Flow in Music

Flow in music is that which comes out naturally and automatically without your having to think about the moves and turns. It happens when you are bone-marrow drenched in the raga, when you have totally internalized the raga and assimilated the various possibilities of the raga through your Gharana.

Flow in Music

A performing musician friend of mine (plays violin) asked me what flow in music is and whence and how it comes. He is an admirer of my father-guru’s music and M S Gopal Krishnan’s Carnatic music on whom he is writing a book. Few days back he called me to express his great admiration of the river-like flow in my guru’s singing. He further asked me how it happens. I thought I must express my views on this topic so that he and others would understand this phenomenon.


What is ‘flow’ in music?

Flow in music is an unpremeditated movement of Laya-oriented-ragaswaras in an effortless, continuous and uninterrupted manner. The only pauses in this phenomenon are the ones that are due to the physical constraints of the breath cycles of the vocalist. It is an outflow of sur after sur, phrase after phrase, and turn after turn, all of which issue forth without being premeditated.

Flow in music is the gushing forth of unpremeditated movement of swaras, phrases, turns etc. without your having to ‘ think ‘ about the next movement or turn of phrase or of weaving them together. The crucial point here is that these movements should be unpremeditated! If you were to ask the singer whether he had deliberated upon all these effortless movements, I guess he would say, they all came just like that!

How can this be? Almost all singing is premeditated, thought about, practiced and honed for long hours in one’s Riyaaz i.e. it is carefully (or otherwise) and consciously “crafted” music. The artist has consciously dwelt upon the different moves and turns of the raga and then he presents them in his performance. This is a required and laudable endeavor on the part of any performer. What we applaud in his performance is the skill in weaving and mapping his honed performance. That is to say, we are applauding his premeditated movements in the singing – the crafted music. In my view, laudable as it surely is, it is not flow in music. True, we may say “Wah! What flow in this music!” This is tangible flow which many musicians may be capable of. What I am talking about is an intangible Flow when you don’t even say ” Wah!”, but become silent in wonderment of the Flow in the music of a very few musicians, of whom my Guru was one and was the best in this for me. Unpremeditated flow happens by itself. One doesn’t aim or strive for it. One simply does Tapasya for it to happen!

I am tempted to say that this kind of Flow which is intangible, indescribable but only felt and experienced happens when music becomes a deeply heart-felt prayer, when the singer sees unlimited possibilities, when phrases, turns and moves come unstoppably and in plenty by themselves without premeditation, when the musician is neither singing for an audience nor for himself. When singing happens by itself and for itself.

Yes, it’s a tall order and not every musician is capable of it. For this kind of flow to happen in music, a lot has to be gone through in an attitude of total surrender. Only when singing becomes a “cry” of the soul to the Universal soul, it can have the flow! This kind of flow in music is not just talent. Talent is only a predisposition to a skill. Talent, even the greatest of it, first needs to toil so as to blossom. If there is no Riyaaz, no amount of talent will come to your help. There are any number of musically talented people who take talent for granted and neglect Riyaaz. They just fade away from the scene. As somebody rather crudely, but very rightly, put it, “inspiration” without “perspiration” (i.e. practice) will take you nowhere. The grinding has to be gladly gone through. Taleem from an enlightened Guru in terms of nurturing this talent is the first need. Manan (remembering what the Guru has taught) in the form of intelligent Riyaaz by oneself is most necessary. And then Chintan (thinking about the raga, its exposition, it’s Prakriti) which is the second stage, has to happen. The third stage of “Manthan” (a churning of all that you have learnt, discovered for yourself) which comes late in your musical journey has to happen. Even at this stage, you are still singing premeditated music and you may not have the kind of flow, I am talking about.

Flow in music is that which comes out naturally and automatically without your having to think about the moves and turns. It happens when you are bone-marrow drenched in the raga, when you have totally internalized the raga and assimilated the various possibilities of the raga through your Gharana. For all this to happen, it may take years and years of Tapasya. Most importantly, this kind of Flow stuns not only the listeners, but the performer as well simply because it is unpremeditated music.

I am trying to describe this intangible phenomenon to the best of my ability because I have been an experiencer and a witness to it for decades in my Guru’s singing, time and time again.

Ripeness in music is all!

By Panditji

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