Anyone with the slightest interest in gizmos knows about the many applications supported by portable music players, such as Apple’s iPod and Creative’s Zen. But here’s an interesting use of these little machines that even their inventors may not have thought of. Star Carnatic vocalists, Bombay Jayshri and T.M. Krishna (who was recently awarded the Bismillah Khan Award by the Sangeet Natak Akademi), told me recently in Chennai that they use these portable devices for a rather unusual purpose—to play a pre-recorded tanpura track at their concerts! So don’t be surprised if you go to a concert of classical music and find the vocalists performing with a pre-recorded tanpura track playing through a portable speaker arranged in front of them, or from a line out jack on a laptop, instead of the conventional accompaniment of two beautiful, elaborately decorated tanpuras. Gone are the days when the audience had to wait patiently while the tanpuras were tuned and re-tuned, often several times during a performance. With a pre-recorded track, all you need to do is to make sure you have the right track selected on your portable music player, plug the player into a speaker, and then you’re set for the rest of the concert. A pre-recorded track will, of course, not be affected in the least by the air-conditioning in the auditorium or by the heat generated by stage lights.
This Pod-your-tanpuras option also gives musicians the advantage of not having to carry fragile instruments with them when travelling for concerts. I know from personal experience the shock I cause fellow passengers at overseas airports when they see me load two coffin-like cases on to my luggage trolley, so I wouldn’t go turning my nose up at musicians who opt for tanpura tracks on portable players. Besides, it also cuts down on excess baggage that most organizers hate paying for. And, let’s not forget that while travelling, musicians often have to make do with tanpura accompanists who are unused to sitting cross-legged on the floor for hours, patiently playing a constant drone on the tanpura. More often than not, you get accompanists with long, painted nails that pluck scratchily at tanpura strings, making a din that could perm your hair. These are definitely some of the many reasons why the Pod-tanpura option is soon bound to become popular with artistes.
However, there are other points to consider too. What will these options do to the market for acoustic tanpuras, which is already facing difficult times? Will artistes soon abandon the use of tanpuras for the convenience of options such as the Pod-tanpura tracks? And, on a more music-related note, are these options foolproof? What happens if there is a fluctuation in voltage? Also, part of the training of a music student in India involves training the ear to tune accurately without the help of electronic tuners. Are we going to lose out on this training? Both Jayshri and Krishna are accomplished vocalists, well able to tune instruments to perfection, so their using these devices is a matter of convenience, and as they stated themselves, they exercise this option usually when they are travelling. Therefore, if used in moderation, I guess this would be a convenient option to fall back upon. But, in the meantime, Apple, Creative, iRiver, Zune, Rhapsody and the others—how about a special Indian limited edition for tanpura users?
Write to Shubha Mudgal at firstname.lastname@example.org