Year 4, Month 9, Day 15: I Need A Cigarette

David Suzuki takes apart the conspiracy theorists, in the Timmins Press (Ontario):

TIMMINS – I recently wrote about geoengineering as a strategy to deal with climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.

That drew comments from people who confuse this scientific process with the unscientific theory of “chemtrails.”

Some also claimed the column supported geoengineering, which it didn’t.

The reaction got me wondering why some people believe in phenomena rejected by science, like chemtrails, but deny real problems demonstrated by massive amounts of scientific evidence, like climate change.

Chemtrails believers claim governments around the world are in cahoots with secret organizations to seed the atmosphere with chemicals and materials — aluminum salts, barium crystals, biological agents, polymer fibres, etc. — for a range of nefarious purposes.

These include controlling weather for military purposes, poisoning people for population or mind control and supporting secret weapons programs based on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP.

Scientists have tested and used cloud and atmospheric seeding for weather modification and considered them as ways to slow global warming.

With so many unknowns and possible unintended consequences, these practices have the potential to cause harm.

But the chemtrails conspiracy theory is much broader, positing that military and commercial airlines are involved in constant massive daily spraying that is harming the physical and mental health of citizens worldwide.

I don’t have space to get into the absurdities of belief in a plot that would require worldwide collusion between governments, scientists and airline company executives and pilots to amass and spray unimaginable amounts of chemicals from altitudes of 10,000 metres or more.

Well, that was fun. September 8:

Even as the factual evidence for catastrophic climate change piles higher and higher, conservative zealots continue to reject its existence, severity, and causes. This dismissal of expertise, insight, facts and physical reality is a long-standing feature of the kind of paranoia which flourishes at the intersection of religious fundamentalism and scientific illiteracy. Those asserting the literal truth of ancient scriptures are trapped at the outset in a web of contradictions, gaining lots of practice in the White Queen’s ability to believe six impossible things before breakfast — while those who reject scientific method are ready to embrace superficially plausible notions at the expense of logic and data.

In the paranoid’s world, the more complex an explanation, the better: climate change is not a result of the greenhouse effect, a physical phenomenon first documented over a century ago, but the fabrication of an international cabal of scientists secretly in league with either the Lizard People or the Illuminati. The fact that there is no evidence for such bizarre assertions is proof that “the conspiracy goes all the way to the top.”

In any other context such delusional thinking would be the stuff of comedy. When the long-term future of Earthly life is at stake, however, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 14: Who Are YOU? The Answer Is In The Video.

US News and World Report features a twerp named Benjamin Zycher, a “visiting scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute (q.v.):

This issue is about wealth redistribution from red states to blue, and not about carbon dioxide, which, in the Orwellian language of the left, is “carbon pollution.” It is not toxic to humans at many times current ambient concentrations. It protects plants from various environmental stresses. It is like no other effluent; for those, less is better. That is true as well for the coercion and government planning authority inherent in the Obama proposals.

Sheesh. Don’t bother reading the whole thing; it’s all predictable denialist bullshit. July 22:

Benjamin Zycher significantly misstates multiple facts about global climate change.

First, let’s agree: even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today, CO2’s lengthy atmospheric “residence time” has “baked in” significant planetary warming for decades to come. But using this fact to justify inaction is as absurd as arguing that heart patient should continue smoking because they won’t get better immediately.

To say that global temperatures haven’t risen in the past decade is either mendacious or ignorant. An NOAA spokesperson recently noted that 2010 “…tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record, beginning in 1880,” and was “…the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th-century average.”

Please note: the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank with which Mr. Zycher is affiliated, has received millions of dollars from fossil fuel corporations, who fear their unimaginable profit margins might shrink if our energy economy shifts to renewable sources.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 12: Oh, Didn’t We Ramble?

The NOLA Defender (New Orleans, LA) gives the Big Easy’s perspective on climate:

Global warming often conjures images of melting ice caps and smokestacks spewing soot. On Friday, a group of New Orleans cultural pillars put brass bands and New Orleans food in the conversation. Community leaders and climate change awareness activists flooded the docks at Mardis Gras World Friday afternoon to support the I Will #ActOnClimate campaign, and to discuss the potential impact of climate change on New Orleans.

After Glen Hall III, of the Baby Boys Brass Band, piped out his rendition of the National Anthem on the trumpet, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation President and CEO Mark Romig gave his opening comments.

“We are all affected by climate change, including this city’s tourism industry, which is a major economic driver,” he said. “Tourism relies on the things that make New Orleans so great, like our picturesque wetlands, our world-renowned seafood, our rich culture, our heritage, all of which are at risk due to the changing climate. Chefs, musicians, tour guides, artists, and event planners have gathered here to urge action to end climate change. Not only for the sake of our industry, but because we have a moral obligation to future generations.”

This one was pretty deeply felt. July 21:

Blues and jazz may have been born of hard times, but New Orleans’ musical genius took its character not only from sorrow and oppression, but from the region’s productive agriculture and essentially benign environment. The same is true everywhere in the world: music flourishes where there’s enough to eat, where people have enough security to devote time to refining their artistry, and performing for audiences, and teaching their craft to others. Thanks to its location, the Crescent City is feeling the punishing effects of climate change more immediately than many other locations, so this formulation is no abstraction.

Whether it’s New York or New Delhi, Laos or Louisiana, the arts only flourish when the climate allows people to invest their time in cultural expression. Subtract climatic stability, and it’s not just agriculture and infrastructure that’ll suffer; without a habitable future, all of humanity’s priceless and unique musical expression is at risk.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 8, Day 10: Is That A Solar-Powered Electric Chair Around Your Neck?

The Victoria BC Times-Colonist insists on a “faith” perspective on climate:

Christian teachings can shed light on this dilemma of economic and environmental policy. The theology of the United Church, as with most other Christian traditions, clearly identifies the fundamental role of humans in creation as one of responsibility. There are many scriptural references to God’s charge to humans that they should use the fruits of a productive Earth wisely and steward the resources provided to them. The evidence suggests we are failing in this sacred duty. We are causing unprecedented damage to the ecological systems and the climate that supports productive life on our small planet, and we will pay the price one way or another.

Typically, policy makers present the situation as an unavoidable tradeoff: We can improve the environment and make our society more sustainable, but only at the cost of economic investment and jobs.

Leaving aside the ecological and economic fallacies in this argument, the moral and spiritual imperatives are clear. The United Church of Canada has been one of many faith communities who have repeatedly pointed out that sustainability cannot be traded off. More than 20 years ago, the general council of the United Church called for the protection of the planet’s life-sustaining environment to fulfil humanity’s sacred obligations of stewardship and to ensure the rights of generations yet unborn to benefit from the abundance and productivity of our shared heritage of complex living systems. This call arose out of a spiritual vision that affirms the rich diversity of life on Earth as a sacred gift, and in which love is the basis for our relationships with one another and with nature. The general council affirmed 12 key ethical principles that guide the church’s work on ecological issues including economic justice, human responsibility, sustainable life styles, the protection of biodiversity and ensuring the rights of future generations.

There is a long way to go, but the warning signs should be spurring us on to action now.

Okay. But rein in the fanficcers, please? July 21:

It is self-evident not just to those of faith, but to any thinking person, that morality demands a commitment to a sustainable future for our posterity. But it’s equally self-evident that many of the self-professed faithful are antagonistic to the findings of climate scientists, believing either that humanity possesses a special exemption from the laws of physics and chemistry which govern the accelerating greenhouse effect, or that the events foretold by Revelations will supersede atmospheric CO2 when it comes to ending Earthly life as we know it.

Environmentally cognizant religious organizations will have a significant role to play in addressing those eagerly anticipating the End Times, and persuading them to leave its timing to their deity of choice, rather than loading the dice by refusing to recognize the wholly mundane nature of the climatic apocalypse our species currently confronts. Let’s not make Armageddon a self-fulfiling prophecy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 30: No Left Term Unstoned

DelMarva Now offers a rather pedantic Op-Ed from Harrison Jackson, of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. He’s working on terminology:

Climate change, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a non-random change in climate that is measured over several decades or longer. The change may be due to natural or human-induced causes.

Many people will look outside on an unseasonably cold day and ask, “What ever happened to global warming?” Global warming is no longer used prevalently by climate scientists because it can cause confusion for the public due to weather and climate often being used as synonyms, even though they are different in a number of critical aspects.

Weather is not the same as climate. The best way to describe the difference between these two words is, “You pack your suitcase based on the weather, but you pick where you go for vacation based on climate.”

Weather, as defined by the administration, is the state of the atmosphere with respect to a variety of conditions including wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. This differs from climate, which is defined as the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region throughout the year, averaged over a series of years. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions at a given point in time, whereas climate refers to “average” weather conditions for an area throughout a long period of time.

Climate change can be a difficult and scary thing to talk about, as it has real implications that can dramatically alter the way we live forever. When discussing climate change, it is always best to separate facts from fiction.

This one accidentally turned out at 150 words on the first draft. Huh. July 12:

While it’s true that climate scientists use the phrase “climate change” more often than “global warming,” the history of these terms offers us a very useful perspective.

But aside from academic papers, the person most responsible for shifting the language of public discourse on the subject is Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz. In a memorandum to Bush administration officials, Luntz advised using “climate change” because, as he said, “it’s less scary,” and therefore provided President Bush and his team with a way of minimizing public concerns about the environment and the potential consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Climate scientists, of course, had been using the phrase all along, with citations in professional publications going back to the 1950s.

It is ironic that the cynical strategy of a conservative media expert should inadvertently coincide with the exact facts of the situation. Climate change is real; it’s here; it’s dangerous.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 27: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down

The NYT discusses divestiture in the context of the POTUS’ speech:

It was a single word tucked into a presidential speech. It went by so fast that most Americans probably never heard it, much less took the time to wonder what it meant.

But to certain young ears, the word had the shock value of a rifle shot. The reference occurred late in President Obama’s climate speech at Georgetown University two weeks ago, in the middle of this peroration:

“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

That injunction to “divest” was, pretty clearly, a signal to the thousands of college students who have been manning the barricades for nearly a year now, urging their colleges to rid their endowments of stock in fossil-fuel companies as a way of forcing climate change higher on the national political agenda.

“The president of the United States knows we exist, and he likes what we’re doing,” Marissa Solomon of the University of Michigan wrote soon after. Other students recounted leaping to their feet or nearly falling off their chairs when the president uttered the word.

Good stuff. I recycled an older letter, which takes exactly as much time as writing a new one. July 9:

Recent studies have demonstrated that college endowments won’t be adversely affected by divesting from fossil fuel companies, but this shouldn’t be the ultimate arbiter in any case. Economic rationales are ultimately secondary to the moral argument which recognizes that big oil and coal corporations rely on a profoundly destructive business model, atmospherizing huge quantities of fossilized carbon every year without regard for the consequences to our climate, our environment, or our posterity.

Higher education’s mission is expected to go beyond mere careerism to inculcate a responsibility to ensure a better future for all. While fossil fuels may be astonishingly profitable, colleges and universities investing in them are voting with their dollars for a future of devastating climate change instead.

Student campaigns for divestiture are environmentally, morally, and economically sensible. As in the long campaign against apartheid, it is the voices of youth which express the better angels of human nature.

Warren Senders

Published (and heavily truncated).

Year 4, Month 8, Day 15: This Is Mine. This Is Mine. All This Is Mine.

The LA Times, on another big attractive animal:

The world’s most endangered feline species may become extinct in the wild within 50 years, researchers say, a victim of climate change.

A new report projects that Iberian lynx could become the first cat species in at least 2,000 years to become extinct, researchers found, largely because of the decline of the European rabbit, which makes up 80% of the cat’s diet.

The report, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, warns that current efforts to boost population of the distinctive tufted-eared cat will only “buy a few decades” for the animal that was once abundant in parts of Spain, Portugal and France.

Rabbit populations have drastically fallen because of overhunting, disease and habitat reduction, researchers said, with climate change a major driver.

Bla, bla, bla. July 23:

If it were only “charismatic megafauna” like the Iberian lynx that face extinction due to the onrush of climatic change, we’d have far less to worry about — although news reporters oriented towards such splashy stories might not notice the difference. Far more troubling than the fate of a single wild cat species is the ongoing decimation of Earth’s most valuable natural resource: the biodiversity which has filled every available ecological niche on the planet with life.

The fewer life-forms present in a large ecosystem, the less resilient the ecosystem. For example, monocropped agriculture is terribly vulnerable; while factory farms may be able to generate huge quantities of food, a single invasive virus or insect pest can destroy their productivity completely. Earth is currently undergoing a mass extinction event thanks to human-caused climate change; the Iberian lynx and the polar bears are just the tip of a (rapidly melting) iceberg.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 29: Polly Want A Cracker?

The Rutland Herald runs a column by one John McClaughry, who is a certifiable idiot. Read and enjoy:

For the past 20 years Vermonters have been fed a heavy diet of terrors originally labeled the Menace of Global Warming — then renamed “climate change” after the predicted warming failed to appear.

This diet also includes lots of urgent proposals for making Vermont the world leader in battling “climate change,” victory over which will presumably occur when the climate finally stops changing.

All of these proposals have called for new mandates, new bureaucracies, more subsidies to the renewable industrial complex, and of course more taxes.

The most ardent and determined Vermont proponent of this war — especially in advocating the handouts to the wind and solar investors — has been Gov. Peter Shumlin. Back in 2006 he was telling reporters that “I think [the number one issue] is global warming and keeping this planet from destroying itself and keeping us from destroying this planet in front of our own eyes.”


There are four components to the Shumlin climate theology: First, the climate is doing terrible things; second, we irresponsible humans, addicted to carbon combustion, are producing these dangerous changes; third, government must force us to stop, through a broad array of taxes, mandates, regulations, and subsidies; and fourth, all of this is completely beyond debate: “The science is settled,” so shut up. This theology is impervious to facts.

Sheesh. June 13:

If “global warming alarmism” is a new “theology,” as John McClaughry argues, it’s a pretty strange one — a religion whose adherents desperately hope to be proven wrong.

A “gut check” can be very satisfying; our guts tend to favor the simple, linear and intuitive solutions that are most emotionally fulfilling. However, it is precisely because the real world is complex, non-linear, and counter-intuitive that the methods of scientific inquiry have been so powerful and useful in the progress and accomplishments of our civilization. And scientific method has brought us many conclusions which were at first rejected — a heliocentric solar system, the importance of antisepsis, the existence of deep time, evolution by natural selection, to name just four. None of these are obvious, even today.

The work of Roy Spencer and the other sources Mr. McClaughry cites have all been substantially debunked, as a few minutes’ research will reveal. And he leads off with the easily disproven assertion that global warming was “renamed” climate change, “after the predicted warming failed to appear.” Actually the phrase “climate change” was introduced by Republican strategist Frank Luntz during the Bush administration, as a “less-scary” substitute for “global warming.” It was purely accidental that the term is a more accurate description of what the world is now experiencing.

Mr. McClaughry is free to think with his guts, but most of us find that brains are better suited to the task.

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

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.