Art and Society:
The Meaning of Musical Expression Today
(Indian music performer/researcher)
Born in 1950 in Yamagata Prefecture, Nakagawa
studied Indian music theory at Banaras Hindu University (BHU),
India from 1981 to 1984. He studied Indian vocal music with Ritwik
SANNYAL, and bansuri (bamboo flute) with Gorakhnath DAS. Since
returning to Japan in 1984, he has been playing bansuri professionally,
and has returned to India once a year since 1988 to study the
instrument with Pandit Hariprasad CHAURASIA. In1995, he started
giving bansuri performances in India. Besides performing music,
Nakagawa runs Tengaku Kikaku, an organization that plans and produces
events involving the traditional performing arts of Japan and
other Asian countries. From these events, he also sometimes produces
CDs. Nakagawa's "Asian Performing Arts Series" (sixteen
events have been held since1989) at Xebec Hall have been especially
successful and attracted a wide audience of Japanese and foreign
listeners. In 1994, his translation of An Introduction to Indian
Music by B. Chaitanya DEVA (Toho Shuppan) received much acclaim.
He currently resides in Kobe.
In his wanderings in search of
ethnic music around the world and contemplations on the origins
of music, the late ethnomusicologist KOIZUMI Fumio offered a fascinating
account of his observations of two Eskimo tribes. One tribe of
Eskimos, who lived inland and subsisted on caribou, had songs,
but were unable to sing them together or keep rhythm with each
other. A second tribe who ate whale, however, had a good sense
of rhythm, and when they sang together were able to keep a constant
pitch and rhythm. Koizumi analyzed their differences in this way:
|Great Music and
"This is probably because it is possible for one person
to catch a caribou, but a group of many people must join forces
to catch a whale....Songs that everyone sings were most likely
created to help the people gather their power and catch a whale
and to maintain the primitive communal notion they had of dividing
the work of the harvest between all of the members of the tribe."
(Koizumi Fumio: Minzoku Ongaku no Sekai, Nihon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai,
This experience offered Koizumi some insight into the tribes'
social values as well: People for whom it wasn't necessary to
work communally to secure food, lacked the ability to sing together.
Or you might also say that the reason we are able to sing together
and listen to more refined forms of music indicates something
about the amount of cooperation in our society. The more complex
a communal society becomes, the more complex the rules members
of that society must obey become. In our lives, we learn certain
rules, and must discover techniques to help us succeed in society.
In Eskimo society, since it lacks our concept of real estate and
other valuables as personal property that work to establish a
class system, no one occupies a social station either above or
below anyone else--all the more reason for the simple structure
of music. As Koizumi puts it, "I began to get the feeling
that great music in a society had some direct relation to the
misfortunes of people." (Ongaku no Kongen ni aru Mono, Heibonsha,
This probably means then that we are living in what Koizumi
termed an "unfortunate" society. At present, work in
our society is not directly linked to survival, as it was in the
caribou Eskimo's society; we are far removed from their simple
and free way of life. Ours is an "unfortunate" society
in which real feelings about the relation between society and
the individual cannot clearly be expressed due to the constant
race for the acquisition of wealth. Neither can our real feelings
about the relation between life and work be expressed, when every
activity is equated with a cash value.
of the Past and Society
The music we create too is bought and sold according to a fixed
cash value that is determined by a balance of supply and demand.
No matter how weighty or artistically superior a work might be,
without value as a product that satisfies some market demand,
it is quickly abandoned. At long last, of course, society does
evaluate the artistic worth of an art work. But in a society such
as ours, with the exception of those who enjoy making music as
a hobby, for a person to continue making music they must work
as a professional musician or do something that will suffice as
a job. The only other choice is to become a recluse.
Musicians of the past who made classical music their profession
were supported in a sense by the wealthy feudal lords or men of
means, or as Ernst FISCHER called them "innocent patrons
of the arts." In effect, classical music was a product of
its era. At the very least, musicians had to develop a relationship
with a sponsor they had direct contact with, which meant expending
an equivalent amount of time and energy concentrating on the writing
and performing of highly polished music. More than anything else,
in this class system musicians had to rely on getting their share
of the pie from the wealthy, who had squeezed it out of some other
poor soul. This was just as true in Indian classical music as
it was in Western classical music and the Japanese traditional
performing arts. This music, which remained out of reach for those
who were exploited, has on the other hand survived into the present
day as a universal form of culture that history did not weed out.
Despite changes in time and society, we have been lucky enough
to receive these works.
Times and conditions surrounding contemporary professional
musicians have changed markedly since classical music was developed.
Musicians of today can only support themselves by offering their
work to a faceless audience--a wide-ranging "general public"
of consumers and production capitalists who use music as a means
of marketing. Recently, the speed at which music is being made
into consumer product has increased even more, and whether they
like it or not, composers and performers have become tangled up
in something called "the music industry." This industry
incites the whimsical, capricious army of consumers into action,
and to satisfy their demands asks the musicians for something
newer, something that will be a bigger hit, something that will
make more money. There is a great rush to find "stars"
who can make plenty of cash. Under these circumstances, the musicians
refine their work to a higher level of artistry, making it increasingly
difficult to give form to the experience of sound or allow the
legions of musicians in-waiting much practice time.
of Today and Society
Neither is this situation uncommon in the Hindustani music
world with its "eternal history." Hindustani music,
one of the most organizationally minute musical systems in the
world, was developed with the help of only a handful of supporters.
To become a mature musician with a firm grasp on the essence of
the art, an astonishingly long period of concentrated practice
is required. In India today, change is happening at a speed that
does not allow the traditional method of practice to continue.
At recent concerts, more than expressing something that would
inspire a deep spirituality as in the past, performers who place
a strong importance on acrobatic techniques and unusual styles
that encourage instant applause have become widespread. In addition,
for the last ten years or so, there has been a monopoly of the
music scene by a few famous musicians. Needless to say, these
musicians are all accomplished players, but their continuing dominance
is based less on their great musicianship than the fact that they
are a source of revenue for the music industry, and even more
so because the media attention they attract makes them a dependable
source of revenue. For young, "no-name" musicians, who
should be heading up the next generation of players but are unpredictable
as sources of expenditure and income, it has become extremely
difficult to work independently as a professional musician. Instead,
they have turned their sights to following a famous, senior musician,
and performing on the basis of their more developed techniques.
There are many Indian musicians who are alarmed by the present
turn of events. In November 1995 at an international seminar (sponsored
by the Sangeet Research Academy) entitled "Tradition and
Change" that was held in Mumbai (formerly, Bombay), a number
of famous musicians took part in what turned into a lively discussion
about the problem.
Problems in Indian Classical Music
In the end, what does work mean to musicians in our "unfortunate"
contemporary society? Musicians also have to eat, so it's impossible
to avoid being sponsored by society in the form of consumer products
such as performances and recordings. In the structure of our contemporary
communal society, music does have a social function. Performances
and recordings, besides their function as simple entertainment
increase the value of any number of other products. There are
numerous examples of this type of consumer music all around us.
Among these are news shows, TV dramas, and recently, train platforms,
streets and shops, restaurants, hotel lounges, airports, movies,
games, airplanes, cattle ranches, and meditation centers. For
those using the music, there are a wide variety of reasons and
objectives for choosing a particular work. All the way from Western
classical music, short "works" used as background music
for games and news, and popular songs to jazz, contemporary music,
and Japanese traditional music, there is no limit to the genres
that are used. In every case, whether it is a classical work or
something that is almost instantly forgotten, music is used as
a means of marketing in contemporary society, and this is how
musicians get paid and keep eating. Well, Bach and Mozart aren't
making anything off of their "classic" works as they
drift through the walkways in the Center-gai shopping center in
Kobe 200-some years later, but...
It might seem obvious, but just as music has a function
in society, it is also a form of self-expression for the musician.
In contemporary society, the more all activities are translated
into their cash value, the more disconnected things become, and
the more difficult it becomes for real emotions about the relationship
between society and the individual to be expressed, the stronger
the desire to somehow understand the meaning of existence will
become. This is true not only of musicians. Every form of personal
expression is a kind of desire. But this is especially true of
an artistic form of expression like music, which involves remembering
the various listening experiences of all types of people, and
the act of giving form to the basic memory of an individual or
race. Since the quality and quantity of experiences and memories
differs from person to person, the content and method of the expressions
differ in as many ways as there are people. Art works that attempt
to express real emotions about life are borne of the discord that
exists in the act of expression.
Meaning of Music Today
However, ours is a society that is often less than hospitable
to a variety of forms of self-expression for reasons related again
to cash value and the musician's lack of direct involvement in
the social order. It is also less than hospitable to those who
aren't part of the dogma that involves good schools and good companies.
In this sort of environment, acts of artistic expression should
always contain elements of criticism.
In contemporary society, inherent with the "unfortunate"
human condition that Koizumi defined, artistic expression that
gives voice to the truths of existence not only functions socially,
but makes a positive contribution to society by providing its
collective imagination with a host of choices and by keeping the