Music exchanges way to preserve traditions, languages: French Composer

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New Delhi : With a good number of languages dying across the world, many ways to preserve them can be explored; for French composer Thierry Pecou, being a musician, music exchanges are certainly the best way to go about it.


"Some traditions have been lost, and above all, languages are being lost...we live in a period, when the industrial and the post-industrial world is destroying many aspects of life, to start with, the natural environment, biological species, etc.

"I believe that preserving traditions should be a way to educate people to take care of what life has given to them," Pecou told IANS in an e-mail interview.

"Traditions are culture, not a way of closing oneself, and the best way to keep tradition alive is to give it a chance to exchange and meet foreign traditions," he added.

This year, Pecou performed at Bonjour India, a four-month-long event celebrating Indo-French partnership, where he presented an ensemble in collaboration with Indian artistes, special crafted for Indian audiences. The composer had to make an effort to know about the country's music from books and recordings to prepare for this performance.

"I was conscious about how different Indian and Western music styles were. But what I found very interesting is that, (the way) Hindustani musicians fix most of the material they play.

"It takes a lot of rehearsal time to write what they play, while the writing process in Western music is the domain of the composer and is made in a solitary way by the composer," Pecou said.

In the piece he wrote, he left spaces for the Indian musicians to fit in and "to create a dialogue of ensemble variances".

"I thought the Indian musicians would improvise but they actually fixed almost everything."

In his attempt to present a soothing melange and to help the two kinds of musicians perform with the same amount of strength, Pecou had to use some raga scales for his music to minimise the difference.

"The way I compose is totally different but the way it sounds together is very fluid and natural."

He said that it was "wonderful" to perform for Indian audiences.

"People concentrated on music, and were probably very interested in hearing such an unusual blend of genres," he said.

The music of France reflects a diverse array of styles. Pecou is associated with the Western written music tradition -- classical music.

"My style is a heritage of the French tradition that goes from (Claude) Debussy to Henri Dutilleux (French composers), which gives importance to colour, and lets me import and transform traditions from across the world," he explained.

It might sound unusual for musicians in India, where the guru plays such an important role, that Pecou started his music education on his own.

"Regarding composition, I started studying on my own by reading score of the great masters of the beginning of the 20th century such as (Maurice) Ravel, (Igor) Stravinsky, Debussy, (Gustav) Mahler (music composers). In a way, they were my first teachers."

"After having written quite an a lot of short pieces, I started studying harmony and counterpoint with Jean Entremont, the father of great pianist Philippe Entremont," he said.

"Later on, at the Paris Conservatoire (a college of music in Paris), I learned a lot in Serge Nigg's orchestration class," he added.

India, for the composer -- who has visited the country twice -- is unique, special and feels like a different planet altogether.

"I have traveled a lot in my life, but India is a very special and a unique place. It is still hard for me to understand why it has such a strong impact. It is like going to another planet," the musician said.

"You experience such extreme contrasts -- beauty, colours, flavours, perfumes -- everywhere and at the same time (there is) dust, ugliness, poverty, pollution -- but all being part of the same humanity in front of your eyes."

"Being in India takes you back to the essence of the diversity of life. I never had this feeling in such a strong way elsewhere in the world," he stressed.

(Mudita Girotra can be reached at mudita.g@ians.in)