In its October 1991 issue, Sruti made a small but significant change by dropping the word “classical’ from its title. This change was prompted by a paper published by Dr. AshokRanade, who divided all music into five main categories, namely, primitive, folk, popular, art and devotional.
All music can be naturally organised into fundamental classes or categories. This leads to corresponding categories of kinds of experience of different musics. There can be no claims for universal validity for musical theories or judgements. In spite of inevitable and inbuilt overlaps, these categories do denote distinguishable and valuable experiential contents. Confusion of musical categories usually leads to wrong expectation, application of irrelevant criteria and inappropriate aesthetic judgement.
The fivefold classification of music
Primitive or tribal music Folk music Devotional music Art (or Classical) music Popular music One must understand that these five categories need not exist in all societies concurrently and in equal proportions. In general, the more the number of existing musical categories, the more the degree of socio-cultural complexity in the society under consideration. No identical criteria can be employed because the five terms and the corresponding concepts display inherently differing orientations. For example, the terms tribal or nearly synonyms, the word primitive has a wider cultural connotation, while the word tribal signifies that which pertains to a group of clans, under a chief and claiming common ancestry. It is necessary to define musical categories with a focus on the experiential content of music. What is primitive in music is to be determined by using musical criteria. It is not to be assumed that primitive music is music produced by people considered to be primitive. Disco and rock music have all the characteristics of primitive music. There is a primitive layer of emotion in every one of us which responds to this type of music. It is music, but we cannot put a value judgement on it!
The aesthetic intention of the performers is what sets art (or classical) musicians apart from those in other categories. The product, however, does not necessarily enjoy aesthetic validity because of the motivation! At the same time one cannot overlook the qualitative difference between the motivations of the primitive, folk, devotional, popular and art musicians. The first is engaged in playing a role, while the folk musician participates in a collective duty and the popular musician caters to the masses. The art musician seeks to establish himself as an artist according to his own understanding of aesthetic norms. Art music is distinguished by the simultaneous operation of two traditions – scholastic and performing. On art music Dr. Ashok Da Ranade primitive are ethnic while the term folk directly originates from folklore. The terms art and classical are interchangeably used in India, and are clearly products of aesthetic sensibilities. Popular is a term related to the mechanical progress and operations of the mass media of the present society.
Though the terms primitive and tribal music are both often used as The former relies on written text. Rules, methods, techniques pertaining to music are systematised in accordance with established practices. The text, inevitably, depends on the existing performing tradition. This is because the scholastic traditions are equipped to take cognizance only of those items which have crystallised in the lifepattern of a society.
Art music necessarily concentrates on selected performing aspects such as vocalisation, instrumentation, movement or abhinaya. In other words, art music displays less of a package character in comparison with musics that belong to the other categories. Art music specialises in a chosen mode of expression. This is why art music performances can be easily described as concerts of vocal or instrumental music. It is art music that offers scope for solo performances. In no other musical category are the roles of the main and the accompanying performers so clearly defined and differently developed. In art music, one is confronted with a whole array of musical forms chiefly based on patterning the general musical elements in specific structures of notes, rhythms, tempi,etc. On the other hand, non-art musical categories abound in forms which owe their existence to non-musical factors such as events in human life-cycles, seasonal changes and associated rites and rituals. Forms in art music also evidence the existence of a hierarchy based on the degree of technical virtuosity. In other words, certain forms are regarded as more prestigious because of the demands they make on the skill of the performers. On examination, highly musicological criteria are found to have been employed to erect the hierarchy. Art music features a highly structured teaching-learning process. As a consequence, gharana-s come into existence, guru-s enjoy an exclusive following, reputations as effective teachers are built up, disciples areinitiated with due ceremony, an musical ‘pedigrees’ are traced and treated with respect as well as pride. Methodical ‘curricula’ come into existence even if they are not necessarily written down, material complementary to teaching-learning, such as anthologies of compositions, notations, codifications are prepared, preserved and often guarded with utmost secrecy.
Audiences of art music are a class apart on account of their nonparticipatory contribution! Compared to other musical categories, art music depends for its efficacy on the presence of more organised audiences, who are expected to have developed a taste preparing them to receive the sophisticated impact of art music. Perhaps no other musical category finds it so essential to educate its audiences as does art music. Further, the audience is also expected to contribute to the making of a performance by expressing appreciation or disapproval in accordance with established norms forming part of a total cultural pattern. Acquisition of a taste for art music or its appreciation includes ‘learned’ behaviour and it is symptomatic that attempts at conducting appreciation courses in art music are well received. Art music is also characterised by its all-round efforts to combine with other forms and thus to create composite art and art-forms. The process appears a little paradoxical in view of the purposeful delinking with other arts in the first place. However, the paradox disappearsonce the differing motivation is appreciated. The delinking of art music from other manifestations initially takes place so as to enable art music to demarcate its areas of operation and develop effectively its own special identity. On the other hand, the later efforts to effect a reunion with dance, drama, painting, etc., are designed to enrich the total aesthetic experience. The emergence of ballet, opera, ragamala-paintings is to be traced to this ‘enrichment’ motive. At every level, art music employs abstraction. Abstraction necessarily means a total dependence on musical limits and possibilities for the understanding of music. Abstraction limits the scope of language and literary manifestations. Topical and functional relationships with rituals and routine life-patterns become less important. All these factors explain the comparatively limited appeal of art music as music. Can art music not be devotional and vice-versa? Devotional music is rendered today even on the concert stage but in a highly processed form. Saintpoets were not musicians. They used simple music to reach people. It is not just a coincidence that wherever there were saints composing poetry, there were also musicians who would pick up the words and give them an aesthetic form. A saint’s singing need not be aesthetic. An art musician may sing without devotion what is generally considered devotional music.