Written Assignments

Indian Music and the Bhagavad Gita


Web Resources for This Assignment

Book-Length Arguments
Do the book-length argument skills assignment first; you will use your account of the argument of the Bhagavad Gita in answering this question.
The Baghavad Gita
From Carnegie-Mellon University

Sound as Representation   In your assignment on Chinese landscape painting, you dealt with visual representation. However, representations can be accomplished in other media besides the visual, such as music, which, if there are no words, is a representation entirely based on sound. Like any other representation, music is both a physical sensation and a world view. What we call the "meaning" of music is not in its sounds, but rather in the world view that is imposed on these sounds. This world view not only predetermines how the music is going to sound, it also predetermines how one is going to listen to it. If I play Japanese music for you, you will hear the same sounds but you won't be listening to the same music as a native Japanese. That's because you'll be imposing your understanding of music and what it means on a music which is built off of a different understanding of music and what it means.
   As our exercise in the previous exercise was to train you to "look" at the world through the eyes of another world view, this exercise is meant to teach you to "hear" the world through the ears of another world view. In order to do this exercise, there are a few pieces of nonsense that are part of your world view that you need to get rid of:
  • Music is about emotions; through music, the composer and performer communicates their emotional state—this view of music is a modern one and is not shared by most cultures. Music is never about emotion; it is always about world view. If that world view believes that music is about emotion, then it trains people to listen to music as if that music were communicating emotion (which it isn't);
  • Music is a universal language, it means the same thing to every listener—again, this is a modern view and is shared by few cultures. Music is always culturally specific; not only do the forms of music vary from culture to culture and time to time, so does the meaning of that music. While we go around saying that music is "emotion," five hundred years from now, our music won't make any sense to the general run of people, even if they're told that this music is the "emotion" or "inner spirit" of its creator. You might as well tell them to jump over the moon for all the good this will do them.
   In order to listen to music, then, you have to shed all your ideas as to what music means and adopt new ideas.


Indian Music   This is what we're going to do with Indian music. I want you to listen to the excerpt of Indian music provided in the link above. While you listen to it, I want you to write down as much of the quality of the music as you can: rhythm, repetition, percussion, instrumental quality, variation on repetitions, loud and soft, pitch, etc. After you have a good handle on precisely what you're hearing in an objective sense, then I want you to compose an essay in which you explain the meaning of that music.
   To do this, you will need to use something that you know about the Hindu world view. Since you've read the Bhagavad Gita , you know a whole lot about the Hindu world view. So you are to take one of the arguments from the Gita and apply it to what you're listening to. Your argument will be divided into three parts:
  1. A thesis which explains what idea you're going to use from the Gita and how this idea can help you explain the meaning of the music you're hearing;
  2. A description of what you're hearing in the musical extract;
  3. An explanation of the idea or argument that you're going to use to explain the musical extract;
  4. An application of your explanation of the Gita to the description of what you heard in the music.
Before you can really use the Gita , however, you need to get control of its overall argument. Make sure that you do the learning skills assignment on book-length arguments before you tackle this question.

Richard Hooker



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