058. My First English Recitation Videos Took Thirty Years To Produce. P S Remesh Chandran
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum
By PSRemeshChandra, 30th Apr 2014 Short URL http://nut.bz/2t3az9i6/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays
Why do human beings sing? It is an act of sublimity, melting him beyond medium, transforming him to deliquescence and ardence, preparing him for the nearness of god. God stands just behind those who sing, such close that we will wonder who actually sings. The delightful souls dead and gone who designed this world want to speak to the world again through their poems. Recitation is where they reincarnate. No living poets shall ever have a place here. Their time will come once they are tested.
Saying poetry instead of singing has led to deterioration in the standard of poetry and recitation both.
Without music no poetry is born. If it is without music, it is not a poem. Others say it, we sing it; that is our motto. There are others in the world who sing poems and ours is an attempt to search them out, compliment them and supplement them and help them recognize that what they had been doing was right. Children of the world, we see in most poetry recitation videos, just say poems with more acting than music- an indication of what resource-less teachers had been doing in classes for decades, setting the wrong model. Large institutions and famous poetry recitation competition organizers across the continents like to blissfully forget that there is music in poetry. Of course, saying poetry is the first easy thing that comes into one’s mind when he finds himself unable to sing a poem, instead of trying earnestly to sing it. This wrong step, adopted by inadequately-trained teachers and academics through decades, has deteriorated the standard of recitation in specific and the standard of poetry in general. There has been no standardization done in the singing of poetry in the world, and no one can set rules too, for who are to do this? There are no role models. Only when better methods are introduced and accepted would the standard of recitation and poetry improve and be restored to what it had been in ages of creativity. Ours is an attempt to set a plain and simple model as a starting. Our resources are scanty, our attempt is pagan, and our acceptability may be only among the unorthodox, presently. But we do will set a trend. Others can discard it or build upon it.
Saying poems instead of singing it is licentious dealing with language. When you find the lines of a good poet hard to sing, know that that poem is locked.
When Kalidasa, the epic poet who wrote Shaakuntalam, was asked by his patron King Bhoja what his greatest wish in the world was, he replied that never once shall he have the misfortune of singing poems before the uninterested and the uncreative. It is a fear of all good poets. Therefore they lock their lines, using their own locking methods. Tagore, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Milton, Shelley, and Keats- all have done this. Some place the last word of a line in front of the next one, some stretch it into prose and some cause singers to stumble upon and fall over unnecessarily placed vowels and syllables. If you want to enjoy such poems, you must persevere. At one of your repeated attempts, it will click and the tune revealed. Once we unlock the tune we will laugh, will hear the poet also laugh, which is the real communion with the dead, the magnificence of dealing with those standing in eternity.
I only wish to outline what are the ingredients to becoming a musical recitation fanatic.
I have my own views on why music should be incorporated into poetry and why recitation should be musical and used as substitute for instruction and the presence of a teacher. I have my own anticipations on the future of musical recitations and awareness of my own shortcomings and limitations in advancing a project of this magnitude and potential. I will speak about them in another article which I soon wish to compliment this present one with. In this article, I simply wish to record the story of how I became interested in poetry recitations and how my first English Recitation Videos came into being. What I intend to outline are the ingredients to becoming a musical recitation fanatic.
It was rumoured that there were televisions in three or four houses in Delhi, including one in the President’s House.
‘My first English recitation videos’ means, not the song videos which I viewed in my childhood but which I attempted to create in my youth. In my childhood years, there were neither videos nor cassettes, not even radios, in Indian villages. It was only rumoured that there were televisions in three or four houses in Delhi, the capital of the country, including one in the President’s House. It was when a few radios came up here and there- Murphy, Phillips, Toshiba and Soundistor- that people began to hear recorded music frequently. Before that, there were indeed gramophone players but they were rare, and were not accessible to us children.
The best thing a father can do to his children is to respect their mother.
Even before I walked, I was told, I had learned to sing. I owe this to my mother and father. My mother was university-educated who remained without going for a job for fear of angering my grandfather who did not believe in women working and bringing home money. Like a typical Indian village landlord who he actually was, widowed and conservative, he was devoted and faithful to his children- all girls- and ruled home like a true patriarch. The benefit was we got the undivided attention of our mother. She was there to send us to school and she was there to see us back. What she learned- university science it was- she taught us her four children. My father was a European-travelled and liberal-minded high school English teacher who taught us that ‘the best thing a father can do to his children is to respect their mother’. After graduating in Bachelor of Arts from University College and Bachelor of Teaching from Mar Theophilus Training College, Trivandrum, he went to Malaysia and Singapore to work in a British cultural firm. After a few years he returned, got additionally trained for Certificate in Teaching English under the British Council of India and joined our native high school as an English teacher, to my luck. Had he remained abroad and made money and we children remained in our village, we would all have been rich and spoiled.
In school and village celebrations, my name would be called through loudspeakers, enrolled by my father without my knowing. How could I run away for public fright?
I loved to hear film music and we had no radio. There was a public radio kiosk in our village and one fine valve radio in the nearby tea shop. It was before the advent of transistors. There was a cinema theatre nearby and I used to go for second shows for listening to film songs. Knowing my craze, my father would give me money. Some Malayalam films were famous just for their number of songs. I could sing all of them which I did in home, in both male and female voices. I was not a singer but whenever I took part in competitions, I gave only the second prize to others. In school competitions and village celebrations, my name would be called through loudspeakers, enrolled by my father without my knowing. How could I run away for public fright? Fearing the shame of appearing public in a stage, I would go and do the thing. I was lucky there were no district level competitions then.
Even now I am a second man, the man behind the curtains.
It seemed my father took it up to make me a singer. He took me while I was in school to the All India Radio twice to see his friends, the now late Kamukara Purushothaman and Madavoor Bhasi. Kamukara was a very famous gentleman playback singer and music director and also a school headmaster who I think did his B.T. with my father. He was not there in the A.I.R. Madavoor Bhasi was a famous drama writer and producer who was my father’s school mate. He also was not there on the day we went to see him. You know there were no telephones then. My father could not take me again to the city for this purpose. Since his demise, I lost the only promoter I had. And I myself did not pursue the task of becoming a singer. Even now I am a second man, the man behind the curtains.
Singing English poems was a novelty in my village, was in the state, but what if it is in the world?
Living among Europeans and Far Eastern Asians refined my father in culture as well as in literary and linguistic skills. He was an ardent singer of English poems of great poets which he taught us also at very early ages. In high school, he was our English teacher and my class teacher and I had the opportunity for listening to his famous beautiful English recitations and orations in class. ‘Row Row Row The Boat’ and ‘Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall’ were our daily bread. I heard ‘The Slave’s Dream’ he singing in another class. Before we were in the tenth standard, he had implanted in us all the zest and lust for singing English poems, which was a novelty in such a remote village as ours. In future years, I was to learn that it was a novelty in the state also. Today, when I come across English poem recitations in the internet and learn that it is a novelty and rarity in the world too, I do not wonder but only am sad. So, when I matriculated, I was fairly ripe for poetry. In college I did not gain much in poetry. There was only the usual saying of poetry and explaining and no music. I had learned in my school how to learn and soon found that college was no use to me. If I can learn new things in my way in leisure, why waste time? I was enrolled in the same college as my father studied, under the principalship of the same reverend father who taught him in his B.T. classes. Even then I did not gain much except seeing a cross section of the world, for there were brilliant students from almost all continents, a rarity then in Trivandrum but common in this particular institution. I was the only one coming from a remote hamlet but also the one among the three coming with a national merit scholarship. My class comprised of first class holders only, doing science. When I learned that I was the first in English class, I wondered how it can be with every other one speaking fluent English unlike me. I soon learned that it was not because I was the most brilliant but others had multi-diversions in life, brought from rich continental backgrounds. But I gained indeed in one thing- I got a mission, by way of the principal.
You will never see such a teacher in the corridors of a college; you try to become such an one.
This learnèd father, clad in snow-white gown and black waist band, was a fine English teacher who taught only in post graduate classes. His poetry classes were sweet and famous and his orations liquid diction; I very much longed to sit in his classes and listen to that finery of speech. He will never go near an undergraduate class which saddened me. I cut classes, went secretly standing behind his class wall and enjoy. One day he caught me, looked straight through his thick glasses perched atop that long snow-white expanse and said nothing nor did anything. He was tall, strong and I have seen rebellious senior students coming flying out his office crashing his half-door and landing on the outside corridor, gasping! But one day when he caught me sitting under a canopied tree in a secluded spot in the campus in class time, I for the first time learned that undergraduate students with national merit scholarships were under observation. Without preamble, he asked me: ‘What is deficient in this college?’ I knew he was not an earthly academic professor and dean but a saint who wished to resign some day soon, start a seminary on some jungly river bank and lead a peaceful and secluded life nearer to god. I became bold and answered: ‘There is a deficiency of fine teachers who can be stooped before.’ There indeed were professors there who had written famous novels which became film hits and others whose works were approved text books in so many universities. I thought I would summarily be dismissed. He gave me a straight answer instead and left: ‘You will never see such a teacher in the corridors of a college; you try to become such an one!’
So, I became an English teacher at a place where no one knew me, in my spare time, as an amateur.
After college, mine were the years of purchasing poetry books of all famous poets and singing them. I mostly purchased Dent & Dutton, Rinehart and Macmillan editions. Those which could not be sung, I began to consider unfinished and inferior and throw away. I never went to a library for I was in the habit of making notations in books for later recitations which we cannot do in library books. Before it was three years, I already had the necessary collection and knew which songs I was going to sing in the future years. Even while employed full time in Kerala government service in the health services department, I was regularly invited to teach in institutions in my spare time. One senior friend of mine, who was to go abroad, could not keep his promise of attending one such institution. He begged me to go instead and I could not refuse, he being a talented actor and scholar and something like charismatic to me. So, I became an English teacher at a place where no one knew me, in my spare time, as an amateur. Though I was an amateur, do not think I was amateurish in my ways. Though I never wished to become a teacher and never had the orthodox characteristics of a teacher but the unorthodox ones of a writer, I was made a teacher. It was not a question of money but the beginning of my actual social service and execution of my mission.
For me it was the thrill of enjoying a song for the first time, and for the students the thrill of passing through the thrill of someone else’s first and fresh enjoyment.
In my first poetry class, the principal asked me to teach Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon. I agreed. He himself was a fine poetry teacher but lazy, and whenever possible, he engaged others to do it. It was a fine class, according to students which included one of my unknown cousins, and also according to the principal. Actually it was the first time I was coming across this poem; I just sang it and explained it. It was a thrill to us all- for me the thrill of enjoying an exhilarating song for the first time in my life, and for the graduate students the thrill of passing through the thrill of someone else’s fresh and first enjoyment. My advice to me was, just never do this again! . I must admit I became somewhat famous in later years for my proficiency in singing poems and for singing them full from memory helped by music, for I never held a poetry book in my hand, in class. It was a challenge to mature students, the real challenge, and they took it up in equal stride. Music, according to me and in my experience, is the best means of instruction, especially in poetry. Even regular and famous class-cutters began to present themselves in poetry classes. Principals liked it.
I recorded with the inescapable background noise of carpenters carving, automobiles racing, dogs barking and crows cawing from all around the house.
Hundreds of beautiful songs have I taught and many hundreds more have I read, sang and enjoyed. My wish was to record them all. One related young brother of mine gave me a small battery-powered tape recorder and I began. I recorded many songs at my home, with the inescapable background noise of carpenters carving, automobiles racing, dogs barking and crows cawing from all around the house. I very much wished for a sound-proofed room and recording equipment which I never had, even till now. I took this small tape recorder- a very good one though without a shell- to our lonely farm house on a secluded spot three miles away. I even took it to my river and waterfall regularly. I did come up with many songs recorded in 60 minute and 90 minute cassettes. There were hundreds of them beautiful songs still remaining to be recorded. But before it was six months, my relative took away the recorder. So, that was the end of it for then, I thought! Or was that the end of it for ever?
It is time the world recognize musical recitation as an effective replacement for English instruction.
Fortunately my little sister, with her savings, purchased a brand new Sharp Double Cassette High Speed Tape Recorder With APSS Facility for me. I could now make copies of my crude recordings and could even bring out the ‘First Musical English Poetry Cassette For Pre-Degree Classes In India.’ I had made only a prototype in my view, hoping fully orchestrated versions could be released in future, but many teachers told me it immensely helped them to learn those tunes and inspire their students with them, as if they themselves had discovered those tunes. Anyway, it dramatically improved not only the recitational skills of their students but improved their memorization skills as well. That was when I first noticed it was better to teach tunes to teachers than to students; teachers could more effectively transmit them to multiple numbers of students. What actually needed to be done was incorporating music into teachers’ curriculum which was what the British Council of India had been doing in India in the post-colonial years and which might have been what actually convinced my father of the effectiveness of using music as a means of instruction. When I arrive at this inference, I know that the British Council of today is not the British Council of post-colonial years and those who head it now needn’t be as enthusiastic and zestful as their old counterparts in recognizing musical recitation as an effective replacement for English instruction.
I still do not know whether they recognized this project and are still looting money on my behalf, without my knowing.
The impact of all these reading, singing, teaching, travels and meeting people had within this time evolved into a project in my mind- Project For The Popularization Of English Songs In India- in short PROPÈS INDIA. There were many agencies at that time which I could approach to sponsor, undertake, underwrite, finance or technically collaborate, namely, the Departments of Education, Culture and Human Resources Development of the Government of India, The British Council of India- India being a common wealth country- and a few others. I was young and green and wrote to them all, knowing not about how bureaucracy could get involved and turn things to their end without me ever knowing it. I still do not know whether they recognized this project and are still looting money on my behalf, without me knowing, considering the curious political and administrative set up in India. I even remember writing to the Queen of England, addressing her through her private secretary. Gradually I knew I was lonely- very lonely- with my father long gone and my principal, the saintly scholar, who had started a seminary on the banks of the Alwaye River after resignation, also long gone.
Chairman of the Kerala Film Development Corporation offered to rent recording floor with Nagra Recorder for 2000 rupees per hour. I could not afford.
I now began looking for where and how I can re-record these songs in a professional studio. Kerala had a well-equipped film studio at Thiruvallam near Kovalam, owned by the Kerala Film Development Corporation Limited. It is a government-owned institution anyway. A famous writer, critic and littérateur became its chairman and I telephoned him to tell my need. I never expected positive response but he was ready to rent their recording floor with Nagra Recorder to me for 2000 rupees per hour, much lower than their usual rates out of goodwill, considering the genuineness of my request. It meant, to record one full hour, I will have to spend three or four hours in the studio. I could not afford that much money, in spite of being decently employed and having none other than my mother to look after, who anyway had her own sustenance.
Engaging fine singers, visualizers and orchestras, recitation videos could become prime-time programmes attracting whole student communities.
Years went by, with my audio cassettes occasionally running and tempting me to visualize them. Now it was the time of television and then it was the time of cross-continental networks of television channels. I wrote to a few of them, requesting them to consider the viability of good musical recitation videos and their importance in the teaching of English. Designed well by talented producers and engaging fine singers, good orchestra and imaginative visualizers, they could become prime-time programmes within a few weeks, attracting whole student communities. None cared. Their no-response did not trouble me because I do not look at televisions. They may still be showing those long dreary videos of people speaking poems!
Me who do not still know where most of the key board letters are located can now produce video songs.
Now came the time of internet and I thought the time was come, not mine but these songs’. My youngest brother taught me the basics of computer in his instrument and arranged for purchasing one for me. Within three years, I learned to do things which were only wild dreams when viewed from my background of a remote hamlet. Me who do not still know where most of the key board letters are located, who do not still know what the top-most row of keys represent and who never have used the two right-most compact rectangular sets of keys, can now produce video songs with no one else’s assistance. Last year, in 2013, I took up my cassettes and learned that except three, none of them would run for long disuse. I took them to a videographer interested enough to take spools out, clean, rewind and digitize, for a small fee. I knew he was doing this out of professional curiosity to see what was contained in them. He gave me wave sound rushes and I edited trimmed and converted formats in my computer. And here are my songs, the first batch. In two cassettes, spools spilled out of shells and it is time-consuming to recover music. Two others have to be spools taken out and soaked in solutions to clean. They are there lying in its place, waiting for their time, if it comes.
I am waiting for technology to come when songs could be lifted out of brain waves.
I could recover only just a few of the recordings I made but the majority of my songs are considered to be lost, in its present state. I regret loosing Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Prisoner of Chillon, Allegro, In Memoriam, Elegy Written In A Country Church Yard, Deserted Village, Lotos-Eaters, Lady of Shallot, To A Skylark, The Cloud, Ode On A Grecian Urn, Parts of Paradise Lost and H. W. Longfellow’s The Slave’s Dream. I even had envisioned the full sequence of The Slaves Dream with following with a camera the undulating flight of bright flamingos over desert lands and kaffir huts and hidden streams, with a bright blue ocean brimming in the distance. Even if I am given technology and sponsorship it is very late now, for I have lost a few of my teeth and the former capacity of my lungs. I also regret to remember that what I recorded represent only two percent of what I could have recorded. I am waiting for technology to come when songs could be lifted out of brain waves, from tracks left behind when they were sung. Sometimes, I will come again in another generation, to finish up my work, and you will distinguish me from my very sound and style.
My next book is: Where Did Music Go From Poetry?
Man has a brain for music. Music emotionally evocates him and makes him dance. Heart carries a beat similar to the one music has. When we were unborn infants, the lub-dub sound of our mother’s heart beat was the most conspicuous and continuous sound we heard in the uterus. Even while in embryonic stage it just got synchronized with our own heartbeat. This inner-aligned rhythm does not leave us even when we are grown up as it is incorporated into our brains. That is why this heart-beat content has enabled us to have a brain fitted to process any music which has a beat. Some researchers term this as the ‘Lub-Dub Theory of Music’ or the ‘Heart-Beat Theory of Music’. Beat of music brings back to our memory the comfort, coziness, warmth and safety we enjoyed in our embryonic days. Don’t forget that even after we have become adults, our coziest sleeping positions correspond with that of our fetus in our mother’s womb. Of course there have been other beats which we regularly have heard in the womb but they do not wash away the mother’s heart beat. Mother’s heart beat has been the natural setting for the audio receptability of a new born child and its susceptibility to music. Music also demanding dancing is unusual for other sounds we hear. It is most probably because music has the feature of moving, just as human beings also have the feature of moving. Movability or mobility is characteristic of both music and man. Heart-beat theory of music still has not been able to explain yet the fascination of human mind for music. I assure you, one of my next books would be ‘Where Did Music Go From Poetry?’
These songs are available for streaming, listening and free download in You Tube, Sound Cloud and Last FM.
Links to You Tube Videos of these songs are provided here. All the previous videos of these poems and songs have been replaced since then with newer ones with better audios. Altogether, about 90 videos in Bloom Books Channel were withdrawn from circulation and replaced with better ones.
E 001 If All The Seas Were One Sea
E 002 Ferry Me Across The Water
E 003 Up Hill
E 004 Wander Thirst
E 005 Who Has Seen The Wind?
E 006 The Night Express
E 007 Indian Weavers
E 008 Coromandel Fishers
E 009 Where The Mind Is Without Fear
E 010 Forsaken Merman
E 011 Fidelity
E 012 Ozymandias
E 013 Solitude Of Quiet Life
E 014 The Sun With His Great Eye
E 015 I Looked And Saw Your Eyes
E 016 When All The World Is Young
E 017 Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
E 018 Govinda’s Disciple
E 019 Leave This Chanting
E 020 What Is This Life, If Full Of Care?
E 021 Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
E 022 Song To The Men Of England
E 023 Send Off
E 024 To A Skylark
E 025 Arrow And The Song
E 026 Dora
E 027 The Force That Drives The Water Through The Rocks
E 028 Patriot
E 029 Lake Isle Of Innisfree
E 030 Vagabond
[Updated as on 19 September 2015]
Thank you dear reader, for following this article to the end. We admire your patience. This is the First Part of My First English Recitation Videos Took 30 Years To Produce. There is a Second Part which we will publish here soon.
Did you notice that you have just gone through a World Record In The Greatest Number Of English Recitation Videos Sung, Recorded and Produced By A Single Person?
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Meet the author
P S Remesh Chandran
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of ‘Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book’. Unmarried and single. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Unmarried and single. Also edits Bloom Books Channel.