cjmacie wrote:"Theme" as used in Western ("classical") music can become confusing in the context of music likely to have been know in the Buddha's day. Theme, in the former, denotes a dynamic progression of notes -- like a melody, in briefer form perhaps a motif. In the latter context, music was more likely similar to what's considered "classsical" Indian music, e.g. as known in the West through Ravi Shankar, or, a bit more esoteric, Ali Akbar Khan. Basis, as I understand is know as "raga", that's not a theme like a melody, but more like a "mode" (in history of Western music), or a specific group of notes, and perhaps interval motifs to be the "vocabulary" of a composition. Modes are s/t represented as different scales: whereas today we are left with "major" and "minor" scales, earlier there were many, e.g. "Phrygian", "Dorian", "Ionian", etc. I think the raga is like those, but sparser -- the collection of notes as tones (relationships between) available as context or any particular composition (which, I believe, is essentially always improvised). "Tuning" is actually adjusting the instrument(s) to be able to play those pitches of the raga (or mode, in the other tradition), but not able to play other pitches; and it's likely to be a discontinuous series of tones, rather than continuous like modern scales (and particularly nowhere near any sense of "even-temperament" as is standard today in the West.Dmytro wrote:Hi Sanghamitta,
Sanghamitta wrote:So I think I am grasping what Thannisaro Bhikku is saying..does that imply that we will by various means have our own " themes" to which we are likely to return ?Thannisaro Bhikku wrote:Unfortunately, we do not have a full treatise on the theory of musical performance as practiced during the Buddha's time, but there are enough references to music scattered through the texts for us to sketch the outlines of that theory. The first step in performance was to tune one's instrument, "establishing" one's tonic note (literally, "base," thana) to make it on-pitch ("even," or sama), then to fine-tune or attune ("ferret out" or "penetrate") the remaining notes (again, "bases") of the scale in relation to the tonic. This required a great deal of skill, sensitivity, and some mathematical knowledge, as the well-tempered scale had not yet been developed, and many different ways of calculating the scale were in use, each appropriate to a different emotion. The musician then picked up the theme (nimitta) of the composition. The theme functioned in several ways, and thus the word "theme" carried several meanings. On the one hand it was the essential message of the piece, the image or impression that the performer wanted to leave in the listener's mind. On the other hand, it was the governing principle that determined what ornamentation or variations would be suitable to the piece.
(Than-Geoff mentions "well-tempered" scale, probably as in J. S. Bach's "well-tempered clavier". But that was NOT "equal-temperament" as used universally in Western music today. "Equal" means exactly equal intervals throughout the scale, and, consequently, every interval is slightly out-of-tune -- in terms of pure Pythagorean harmonics. Well-tempered was a sort of compromise which allowed one to use all 24 keys of the Western scale, but each one was in- or out-of-tune in a different way; hence giving a certain distinctive "color" to each key. Even temperament didn't become standard until earily 19th-century. Curiously, Ven. Sujato, a former musician, voiced a similar confusion in a discussion once.)
So, theme has more a dynamic sense, especially musically, perhaps also in literature, and, as in "thesis", in academic writing. Nimitta can have that kind of sense? My sense is that it's less process, more like a "sign", a tag -- similar in ways to "lakkhaṇa". Yes, everything phenomenal is in flux, but nimitta / sign provides a way of attaching a handle to it, as also in neurological correlates, for reference back and forth across mental time. Then again, perhaps that quasi static quality is similar to the profound difference in Indian music (perhaps Asian music in general) in contrast to Western music.
Bottom-line: "theme" has overtones, so to speak, which make it a poor fit for nimitta. "Sign" has short-comings too, but fits better on a spatial-temporal axis -- if one had to settle on a single term.
I am an ethnomusicologist with a heavy interest in archaeomusicology (if only they would pay me to study it), so this is right up my alley, and I approve of this post, although "all 24 keys of the Western scale" doesn't really make sense to a musicologist. I think you have some enharmonics confusion going on. There are only 18-19 possible "keys" in the Western scalar system, but that is just me being persnickety and pedantic, thrilled to see musicology nonetheless represented here.
Although Ven Thanissaro presents a bit of a dated picture of Indic archaeomusicology (I can't blame him, its a fringy subject), we know leagues more about the music of Ancient India than we do of most other contemporaneous cultures of the time.