An ode to my music teacher

An ode to my music teacher

When my music teacher taught me the Sargam when I was a mere child, she had asked me to visualise them as a set of steps, which I had to ascend and descend. Just like the steps, the musical notes would remain static in their designated places and if I needed access over them, I had to reach out to them. She probably said it just once, and maybe to put across a point, but somehow the image has remained with me ever since.

I have always imagined that each step represented a Swara. I would step, skip, linger or bounce over them in accordance to the lessons taught. Thus, I practiced Sarali varase, Janti varase, Dhatu varase and Alankaras mentally when I paced and hopped up and down the stairs without particularly going up or down. All the jumping left me breathless, especially when I tried going through them in the second and third speed. Not to mention, I would be reprimanded for being so very restless.

Now, I find it amazing that I did not divulge then what was going on in my mind or explain all the ascending and descending. Though the exhausting exercise did not impact the quality of my singing, I learned the basic difference between constants and variables at an impressionable age. I was able to understand the distinct distances between musical notes which helped me hone my skills as the years passed.

However, what fascinates me to this day is the fact that whenever I catch myself alone on a staircase, I immediately assign them the Sargam in a raga that catches my fancy at that point of time and hum a pattern of notes in my mind and step accordingly. In other words, I can never go past a set of stairs without thinking of music.

Interestingly, it was my music teacher who had helped me understand algebra several years before it was introduced to me in school when she explained the concept of octaves in music. She said, in passing again, that the first note of the Sargam determined the placements of the other Swaras. Whenever I had to find the value of “x” in an equation, I could not help thinking of it as the “adhara shadja”.

Learning sets and drawing Venn diagrams was a cakewalk for me in school because I had been taught about complete octaves which paved the way to mini ragas with a few notes as well as the similarities and differences in the notes between ragas which made them distinct.

I could not shake off music when I was taught the concept of 360 degrees around a point which can be segmented. I was well aware of the raga chart, akin to a pie chart, where the 72 major ragas had been segmented. Sums to be solved on permutations and combinations seemed easier when I converted marbles or balloons into musical notes. I have never been able to overcome the sense of déjà vu in mathematics classes.

When I reflect on the deep-seated impact my music teacher had on my thinking besides helping me learn music, I realise that teachers do have the knack of influencing you for eternity!