Of all the 26 letters of the English alphabet, only one is richly associated with music. That’s M. We chanced upon this discovery when the news of MS Viswanathan’s earthly demise trickled in last week. The 13th letter throws up many links to musicians. Leading the Grand M Orchestra is Mozart. Mahler and Mendelssohn can ably assist the maestro with his compositions. MS Subbulakshmi, Maharajapuram Santhanam and Madural Mani Iyer are at hand to lend their blessed voices for Carnatic melodies. Mallikarjun Mansoor and Shubha Mudgal can form a great Hindustani jugalbandi. Michael Jackson, Muddy Waters, Madonna and McCartney will pitch in with anything remotely pop or blues. Meanwhile, Mohammad Rafi, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, Mehdi Hassan, Lata Mangeshkar, Mikka Singh, Shankar Mahadevan and Manna Dey are on stand-by to provide back-up vocals for light melodies. And bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Motley Crue and Motorhead can amp it up if the need may arise.
Before you doubters can point out that such a line-up can be put together for any letter, let me stack up more evidence to back my case. Have you ever wondered as to why so many music terms begin with M? The rhythm of the composition is ‘Meter’. In the Tamil film industry, the lyric is referred to as the ‘Matter’. The tune is universally recognised as the ‘Melody’. Then, the two primary types of scale in tonal music are ‘Major’ and ‘Minor’. Changeover from one key to the other is called ‘Modulation’. Pieces of symphonies are ‘Movements’, ‘Medley’ is a creation made by overlapping a series of pieces and the recurring element in compositions is ‘Motif’’.
One can feel the power of M even in Carnatic music. The parent ragas are labelled as Melakarta ragas. There are 72 Melakarta ragas in all. From these are derived thousands of other ‘children’ ragas. The 15th Melakarta raga Mayamala-wagowla is invariably the first raga taught in all Carnatic classes. And Mangalam happens to be last song belted out in all concerts. Another interesting concept is Mudra. It’s the composer’s moniker embedded in a song. To illustrate the point, Carnatic great Muthuswamy Dikshithar is said to have used the mudra Guruguha.
Lots of music instruments have the initial M. To name a few: mandolin, mridangam, morsing, murali, marimba, mohana veena and the MIDI keyboard. Curiously, the most popular music channel is MTV and the most famous file type for storing music is MP3. Now, doesn’t that ring a bell?