Musical dark age?

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Musical dark age?

#1  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 26 May 2011 07:26

Dear Rasikas,

The last para of post 87 in the link below underscores a significant point.

http://www.rasikas.org/forum/viewtopic. ... 1&start=75

1. Why would a small section of the music world feel disbelief, incredulity and shocked surprise when discussions revolve around the brilliance of composers such as OVK. Looking at a few of his works they naturally assume that these must be modern - how could music have been so glorious, varied and multi-dimensional in the 'dark ages' between PD and Trinity?! As I said in my lec-dem on OVK in the Music Academy, "The age was never dark! We have been in the dark about that age".

2. The truth and logic of the above statement is now being appreciated by most music lovers, musicians and musicologists - based on small samples from Karveti Brothers, Sesha Iyengar, Ramaswami Dikshitar, Adiappayya and others.

3. However, most musicologists (and a small subset of musicians guided by them) are most removed from specific aspects of musical standards in the pre-trinity era. Only a very small trace of practical musical developments between 1600-1780 are known to us now. So, we hardly know of the sophistication or variety even a common form like the krti had attained.

4. The reasons are significant but no one can be blamed for it.

(a) Music and dance got more and more distant from each other by the end of 1700s - if not before.
(b) Most musicological works became specialised and were not aware of the forms that were commonplace in dance, bhagavata mela or other traditions.
(c) There is a significant void in our grasp of cultural influences and confluences. For instance, how many pure music treatises talk about Islamic forms that became part of dance in Tanjore belt and the CM forms that necessarily had to be created for the same?
(d) Even today conferences, articles, papers and doctoral thesis are highly specialised and isolated in their approach. For instance, most music thesis will rarely mention dance forms in a historical context.

4. None of these are mistakes. However, this has resulted in serious misconceptions about music with respect to the big picture. Even leading musicians and musicologists are unaware of things that were commonplace in the pre-trinity era like complex talas, gati bhedams, jatis, multiple speeds and so forth. Because, their sources of reference (musical treatises) did not discuss these at length.

5. This had led to

(a) hasty presumptions and assumptions over actual period of developments
(b) vanished or endangered aspects like gati bhedam and colourful talas being tagged modern or recent
(c) a musico(il)logical bias against most things before 1780s!
(d) unintentional misinformation and disinformation about musical history

6. The music world will doubtless be enriched if distinguished musicologists, musical historians and musicians get more acquainted with parallel developments in the dance world of the 'dark ages'.

7. One could turn around and say - 'why should musicians spend time on dance or vice versa?' It is not necessary to. We just need to study the musical forms related to dance as it will easily dispel the series of serious misconceptions we have about this period and give a wholesome and clearer picture of what is modern or not...
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Re: Musical dark age?

#2  Postby Pratyaksham Bala » 26 May 2011 08:03

chitravina ravikiran wrote:"The age was never dark! We have been in the dark about that age". ...

How nicely you have said it! Thanks for starting a discussion on this.

Recorded evidences show that 1000 years back Rajaraja Chola encouraged various music and dance forms, and the Brihadeesvarar Temple built by him supported about 400 dancers and musicians.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#3  Postby viswanathmysore » 26 May 2011 08:12

The Musical dark age has just begun .
With the advent of TV , Sponsors , crass introductions of bhajans, ghazals, cine-lip movements ,bagpipes , electronic aids , endangered schools and diminishing sense of aesthetics , fly by night composers who will trade a limb to see themselves in print , mindless borrowing from other streams of Indian Music ,Mafiadom in Concert circuits .......
It is getting so dark that most of the practitioners dont seem to realise that the dollar they hanker after , is sliding down miserably , and that the country they head towards like migratory birds , is the largest debtor nation in the world-Living beyond its means .

And it all started quite silently .
When Famed musicians chose carefully selected silks to make a fashion statement on stage and started singing bhajans - less than halfway into the concert duration.
When Musicians started looking outside of themselves for inspiration - rather than insides.

I find it strange that a Subject like OVK has to be discussed -again and again -in the context of the Trinity. Long after Nagendra Sastry has withdrawn from the erudite circles here . Leaving the lone Akella to battle out the Sankeerna blues .
There is no need to labour this point again and again .
Let us forget the Trinity for a while .
yours truly
viswanath
Let us assume that the golden period did indeed start from a couple of centuries before .
And proceed with reconstructing the history - to the best of our abilities and tests of scientific rigour.
Let us avoid the noise of armchair dabblers who bring in the context of Tamizh Isai , or interpretaions of As-far-as-I-am-concerned types.

That RK has been fascinated with OVK is a known reality .
That he is willing to share his excitement on his discoveries is an admirable trait in a field which is not generally famous for dissemination.
If there is one problem with the fine riches that could come out of this OVK exercise , it is the noise created by the part time players .
If there is one take away from this OVK exercise , it is about the acknowledgement that every Tom Dick and Harry who can put ink to paper cannot hope to end up as a Vaggeyakara.
So my humble request to you RK Sir ,
Please continue with the spirit and zeal of some of the early Christian Missionaries, that you have displayed over the years. Building an edifice from any angle that attempts to derail the commonly held belief that the period of the Trinity was the ultimate Melting pot in Cm's history would be unnecessary to the true student of music . It would be nice if you can defelect the postings of some of the language zealots who pick and choose from your train of thoughts to push the case for the supremacy of one language over the other .
Make OVK your Thread - if necessary - one single thread where you unravel the mysteries at your pace , with all the finesse at your command - that we have experienced on the Chitraveena.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#4  Postby rshankar » 26 May 2011 20:20

Sri Ravikiran - very beautifully stated. Can you please expand a little on the point you make in 4 c) of your post:
chitravina ravikiran wrote:There is a significant void in our grasp of cultural influences and confluences. For instance, how many pure music treatises talk about Islamic forms that became part of dance in Tanjore belt and the CM forms that necessarily had to be created for the same?
I am more familiar with the 'islAmization/mughalization' of forms such as kathak, but would be very interested to understand the changes this wrought in CM and bharatanATyam.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#5  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 27 May 2011 00:19

Shankar,

Bharatanatyam music and operatic music was definitely enriched by forms such as Salaam Daru. (I am not sure about the exact period of origin of this but it was quite prevelant in the pre-tillana era (according to the Saraswati Mahal Library publication 'Sabdam' (1997). The book gives numerous examples of talas that are now considered 'tough' but were fairly commonplace then - including chapu (abridged and faster) forms of even Ata talas - which are definitely more challenging than slow Ata talams we use in concerts today. This publication also lists a Sankeerna Triputa Shabdam on P18 and a Dhruva tala krti of Chaturlaksham Krishnamachari - a predecessor to Annamacharya.

The book spends some time discussing the rhythmic and dance related contributions (specially examples of shorkaTTu) of Arunagirinathar and calls him the father of jatis and cites him as a master of geeta, vadya and nrtta, based on his works. (This sharply contrasts with certain perceptions expressed that he was a mere 'poet' for whom talas had to be listed later by others.) Further, the book talks about subsequent composers including Muttuttandavar, King Sahaji and others with examples.

I find it strange that a Subject like OVK has to be discussed -again and again -in the context of the Trinity.


It should be fairly obvious that this thread is not about OVK, Trinity or any other personality - though they can be cited as examples here and there. This is more about certain trends in music over the last few decades/centuries which has given us a fairly incomplete picture about our music - though no single person or group can be held responsible for this.

However, we can enrich ourselves by addressing some aspects, share and extrapolate information from dance/bhagavata mela and related areas. This may eventually give us a better grasp of our own culture.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#6  Postby viswanathmysore » 27 May 2011 06:40

It should be fairly obvious that this thread is not about OVK, Trinity or any other personality - though they can be cited as examples here and there..

Fair enough .Leaves me satisfied .
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Re: Musical dark age?

#7  Postby Sivaramakrishnan » 30 May 2011 13:49

chitravina ravikiran wrote:
"The age was never dark! We have been in the dark about that age". ...

How true! And I feel this applies to most classical and fine arts. Thanks Ravikiran for opening up this very meaningful dialogue.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#8  Postby ShrutiLaya » 30 May 2011 21:23

chitravina ravikiran wrote:
Even leading musicians and musicologists are unaware of things that were commonplace in the pre-trinity era like complex talas, gati bhedams, jatis, multiple speeds and so forth. Because, their sources of reference (musical treatises) did not discuss these at length.



Okay, I'll bite. Unlike, say, literature or mathematics, Performing Arts like music and dance are transitory and there is no absolute historical record (at least until recently, when music and video recordings became possible). Limiting ourselves to music, our music has the additional feature that the "devil is in the details" i.e the gamakas, and no clear system has evolved to notate all the aspects of our music (witness the other thread where there are passionate arguments about how many gamakas even exist!). So while we may have a fairly good idea what Beethoven created, we can only guess about Thyagaraja's intent. The antidote for this in our system has been the Sishya parampara, the unbroken line of disciples who would faithfully memorize and propagate the singing of their guru's compositions. Because of this, we can believe we "know" what the composers intended and how their krithis should be sung.

In the absence of such an unbroken line of oral transmission, one can only try to reconstruct the intent of the composers. Ragam names might change, talam names might change, even meanings of common words and references might change, and we'd have no clue that it had happened. Unfortunately, this remains the case for many great composers, like OVK, Purandara, Ramadasu etc., My fundamental difficulty with scholarly reasoning like Sri Ravikiran's is that we have no way of knowing for sure. We might as well be discussing, say, how Rasam used to taste in 1600. We might find a long lost manuscript that says it was not spicy, and conclude that pepper began to be added in the 20th century. But how can one know what spicy meant in 1600, whether more or less than what we'd call spicy now? Some families might have a recipe, passed down from mother to daughter or mother-in-law to daugther-in-law, and we might deduce Iyer rasam tasted like this, as opposed to Iyengar rasam. But if some one came up with a new recipe and said this is how Rasam tasted in OVK's period, it's a matter of belief, not reason.

- Sreenadh
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Re: Musical dark age?

#9  Postby harimau » 30 May 2011 21:35

ShrutiLaya wrote:
Some families might have a recipe, passed down from mother to daughter or mother-in-law to daugther-in-law, and we might deduce Iyer rasam tasted like this, as opposed to Iyengar rasam. But if some one came up with a new recipe and said this is how Rasam tasted in OVK's period, it's a matter of belief, not reason.

- Sreenadh



Iyer - Rasam

Iyengar - Saatthamudhu

Get your terms right! :tmi: :P
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Re: Musical dark age?

#10  Postby ShrutiLaya » 30 May 2011 21:48

oops .. the perils of a non Tamilian commenting on Rasam :) (In Telugu, the equivalent concoction is called "chaaru")

- Sreenadh
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Re: Musical dark age?

#11  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 31 May 2011 04:45

Sreenadh ji,

we can only guess about Thyagaraja's intent.

You are perfectly correct. This is where intellect, reasoning, experience and objectivity has to come in. Your post takes us into the area of what may be termed musical reverse engineering. (I would even use a stronger term, musical forensic - though the crime is not necessarily negative in this instance.)

The antidote for this in our system has been the Sishya parampara, the unbroken line of disciples who would faithfully memorize and propagate the singing of their guru's compositions. Because of this, we can believe we "know" what the composers intended and how their krithis should be sung.


The key words here are: faithfully, memorise, believe, intended. Reality is very different - in fact almost the opposite. The higher the number of quality musicians and composers who handle their guru's works, the greater the probability of it deviating from the original intent and even form & structure at times. Veena Dhanammal & family who were renowned for preserving songs on an 'as is' condition were exceptions, which is why top artistes would flock to them, but add their own touches after learning (I am as guilty as anyone else).

I have addressed this in my book in Chapter 2, Page 7. Let me quote some excerpts:

"Indian music world did not believe in ‘locking’ compositions through precise and painstaking notations unlike their counterparts in the West. To be fair, it is no easy task to write down notations when an inspired composer is at work. More often than not, early composers or their disciples wrote down the [i]lyrics and trusted their memories when it came to melody and rhythm.
A few would document the tunes when they found time. Some scholars hold that many of Tyagaraja’s works were modified very early on by artistes like Tachur Brothers. Similarly, attempts to trace the musical thinking of Muttuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri through an unbroken chain of notations often takes one through nebulous routes and in some instances, leads to dead ends."[/i]

In the absence of such an unbroken line of oral transmission, one can only try to reconstruct the intent of the composers.


Again, I have addressed this popular misconception in my book:

" In the case of super-composers like the Trinity, a number of eminent artistes have refined the works and given them a sheen which, has led to a greater awareness of their class, which in turn has triggered off exhaustive studies around their creations. But the flip side is that the probability of the primary composers’ songs being rendered as they conceived them is very low. A listener hardly knows what parts of a Tyagaraja krti, say Naa jeevadhara (Bilahari), is actually the composer’s and which segments are additions, editions or modifications by others. The exception to this are varnams and swara jatis, where outside imprints cannot be more than marginal - because they have fewer flexible parts. Therefore, it is easier to gauge the musical calibre of say Pachimiriam Adiappaiah or Pallavi Gopala Iyer through their brilliant varnams."

Ragam names might change, talam names might change, even meanings of common words and references might change, and we'd have no clue that it had happened. Unfortunately, this remains the case for many great composers, like OVK, Purandara, Ramadasu etc.,


You are perfectly correct about PD, Ramadasa and many others. However, in the case of OVK, we do have a sishya parampara that has preserved the works even melodically for centuries. Which is why, I have been collecting as many audios as possible from this parampara over the last 25 years or so. Let me again quote from my book:

"In the case of Venkata Kavi, it is easier to assess his musicianship (or even basic intent) because of two main reasons.

(a) His compositions – till recently – were limited to a close circle of descendants (barring a couple of exceptions like Raju Shastri and Krishna Shastri). Many of these were not professional performers or composers but they were no less passionate about preserving their ancestor's works as best as they could. Therefore they were somewhat ‘immune’ from the touches of other maestros.

(b) His compositional structure with several relatively non-flexible parts also makes it fairly deviation-proof in a broad sense. Most musicians and musicologists would be aware that it is far more difficult to structurally alter madhyamakalas and gati bhedams than other parts.

So it is as much a matter of reason, as belief in the case of OVK too. This is not to say that musical changes are non-existent in his case, it is only less probable. A few of his compositions could have undergone various stages of metamorphosis, as much as any other composer.
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Re: Musical dark age?

#12  Postby ShrutiLaya » 01 Jun 2011 17:42

Dear Sri. Ravikiran,

I thought I posted a response to this on Monday, but I see it is not here .. a mystery; perhaps I did not press the "submit" button. I'll try to reconstruct what I wrote.

chitravina ravikiran wrote: Reality is very different - in fact almost the opposite. The higher the number of quality musicians and composers who handle their guru's works, the greater the probability of it deviating from the original intent and even form & structure at times.


This is interesting, and I didn't quite think of it this way. What you're suggesting is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario. The popular composers' works change because gifted musicians adapt them to their own tastes, and the not so popular ones might just be forgotten! So it seems there is a "Goldilocks" optimum (not too hot, not too cold) for good preservation of the composer's intent.

From this point of view, it is fortunate that OVK's works were almost forgotten, and are being re-discovered now from relatively pristine sources. With audio recording technology widely available, it is possible to freeze these versions and use them for analysis and study. And if your hypothesis is correct, that these have been preserved almost intact from OVK's period, they can also be used to understand and research the musical environment of those times, and assess what was popular/known at that time.

Very interesting..

You also bring up an interesting point about the structure of the compositions preventing changes. Classical Sanskrit and Telugu poetry (and most probably other languages) have complex "Chandassu" rules which serve a similar purpose - it is hard to replace even one word (or for that matter, lengthen just one syllable) without the rules being broken. But of course, this only applies to the sahityam, doesn't it? (I mean the tune/raga might have changed, and possibly the talam too)


- Sreenadh
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Re: Musical dark age?

#13  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 02 Jun 2011 14:57

With audio recording technology widely available, it is possible to freeze these versions and use them for analysis and study


Yes, that has been my endeavour over the last few years. Gather as many audios as possible and learn the songs from even basic versions.

The popular composers' works change because gifted musicians adapt them to their own tastes


Big subject but let me give two simple points as proofs to ponder over!

(1) Even today, we have so many versions of the popular pieces. Which would we say is the 'authentic' version? Even a cursory audition will enable us to know the different touches each quality artiste gives it - even among today's generation.

(2) Let's go further fundamentally. Why do we even have different schools of the same composer - say Tyagaraja? If all of his students sang 'as he intended', there would only be one version! Today, we have the main - Umaiyalpuram, Walajapet, Tillaisthanam (and Andhra as well) schools claiming that their version is 'authentic'! Can we even begin to guess which reflects the composer's intent? Which disciple was the brightest in grasping all details? Which disciple was the most faithful in following exactly what the composer taught? Did the composer himself teach different versions to students based on his own creativity and mood or their capacity and quality? Even in the case of modern composers like Papanasam Sivan, we find so many touches by artistes. Which reflects the composer's intent? To what extent?

In Western classical, the composers themselves notated their pieces in most cases. The compositions were generally music rich and not ultra-dependent on lyrics (exceptions are there). And it enabled them to make their intent clear as there were symbols for accents, dynamics, slurs and other things - more so numerous people were supposed to play it together. This makes the rendition fairly inflexible but standardised. A piece by a symphony from Los Angeles and one by a Philharmonic in Moscow will not be too different (except for minor touches that each conductor imparts to it).

Whereas most of our composers were divinely inspired and in that state, they would be literally composing like Niagara falls. Someone else would have to write down things. And let me tell you - rarely do people notate at that speed - even today. Most musicians will trust their memory with respect to melody and only write down lyrics... Notations are generally made later, even here we don't have even second hand notations for most of the composers of that era, including trinity - contrary to popular belief.

that these have been preserved almost intact from OVK's period,


To be fair, change is the name of the game. Changes can be due to many reasons - there is no guarantee that OVK's music is more intact but the probability is higher than a few others for two reasons - (a) his compositional structure in many pieces (b) less number of creative people handling it over the last 200 hundred years.

But of course, this only applies to the sahityam, doesn't it? (I mean the tune/raga might have changed, and possibly the talam too)


No, it applies to music as well. We can't add too many sangatis to faster passages or change gatis etc. Ragas, tunes and talas will be fairly preserved if other imprints are less... In fact, tala and gati-bhedam can be gauged from the meter in faster passages and experts can know whether they were changed or not (musical forensics!).
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Re: Musical dark age?

#14  Postby ShrutiLaya » 02 Jun 2011 17:41

chitravina ravikiran wrote:Ragas, tunes and talas will be fairly preserved if other imprints are less...


I mean, the ragas themselves might have changed - notes might have been added or altered - over the time period we're talking about. At least, this is what I have heard in regard to Annamacharya krithis.


Whereas most of our composers were divinely inspired and in that state, they would be literally composing like Niagara falls.


I know this is going to get me into trouble, but as a musical scientist, do you really believe this (not the divinely inspired part - they certainly were - but that they spontaneously came up with fully finished masterpieces)? Did Thyagaraja really compose 24,000 songs ? If he composed a new one every single day, it would still have taken over 65 years! I can't help feeling that the great composers would have taken the time to mull over the perfect phrase or note to fit into each spot, so that each krithi that comes out is a treasure to keep ..

Even more so in the case of complex compositions like OVK's , I humbly suggest that he must have taken the time to craft each one and polish it, perhaps adding in levels of complexity (eg. gati bhedam) at each pass. The romantic image of him being inspired by the idol of Krishna, and the music just gushing forth, must have come later ..

- Sreenadh
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Re: Musical dark age?

#15  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 02 Jun 2011 23:57

the ragas themselves might have changed - notes might have been added or altered - over the time period we're talking about. At least, this is what I have heard in regard to Annamacharya krithis.


Actually we are talking about 2 different periods here. Annamacharya and PD is a good 500-600 years away. There is no surviving karna parampara there. So, there is almost no option but to re-tune the songs and it has become generally a free-for-all.

In the case of OVK, Trinity etc, we are talking about half the period. We do have had lineages in one form or the other that have kept (at least a reasonable portion of) the composers' tune, raga/tala and ideas in recognisable forms. There are degrees of deviation with respect to each composer. For instance, I have heard from Shyama Shastri's descendants that the most pristine versions of SS and Subbaraya Shastri's were the Veena Dhanammal's. (On another note, I have seen some of SS's manuscripts and they only contain lyrics - no notations at all.)

However, even in the 200-300 year period, we don't have a continous lineage for many composers like Gopalakrishna Bharati and Arunachala Kavi, which is why their works have multiple tunes in different ragas (even though the composer may have specified a raga/tala).

but as a musical scientist, do you really believe this (not the divinely inspired part - they certainly were - but that they spontaneously came up with fully finished masterpieces)?


I can tell you first hand that it works both ways... There are inspired compositions, there are perspired (planned) pieces and many in between. A new entrant to the composing world was candid enough to admit privately that while melodic ideas were not a problem, finding each word to fit the music was like 'prasava-vedana' for him... Even in the case of inspired pieces, the degree of skill, scholarship and proficiency a composer has acquired initially is reflected. For instance, Tyagaraja's and OVK's word flow, general scholarship and skill do come through to those who analyse the works, even though the style is highly personalised and emotive with down-to-earth style expressions. MD's planning stands out mainly because his style is more introverted, meditative while Shyama Shastri appeals to the child in us.

Did Thyagaraja really compose 24,000 songs ? If he composed a new one every single day, it would still have taken over 65 years!


Let me put it this way - if he did and we have only 650 today, his disciples and families must be viewed among the biggest cultural criminals in the history of mankind for having managed to 'lose' the rest! Seriously speaking, 24K was propounded by someone who wanted to link T as an 'avatara' of Valmiki (who composed 24K verses), which even the composer has not claimed. It is one thing to compose 24K verses in a kind of meter/shloka type melody but a whole different ball game to compose even 1000 songs of the quality that T has done, with such varied tunes, melodic variety by way of ragas and forms. Even with 650 songs, T may have used about 200-250 ragas and we can see clusters in those like Todi, Shankarabharanam etc. There are similar sounding tunes even within this. One can imagine the number of ragas a composer needs to make the tunes non-repetitive - it should be a minimum of 20-22K ragas... And as we speak, we have barely found and named 5000-6000 ragas but continue to use around 300-400 max.

These are the kind of myths that can turn rational people into sceptics about our system - yet, I have heard some of the brainiest people take such things seriously...
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Re: Musical dark age?

#16  Postby rshankar » 03 Jun 2011 00:03

Did Sri Arunachala Kavi compose music for his rAmanATaka verses? As I understand it, two men, who were learning tamizh from him, and were also learning (or had learned) music from Sri MD, set the verses to music. Is this not correct? Was Sri Arunachala Kavi a true vAggEyakara?
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Re: Musical dark age?

#17  Postby chitravina ravikiran » 04 Jun 2011 08:54

I honestly don't know if AK was a full bloom vaggeyakara but he must have been at least somewhat acquainted with music. We do know of ARI and others tuning many of his pieces. In fact, my own guru, Brindamma told me that her mother used to give her 'assignments' to set to music some of his verses, when she was in her teens...
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