A condensed summary of the main points included in Chapter 10, (Music of India and Japan) of the work, Thinking about Music, written by Rowell (190-210)



A condensed summary of the main points included in Chapter 10, (Music of India and Japan) of the work, Thinking about Music, written by Rowell (190-210), and an appended list of qualities found in this music that contrast most clearly with experienced western music.

            Rowell’s intention is to provide an approach proceeding from the external to the internal, as he explains “from the phenomena of music to the underlying theoretical and philosophical concepts, from the descriptive to the prescriptive”(Rowell 190). The intention of this essay is a presentation of Indian and Japanese music, as well as a list of qualities found in this music that contrast most clearly with experienced western music, as a necessity to have counter-point cultural values, and understand the totality of global manifestations of art, in the form of music, by oriented and organized investigation.

Languages have been an interesting subject in the Asian modes of thinking and experiencing, urging for considerations about the philosophy of art in the high cultures. . [Rowell 192]  In this sense “Ananda Coomaraswamy points out: “ What the representation imitates is the idea or species of the thing, by which it is known intellectually, rather than the substance of the thing as it is perceived by the senses.” “In the other sense Nõ theater of Japan, establishes a close

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relationship between appearance and essence, because in this theater, the skin is vision, the flesh is sound, the bones are the soul.”” “Japanese music derives from an ancient tradition whose folk origins and early influence from the Asian continent are wrapped in the midst of history, comprising the musical tradition of Okinawa and of the Ainu people of Hokkaido.” 01 If we compare Japanese music with those of the West, one can say that “musical tone is more intricate phenomenon, Japanese notations are more skeletal, leaving more of the essential musical details to the traditional face-to-face instruction”(192). It is intensely aesthetic (194). Donald Keene (1968), presents cardinal values in Japanese art which are: suggestion (the artwork is never made explicit), Irregularity (a tendency to avoid the regular, symmetrical, architectonic forms of design), simplicity (the use of natural materials - - e.g. tea ceremony), and perishability (a beautiful work of art is made to be fragile and impermanent) (195).  The language of Japanese aesthetics is metaphorical (198). If one looks for types of music in Japan, an identification of them will be possible. As it is mentioned in The Japanese Book,“The traditional history of Japanese music normally starts with the Nara period (710-794), and the roots are firmed on Buddhism, and the vibrant traditions of Tang dynasty (618-907).” Classic music (music produced in XVI and XVIII (Utiyama 219)) includes Gagaku, which is also considered traditional (ancient period up to 1868 (Utiyama 219)  - - a type of music, strongly influenced by continental Asian antecedents, performed at the Japanese imperial court for more than a millennium.), Religious Music (the most prominent is that of Shinto ritual), Folk Songs (Themes are related with love, natural phenomena, catastrophes and representative events (Utiyama, 224) - - divided in religious  songs, work songs, occasional songs for parties, children’s songs) (Japan Access 1998).

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By the other side, we have the music of India, which is more rhythmically active than in Japan and athleticism is admired, notations are less specific than in Japan, it has too much of improvisation, and they explore the possibilities within the constraints of “rãga” and “tãla”(193-195). The perception, in the Indian tradition, offers a means of release from the world of illusion

(194). There are never many irregularities, and the preference for equilibrium and symmetry is observed. (195) “Aesthetic experience, from the Indian point of view, is a process by which one

gradually becomes free from limitations”(203). “The Raga, or musical mode, forms the basis of the entire musical event. The Raga is essentially an aesthetic rendering of the seven musical notes and each Raga is said to have a specific flavor and mood. Tala is what binds music together. It is essentially a fixed time cycle for each rendition and repeats itself after completion of each cycle. Tala makes possible a lot of improvisations between beats and allows complex variations between each cycle. With the help of the Raga, Tala and the infinite “shrutis” ormicrotones, Indian musicians create a variety of feelings. The melodious sounds of a musical rendition can evoke the innermost emotions and moods of the audience, connoisseurs and non-connoisseurs alike.”02  

The Indian philosophy of music is based on metaphysical assumption (207). Feelings like “love, humor, pathos; anger, heroism, terror, disgust, wonder and serenity are the “nava rasas” or nine basic emotions, which are fundamental to all Indian aesthetics. Sage Bharata, the earliest Indian musicologist said to have lived in the 1st or 2nd century AD, enunciated these moods and believed that it was the musician's task to evoke a particular emotion or mood. The classical music tradition in India is based on the principles enunciated by sage Bharata and continues to be a form of meditation, concentration and worship.”03


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An interesting discussion to be observed in this study is concerned about archetypes in these two musics. A good example is the metaphorical language used in Indian literature, with music described as an organic development from seed to pod to leaf to fruit (198). And if one checks the Western aesthetic theory, a very specific language concerning Japanese aesthetics can be observed  (e.g. “shibui” - - astringent (related with the tea ceremony); “sabi” (it is considered an antiaesthetic term): rusty and so on (198).Rowell explains that a “relevant experience from listening asiatic music, is the fact that  spectator achieves a certain purified and   universalized emotional state.” This is a very good approach to what Aristotle has called “katharsis” (204).

In Brazil, Japanese culture has been spread in many states, mainly in Paraná and São Paulo. These diasporical communities have brought so many costumes and uses since Kasato-Maru arrived in Santos, São Paulo, in1908. Nowadays, Japanese colonies like karaoke so much.

 They also have a TV show, which is called “Japan Pop Show”. It is being reported that karaoke is also very important in Japan (e.g. enka ballads) (Japan Access 03).

                The perspective of Indian music is a little bit far from the reality in South America. But  people enjoy Yoga. “All Indian musicians belong to a particular “gharana” (house) or school. Each gharana has its own traditions and manner of rendition and these styles are fiercely guarded and maintained. Some of the well-known “gharanas” are those of Delhi, Agra, Gwalior and Jaipur.

Nowadays, there is a lot of interaction and concourse between music from the north and that from the south. Of India. Both styles are influencing each other and this can only lead to an enrichment of the great musical tradition of India. As it is being mentioned the Indian Musical tradition has two dominant strains: the Carnatic or South Indian music and the Hindustani or

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North Indian music. The Carnatic and the Hindustani music have some features in common as their heritage and philosophy is essentially the same. However their “ragas” and their articulation are usually distinctive. The Northern school of Indian Music can boast of names like Amir Khusro (13th century) and Miyan Tansen who lived in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. The great musicians of the Southern style include Venkatamakhi (17th century), Thyagaraja and Shyama Shastri.”04

            It  is being observed in all the material that was collected, that no  matter frontiers and  styles are  evident, there is an interchange concerning music values, and   for sure, influences are.

Western Classical Music has flourished throughout the world but also in Asia.  And in 20th century, there is also a combination of traditional Japanese melodies and the ones from Western popular music (e.g. enka) (The Japanese Book 2002). If we consider Indian music, one can conclude that the values are changed inside the frontiers of the country. “The  interaction and concourse between music from the north and that from the south of India are influencing each other and this can only lead to an enrichment of the great musical tradition of India.”05

Rowell concludes that philosophy of music in Asian cultures can be viewed with more than casual curiosity for the exotic (209). These transcendent cultural values are for sure the most relevant vivid elements of peoples, and for sure, they shouldn’t run out of anyone’s appreciation.

The most interesting fact to be noticed, is  that hybrid music, permits anyone, to observe

specific features of each different culture, and ethnicity is defined by this magic enchantment provided by music.     









01 Japan Access, Kodansha International Ltd, March 1998.

02, 03,04 MSN, Music in India. October  4t h, 2002.http://www.musicindiaonline.com/   



 05 MSN,  Music  in India.  October  4th, 2002. http://www.meadev.nic.in/culture/music/music.htm















Sites Visited:

MSN, Music in Japan. October 4th, 2002. http://www.japan-guide.com/topic/0110.html

MSN, Japanese Music. The virtual Museum  http://www.jinjapan.org/museum














Works Cited


Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

       Modern Language Association, USA, 1988.

Japanese Consulate. The Japan Book. Kodansha International Ltd. Tokyo, Japan, 1st. ed. 2002.

Rowell, Lewis. Thinking about Music, The University of Massachusetts Press, USA, 1983.

Utiyama, Ioshifumi. Cultura Japonesa. Aliança Cultural Brasil Japão, 1989.






































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