds in my day, three little moments of hundreds like them that happen every day. Which is why, when I sit down to write a post, I often draw a blank. How do I condense this experience into anything tangible?

This is not to say that I’m confused about things. Though I can’t always describe what is before me, I perceive it clearly. I remember I had a similar realization when studying orchestration. When I was much younger as a composer, I would try to look at scores and write, in words, why the composer made the orchestration choices they did, because I thought that verbalizing it would cement my understanding. It was painstaking, and often I came out with something completely useless. Then one day, I started looking at scores and, instead of trying to use words to describe them, I heard the recording looked at the score, and realized that I either got it or I didn’t. There was a moment when things clicked in my mind, when the sound locked in with the image on the page, and whatever that moment was became my goal.

I feel the same about a lot of my experiences in India. There is so much about this culture and its music that makes complete innate sense to me. I hear incredible things, and often my clearest thought about those things is simply: Yes. I have no idea how to explain what generates that moment, but the feeling is palpable.

Perhaps over this coming year, my knowledge will supplement my intuition. I’m hoping that if I am simply alert enough and take mental note of the things I encounter, slowly the broader strokes will start to present themselves in a way that I can make intelligible in writing. While that is a different state that I also look forward to, I love being where I am right now and having these moments where I have no choice but to perceive without words.

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One Response to Chants sans Paroles (Songs without words)

  1. Pingback: welcome! | reena|in|india

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