Year 4, Month 6, Day 20: Contending In Vain

The Sydney Morning Herald notes that island nations have more than rising seas to worry about:

The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn’t the only climate shock they suffered.

They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator.

“Climate change is real in our places,” Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament’s climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away.

“A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed.

“The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that’s it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected.”

Finding the link for sending letters to the SMH was a nightmare all its own. June 5:

For Kiribati, the tiny Pacific island which now faces submergence beneath ominously rising seas, and whose entire carbon footprint is probably not much larger than that of a single wealthy Western consumer, rejecting the overwhelming evidence of global warming is an impossible absurdity. It is telling that nowhere but in the developed world do we find the institutionalized denial of climate science; nowhere but among the nations whose profligate greenhouse emissions triggered the problem in the first place.

Climate denialism is heavily underwritten by corporations with enormous economic interests built on a fossil-fuel-based economy. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the coffers of a complaisant media and political establishment to perpetuate the myth that the science of climate change “isn’t settled.” For the world’s island nations, to suggest that the reality of climate change is still an unanswered question is to add gross insult to profound injury.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 19: How Come I Never Do…What I’m S’posed to Do?

The LA Times runs a good piece by Greenpeace’s James Turner. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

A friend recently returned from a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada. His eyes shone as he described the opalescent sky, the vitality of wildlife in spring and the fun he’d had playing with his two young daughters during the mellow evenings. It had been a really good trip, an experience to treasure, he said.

I casually asked how long it took to get there. “Oh, it wasn’t too bad,” he said, and then caught himself, as if he’d said something wrong. “But we took the minivan this time, which I suppose means we weren’t so in tune with nature after all.”

I felt slightly hurt. I am an environmentalist — I work for Greenpeace. Did he think that makes me some moral arbiter of fun, sternly passing judgment on those who ignore the perils of climate change to enjoy a weekend in the mountains?

Of course, it wasn’t really about me. What my friend expressed was climate guilt, a feeling that many of us who care about environmental issues experience every day. I am not immune. We feel guilty about driving cars and watching TV and turning on lights, as if that makes us personally responsible for this gigantic threat that looms over us.

Philosophy. Nuremberg. June 3:

It’s certainly true that oppressive feelings of personal and collective guilt are a deep burden — and one which conscientious environmentalists often shoulder, as James Turner notes. Such responses are all too common in the struggle against global climate change, a planet-wide problem for which any who benefit from the accomplishments of industrialization must bear some blame.

Membership in a technologically advanced culture conveys many advantages, including access to vast quantities of information and knowledge. The first warnings of the climate crisis were sounded in the 1950s, but since that time successive generations of politicians and citizens have elected to postpone grappling with the issue. It is not we who will determine our collective guilt, but our descendants.

We can absolve ourselves only by assuming ever-greater levels of responsibility: for our lifestyle choices, for our readiness to engage in public discussion of climate, and for the political choices we make.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 18: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

The Christian Science Monitor offers an analysis of the fires in Southern California:

The Powerhouse fire, which erupted in scrub-covered rugged terrain north of Los Angeles and has blackened 30,000 acres, destroyed 6 homes, and forced the evacuation of thousands of people, is dramatizing the challenges facing states across the West, including a much longer fire season, analysts say.

The Powerhouse fire started last Thursday afternoon and now has 2,200 firefighters battling it on foot, vehicles, and in the air. It spread quickly, feeding on the several-decades-old scrub covering the area’s hills and canyons.

As of Monday morning, authorities said, the fire was 40 percent contained. Officials estimated the fire would not be fully contained for another week. Temperatures Monday were expected to climb into the mid-80s with wind gusts up to 45 mph in the hills and valleys south of Lake Hughes.

Analysts said the large early-season fire creates an opportunity to raise awareness about a long list of issues facing localities, states, and the federal government. Those range from man’s contribution to climate change, to choices of where to build homes, to what safety precautions to take in building those homes and how to enforce them.

Given that as a global society we are not seriously addressing climate change, says Dominik Kulakowski, adjunct professor of biology at Clark University Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass., one good question is, “Is this the new normal?” The public, he says, should conclude not merely that this fire season is predicted to be longer, but that such longer seasons will continue for the foreseeable future.

I just don’t see what any of this has to do with me. . June 4:

As climate change accelerates and intensifies, the frequency and size of forest fires is going to go up — perhaps to the point that “fire season” is the default climate for parts of the world. In a climatically-transformed United States, we will have to direct more money to training, equipment and resources for firefighters, or face a far higher bill for lives lost, property destroyed, and ecosystems obliterated.

Republican lawmakers, fanatically averse to tax increases of any sort, will resist any policy that would increase funding for firefighting professionals, even if it means the final costs will be enormously greater. This penny-wise, pound-foolish approach characterizes conservative responses to every aspect of the climate crisis: rather than admit the existence of a very serious problem and take steps to protect their constituents’ lives from its likely consequences, these anti-science politicians would rather see their own country go up in smoke.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 17: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down

The Roanoke News takes on Ken Cuccinelli in a must-read column by Dan Casey:

The question of the day is, did Cuccinelli learn his law school lessons about fraud? His tenure as attorney general leaves you wondering. Let’s consider two prominent fraud cases Cuccinelli has been mixed up in.

The first concerns former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann, who’s now at Penn State. While he was at UVa, Mann published a paper that revealed the “hockey stick graph,” a chart that showed steeply rising temperatures on Earth in the past 100 years.


During its probe, the attorney general’s office demanded UVa turn over many documents, including emails between Mann and 39 other climate scientists around the world that went back more than a decade. Nearly two years later, the Virginia Supreme Court shot down the fishing expedition, and the investigation ended.


The second case involves an alleged Florida con man who, under the fake identity “Bobby Thompson,” created and ran the U.S. Navy Veterans Association scam. Via telemarketing, the group raked in as much as $100 million nationwide; it reported taking in more than $2.6 million from Virginians in 2009 alone.

That year, Virginia suspended fundraising by the U.S. Navy Vets because it had failed to comply with charity paperwork reporting requirements. Rather than submit the paperwork, Thompson made $67,500 in campaign contributions to Virginia lawmakers.

Of that, $55,500 went in three separate contributions to then-state senator Cuccinelli, who was running for attorney general. Cuccinelli personally telephoned Thompson in August 2009 and requested the third contribution. That one was for $50,000.

Go read the whole thing. June 2:

Understanding Ken Cuccinelli’s crusade against climatologist Michael Mann requires us to look beyond the Attorney General’s contemptible defense of a garden-variety swindlers. Since politicians and lawyers often have a great affinity for con men, it’s hardly surprising that Cuccinelli wound up in “Bobby Thompson’s” corner.

Mann, on the other hand, is a scientist who has spent his professional life in a search, not for riches, but for robust historical evidence about the ongoing changes in Earth’s climate. Because his findings and analyses were problematic for the corporate forces who’ve bankrolled climate-change denial in America for decades, his work had to be discredited at all costs — hence the usefulness of an ideologically-propelled Attorney General.

Cuccinelli’s vindictiveness has historical parallels. For example, take the 19th-century discoverer of antisepsis: Ignaz Semmelweiss died at 47 after his life-saving findings were denounced by medical professionals who resented being told to wash their hands. Climatologists like Michael Mann are planetary doctors; rejecting their findings will translate into unimaginable losses of life and property in the coming decades — losses which will redden the hands of anti-science zealots like Cuccinelli, and be remembered throughout human history as a tragedy triggered by greed and ignorance.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 6, Day 16: I Ain’t Got Nobody That I Can Depend On

The Tampa Bay Times runs a remarkable document:

Editor’s note: A Yale University student from Miami and a fellow classmate have won the inaugural writing competition sponsored by the Energy & Enterprise Initiative founded by former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Their winning essay, written in the form of a letter to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is in print for the first time here.

Dear Senator Rubio,

To many young conservatives like us, it seems that our politics has ridden roughshod all over our ideals. For no issue is this truer than climate change. We are counting on leaders like you to show the country that conservatives have responsible, pro-growth solutions to pressing challenges that young people care about. There is a generation of fiscally conservative Millennials who neither wish to inherit crushing debt nor an abused environment. You are one of the few conservative leaders capable of leading on this issue.

By leading on prudent climate solutions, we can defend and strengthen the free-market system that has produced so much prosperity for America and the world. We can reinvigorate the principle of personal responsibility that our communities require to thrive. And we can bolster America’s energy security.

Conservatives have rightly opposed many of the climate change proposals offered by the Left. But standing against bad policy does not require hiding from good science. We can’t govern responsibly by belittling America’s National Academy of Sciences (and all the other science academies on the planet). We can only govern responsibly by confronting the reality that we will be forced to spend big money dealing with the effects of climate change — money that won’t be invested in our communities, our schools, or our private enterprises.

Aren’t they just adorable? June 1:

In their hypothetical letter to Senator Rubio, Rafael Fernandez and Taylor Gregoire-Wright blithely assume that conservatives can address climate change responsibly and intelligently. Their naivete is touching; Rubio is, after all, the senator who couldn’t bring himself to publicly acknowledge what science tells us about the age of the universe for fear of offending the Young-Earth creationists in his constituency.

Yes, once upon a time there were pro-business Republican politicians who recognized that intelligently conceived public policy required, well…intelligence. But that was long ago. In its aggressively faux-populist anti-intellectualism, today’s GOP rejects anything that smacks of reason, logic, or expertise.

As long as the Republican party’s held hostage by the proudly ignorant, responsible solutions to even trivial problems are unlikely to emerge — and the climate crisis is anything but trivial. In their laudable advocacy of reality-based solutions to a genuine emergency, Fernandez and Gregoire-Wright sound suspiciously like (gasp!) liberals.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 15: Today Is The Tomorrow You Worried About Yesterday

USA Today tells us (again!) about allergies:

MELROSE PARK, Ill. — From the roof of the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in the Chicago suburbs, an 83-year-old retired doctor finds troubling evidence of why so many people are sneezing and itching their eyes.

Joseph Leija counts the pollen and mold spores that collect on slides inside an air-sucking machine atop the six-story building. “There’s been an increase, no doubt about it,” he says of the 5 a.m. weekday counts that he’s been doing as a volunteer for 24 years.

“My allergies are much worse than they used to be,” says Amanda Carwyle, a mom of three who lives 95 miles south in Pontiac, Ill. “I used to be able to take a Benadryl or Claritin and be fine.” Now, despite three medications and allergy shots that make her feel a bit like a zombie, she says her eyes are watery and her head stuffy. “I’m so miserable.”

Good health! May 31:

All the self-styled “fiscal conservatives” who loudly assert that addressing global climate change would cost too much need to start paying attention to the externalities which accompany the rapidly intensifying greenhouse effect. Repairing infrastructure, revamping agriculture, cleaning up after the tornadoes and hurricanes — all these take money, and lots of it.

Now we can add another item to the list: the cumulative cost in human time and productivity due to worsening allergies. Any hay fever sufferer will agree that there’s nothing funny about the affliction, and when the number of hours lost to runny noses, streaming eyes, and asthmatic attacks are toted up, the sum should be cause for alarm, even to those politicians who’ve built their careers on attacking climate science’s conclusions.

While antihistamine manufacturers can look forward to record-breaking profits, the public health consequences of continuing to ignore the climate crisis are nothing to sneeze at.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 14: Whistling Past The Graveyard

Even some Republicans are starting to pay attention. The Weirton Daily Times (WV) reports:

FAIRMONT – A Republican congressman sought common ground in the climate change debate Thursday but found the same clash of science and ideology that paralyzes Washington had followed him to West Virginia, a state long built on fossil fuel production.

For more than three hours, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, quizzed a panel of national experts – only about half of them scientists – about the causes of global warming and what to do about it. McKinley has long questioned the science behind global warming. He now acknowledges climate change is occurring but is not convinced human activity is to blame.


…professor John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, called affordable energy “the basis of our standard of living today.”

While reducing CO2 emissions may or may not affect climate change, Christy said he’s certain it would raise energy costs.

“I’ve lived in Africa, and I can assure you that without energy, life is brutal and short,” Christy said. “…We are not bad people because we produce carbon dioxide.”

Well, I’m sure glad to hear that. May 31:

In arguing against the regulation of greenhouse emissions, Professor John Christy’s asserts that our current standard of living is built around affordable energy, and that emissions reductions would likely raise the costs of power around the world, an assumption which crumbles upon examination.

Oil and coal are “affordable” energy sources — first, because both receive massive federal subsidies, and second, because fossil energy’s “externalities,” such as safety enforcement, disaster cleanup, quality control, public health impacts, leak repair, and climatic effects (not to mention a host of rather expensive wars) are also absorbed by the government. That is, citizens twice pay the government to keep fuel prices low (and if that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone).

Christy goes on to say “…We are not bad people because we produce carbon dioxide.” That was true enough when we didn’t have the facts about the greenhouse effect and its likely consequences for our civilization. But those days are past. The facts are in, and now we know: continuing to accelerate our CO2 emissions is to ensure that as they struggle for existence on a planet heated into climate chaos, our descendants will think of us in less generous terms.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 13: Don’t Just Do Something…DO SOMETHING!

The Louisville Courier-Journal runs an opinion column from Eugene Robinson, which originally appeared in the WaPo, if memory serves me well. It’s good stuff:

WASHINGTON — President Obama should spend his remaining years in office making the United States part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem. If Congress sticks to its policy of obstruction and willful ignorance, Obama should use his executive powers to the fullest extent. We are out of time.

With each breath, every person alive today experiences something unique in human history: an atmosphere containing more than 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. This makes us special, I suppose, but not in a good way.

The truth is that 400 is just one of those round-number milestones that can be useful for grabbing people’s attention. What’s really important is that atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by a stunning 43 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The only plausible cause of this rapid rise, from the scientific viewpoint, is the burning of fossil fuels to fill the energy needs of industrialized society. The only logical impact, according to those same scientists, is climate change. The only remaining question — depending on what humankind does right now — is whether the change ends up being manageable or catastrophic.

Yup. May 31:

Eugene Robinson has it precisely right in his opinion column of May 27. If our culture is to successfully address such pressing issues as human rights, economic justice, and the complex phenomena of terrorism, we require certain simple fundamentals: a resilient infrastructure, clean air to breathe, unpolluted and uninterrupted water, and food sufficient to our needs. The climate crisis threatens all of these things.

From the threads of a relatively stable and benign environment the great tapestry of our species’ achievement has been woven. Let the warp and woof of human civilization begin to crumble and the images carried on that tapestry will vanish utterly, with unimaginable speed. A resilient and interdependent ecology, the product of many thousands of years of evolution, can be destroyed in a few seconds by the uncaring blade of a bulldozer; a runaway greenhouse effect will work the same destruction on a planetary scale.

Climate change is not just AN issue. It’s THE issue.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 12: Abplanalp!

The Salem News (MA) offers some clarity from Brian Watson:

The dangers that we face are hotter, more unstable, and sometimes violent weather and climate patterns. These changes are likely to have adverse effects on agriculture, plant and animal habitats, rainfall distribution and coral reefs. Perhaps the most threatening possibility is a significant rise in sea level.

While none of this is a dead certainty, climate scientists since 1970 or so have increasingly firmed up the hypothesis that adding carbon dioxide and methane (released from melting permafrost and natural gas drilling) to the atmosphere is causing, and will continue to cause, measurable, damaging and unnatural heating of our climates. And despite the fact that the earth has endured warm periods at various points in the past, this is the first time that man’s activities are responsible for the overheating. And this is the first time in history that literally millions of homes and buildings and croplands — in oceanside cities and fields around the world — would be inundated permanently if sea levels rose significantly.

Many people have a hard time believing that human activities could modify the chemical composition of the atmosphere enough to result in the melting of the ice sheets in the Arctic and on Greenland. But at a smaller scale, we’ve already had a demonstration of man’s inordinate power to affect the lower atmosphere.

In 1985 researchers in Antarctica discovered a hole in the ozone layer. This “layer,” most concentrated at roughly 15 miles above the planet’s surface, is a band of molecules each consisting of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone is a very reactive gas, and is formed naturally by the action of ultraviolet radiation (from the sun) on molecules of oxygen. Ozone is also broken down naturally by absorbing ultraviolet radiation that has a longer wavelength than the radiation that initially formed it.

The ozone layer is very important to us. It serves as a protective shield to partially screen us and other organisms from certain harmful wavelengths of solar radiation.

The discovery of the hole surprised and alarmed us. Quickly, scientists realized that the man-made chemicals — called chlorofluorocarbons — in refrigerants and spray-can propellants were wafting up to the stratosphere and reacting with the ozone. The result was a depletion of ozone.

Fortunately, by 1992, governments and corporations agreed to phase out CFCs, and today their use and presence is steadily diminishing. But it was a timely lesson in the “fragility” and sometimes finely tuned balances of the atmosphere, and the ease with which man could inadvertently alter atmospheric conditions. And it is worth remembering that the amount of chlorofluorocarbon in the sky was only 1 part per billion — an incredibly tiny proportion, and a proportion far less than the current amount of CO2 in the air.

Taking everything — including uncertainties — into account, there is a preponderance of evidence to conclude that man is accelerating global warming and altering the climate in dangerous ways. It is time for us — globally — to move much more aggressively toward economies and energy systems that are respectful of nature’s limits and balances.

If you think about it, how could it be otherwise? On a strictly finite planet, with a thin atmosphere whose healthy cycling is tied closely to ecological equilibriums and processes on the earth, how could we imagine that — globally — infinite consumption, steady removal of vegetation, increasing use of resources, and expanding emissions of pollution could be sustained forever?

True dat. May 29:

1992’s concerted global response to the ozone hole involved rapid phasing-out of CFCs, which critics at the time decried as an oppressive restriction on business. Instead, as the past several decades have shown, business has done just fine using alternative propellants, and the ozone layer has gradually recovered. This is a good reminder for the self-styled conservatives who loudly assert that responsible environmental and energy policies will harm the economy.

But a more important reminder must be repeated again and again. The extraordinary edifice of human civilization was made possible by the stable climate which allowed agriculture to develop, our population to grow, and our culture to flourish. Destroying this essentially benign environment disrupts the food system which brings us our daily bread. Without food, people die; our culture withers. The corporatists and politicians who shriek that addressing the climate crisis will impact quarterly profit margins forget this simple fact.

Warren Senders

An Excellent Sort Of Memory: Creativity in Khyal Singing

This essay was written for the recent Learnquest Conference and printed in their program guide.


“The past does not influence me. I influence it.”
— John Cage —

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
—The White Queen, to Alice —

Hindustani music is rich in paradoxes of aesthetics, pedagogy, personality, imagination and execution — paradoxes which, ceaselessly spinning, provide a source of creative power within this complex and interdependent universe.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the endless push and pull between imagination and tradition. A khyal performer is expected to show the imprint of her or his teachers, and therefore the imprint of their teachers as well. A performance is unsatisfying to the educated listener if it is entirely of the moment; rather, the imprimatur of multiple artistic and pedagogical generations is what lends depth and resonance to a singer’s music. To the educated ear, a singer’s influences lend themselves to as many interesting combinatorial possibilities as the notes of a complex raga.

For example, Vamanrao Deshpande (in “Indian Musical Traditions”) recounts the khyaliya Miya Alibaksha’s response to the singing of Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle:

“…in response to a request from Alibaksha Saheb, Buwa took up the vilambit khayal ‘Tu aiso hai Karim’ from raga Darbari which was followed by the fast khayal ‘Nain so nain.’ The recital was punctuated with appreciative comments from Miya Alibaksha: ‘This is the gamaktan of Haddu Khan Saheb; this is reminiscent of Faiz Mahammad Khan’s elaborative skill; this is Rahimat Khan’s phirat (rapid ‘wandering’ passages); this intricate tana reminds me of Mubarak Ali….Bhaskarbuwa’s music is excellently developed in all respects.”


And Mohan Nadkarni describes Bhimsen Joshi’s interweaving of source material in his biography of the great vocalist:

“It is in his drut singing that Bhimsen presents a rare amalgam of gayakis as diverse as those of Gwalior, Atrauli-Jaipur, and Patiala. For example, right in the midst of a Patiala-style sapat taan, he can startle his listeners with a lightning array of intricate, odd-shaped patterns from the Atrauli-Jaipur gharana. A sarangi-like, seemingly slippery flourish from the Kirana style would then be deftly grafted to the laya-oriented taankari of the Gwalior tradition. Who else, but a maestro of his talent and genius, can achieve such marvelous homogeneity in content, treatment and approach?”

While this would suggest that a singer is collagistically assembling a performance from a collection of vocal mannerisms, techniques, and methods, the model of khyaliya-as-bricoleur is incomplete. Singers who’ve received training from multiple teachers do not automatically become creative aggregators; they are in fact more likely to display a kind of musical multiple-personality syndrome in which different pieces are rendered in the styles of their originators. I vividly remember a Pune concert in the mid-1980s in which a young vocalist (who has since gone on to recognition and acclaim) rendered successive pieces in the styles of three separate major vocalists. The first piece was a Marwa uncannily sung in the style of Amir Khan, the second a Darbari Kanada presented a la Bade Ghulam Ali, followed by an equally derivative thumri. While the tonal material of the ragas was skillfully handled, the artist’s music was hardly “excellently developed in all respects.”

Musicians sometimes choose security over danger, exalting their own preceptors and lineage at the expense of their own individuality. There are two ways this manifests. The first is an over-reliance on traditionally sanctified methodology; those who play it safe in this way are criticized with words like “dry” and “grammatical.” The second is epigonisation, in which the Master is imitated so thoroughly and completely that all vestige of the human artist is submerged under the borrowed mannerisms and repertoire of a single more charismatic and culturally dominant figure. A prominent disciple of a very popular khyal singer was known within the musicians’ community as “HMV” — His Master’s Voice — for his slavish duplication of his guru’s mode of singing.

The road to genuinely innovative musicianship in the khyal idiom, then, is as cluttered and obstructed as any Indian street. A singer can be too timid, too dominated by a single guru or charismatic figure, too susceptible to the influences of the moment or those of the century.

While the central paradox (a constantly changing improvisational genre operating freely within the constraints of centuries of tradition) is unresolvable, a study of the ingredients of musical expression offers some insight.

In any khyal performance we witness the superimposition of multiple sets of constraints and stipulations within which the singer is charged with finding himself or herself.

Most obvious to the listener is the raga itself. Ragas provide the tonal material for extensive improvisations and elaborations; taught orally, they can be described structurally using widely understood formulae (N notes in ascent, N+x notes in descent, this note emphasized, that note de-emphasized, this melodic phrase heard cadentially, that melodic phrase heard rarely, this part to be treated strictly, that part to be treated freely, the whole adding up to a recipe for sustained variation). A singer must present this material accurately, avoiding not just errors of intonation or omission but also unintended passages from other ragas with similar structures. Certain ragas are common property; others are so inextricably associated with particular artists or lineages that performing them is fraught with pitfalls for anyone outside the proprietary circle. The challenge for the khyaliya is to render the raga with structural fidelity while finding something new — a melodic road less traveled by. A singer who offers only the standard formulae may find praise for his or her fidelity to the tradition — but is equally likely to be dismissed for lack of useful insight.

The fact is that even in the most tightly constrained raga structure, there are always new combinations, phrases and gestures awaiting discovery. A singer who abdicates this responsibility fails the central task of khyal.

The raga repertoire subsumes the bandish repertoire; certain songs are likewise known and performed by, almost all professional singers, while others are a single singer’s “personal private thing.” Ragas are sometimes announced by their affiliations. It is common to speak of an “Agra bandish,” or a “typical Jaipuri chiz,” and educated listeners will recognize these pieces like old friends, acknowledging their association with particular styles and the expectations this raises for the specific content of a performance.

There are some compositions (e.g., “Sakhi mori rum jhum” in Durga, “Jabse tumhi sanga” in Bhoopali) which were fixtures in the professional repertoire of the early twentieth century, but have now become propadeutic vehicles on which aspiring singers can cut their teeth. The American baseball great Yogi Berra once commented of a particular restaurant that, “Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” It could be said of these songs that, “Nobody sings them anymore because they’re too popular.”

Conversely, a “rare” bandish may be announced with considerable fanfare. Some of these items are in fact newly composed — but Hindustani musical culture devalues the new and exalts the old. More prestige accrues to an ancient or unusual song than to a new item, so it’s not uncommon for performers to give their own compositions a provenance far back in the tradition, sometimes including the pen-name of a noted historical composer in the song text, lending the piece further credibility. While it’s tempting to regard this reverse plagiarism as an ethical transgression, it can also be seen as an organic manifestation of the tradition’s fluidity and creativity: four hundred years after his death, Sadarang (the pen-name of Niyamat Khan, a great khyal composer) continues to create new material!

The particular structure of the bandish may have a huge influence on the performance as a whole. This is especially true of medium and fast tempo songs, whose rhythmic structures and melodic contours direct improvisation in particular ways. For example, a song with high syllabic density nicely supports text-based rhythmic variations (known as “bol-bant”), while one with fewer syllables and more prominent melismata is a felicitous vehicle for virtuoso melodic passagework.

Intersecting with these fields of constraint is the responsibility a singer bears to her or his musical extended family. The guru, the guru’s guru, the guru’s guru’s guru, the guru’s brother’s guru, the guru’s brother’s guru’s brother’s disciple, etc., etc. — all contribute to an environment in which some musical behaviors are privileged above others, leading eventually to culturally accepted formulations in which particular lineages (known as “gharanas”) are recognized for expertise in particular aspects of khyal.

Musically adept listeners can recognize a singer’s gharana very easily — and conversely, if a singer’s gharana is known and announced, a trained listener will already have a good idea of what the performance will be like. In performance, khyaliyas are expected to develop a coherent portrait of their lineage — while they’re also developing the raga material and exploring the contours of the song. Singers may be criticized for violating the aesthetic guidelines of their gharanas, or for being overly conservative in their expression of those same guidelines — a dilemma which parallels the critique on raga-interpretation grounds. From one perspective, the gharana provides the conceptual framework for a raga’s expression; from another, the raga is the medium through which a gharana’s characteristics are expressed.

The guru himself or herself is the principle source of a khyaliya’s repertoire of songs and conceptual resources, and respect for the guru is foundational in Hindustani pedagogical tradition. Singers frequently attribute their own successes in performance to their gurus’ virtue and genius. In much the same way that the bandish is a single crystallized expression of a raga’s characteristics, the guru can be understood as a single human expression of a gharana’s salient features — and in the same way that singers strive to express the raga’s essential qualities, they wish to express some of their guru’s musical conceptions as well. The guru’s experience, values, aesthetics, vocal production, kinesics, and a host of other elements are, for better or worse, transmitted to the disciple.

And, finally, there is the individual singer herself or himself. Singers strive to integrate the influences of repertoire, gharana, and guru in the moment of performance and in the process of teaching their own disciples; while the precise relationship is always fluid and varies from artist to artist — and indeed from moment to moment — the general tendency is an avoidance of extremes — what can be described as a “conservation of innovation.” An unusual repertoire item (a rarely heard or newly composed raga or bandish) will usually receive a palpably traditional mode of presentation, while a predictable repertoire choice may need to be counterweighted by a more novel treatment if it is to engage listeners. The most notable exception to this principle would be Kumar Gandharva, who presented newly composed ragas in a highly original style, triggering tradition-versus-innovation controversies that continue to this day.

To describe a khyaliya as “creative,” then, is to recognize the success of a balancing act in which freshly imagined melodies and rhythms are endlessly re-contextualized in a historically-grounded milieu. The listeners’ understanding of a singer’s musical heritage undergoes continual revision in the light of each new passage, each new improvisation.

In the world of the khyaliya, remembering is a deeply creative act, and it’s an excellent sort of memory, working perfectly well in both directions.