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Music & business: What's the relation?

January 30, 2008 18:30 IST
Have you ever thought of hot idlis for breakfast accompanied by German Riesling, or, say, vadas with Italian Campari? If that's a wild thought think of this: mixing Carnatic music with management. The normal reaction is one of incredulity if not scorn. It's possible and has been done.

Some time ago, at a business workshop in Mumbai attended by 120 corporate managers and entrepreneurs, and recently in Chennai, two well-known Carnatic musicians -- Bombay Jayashri and T M Krishna -- and innovation coach and marketing communications consultant, R Sridhar, brought about the linkage between music and business.

"At the outset, let's get ready for some creative work, some thinking outside the box," declared Sridhar. The full-day workshop discussed seven concepts that are basic to Carnatic music and that can help business managers at work and at play. Jayashri and Krishna assert that the practices and principles are workable in a corporate environment as well.

The workshop was aimed at CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, directors, general managers and has been inspired by a coffee-table book titled, Voices within Carnatic Music that showcases the genre in a reader-friendly manner. It uses the idiom of music to introduce key business ideas that were followed by successful music masters. It was a combo concert-cum-lecture demonstration where participation was hands-on. 

How will exposure to Carnatic music help the average business manager? Krishna says, "Each musical idea draws a parallel in the workplace. For instance, take sadhana or contemplation, by an employee who is dissatisfied in his job. Just as a musician attempts to rise above the mediocre every time he or she performs, a sales manager will have to motivate himself to make that additional quota for the month. 

Or, take sruthi or 'connectedness' where a performer connects with her audience by successfully trying out a new format or a new composition. Just as a Palghat Mani Iyer or a Ustad Alla Rakha pleased his 'customer - the audience' with his percussion performance, today's business is mostly customer-centric.

In a business environment the audience is the "customer" and in a HR department, it's the existing employee or a newly-recruited executive. The underlying principle is to consider the key stakeholder in every situation and connect with the person. 

Business heads understand change

To a question, "How difficult was it for you to bring about the connection between corporate business and Carnatic music?" the musicians said, "It wasn't difficult, we started with the seven common rules -- sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni - we spoke of ritu - of adopting to change; this is something every business head understands, it's a challenge they face every day; of kalpanaswara or improvisation, and many executives are familiar with that on the job.

'Ritu' is what a maestro brings to the performance with his/her intuitive ability every time he/she mounts the podium just as an alert employee with intuition spots a changing trend in his job. Boogie Woogie light music was a new trend some years ago. Jayashri says, "Music has changed in many ways and attributes 'audience involvement' to be the agent of change. Just as we improvise at a recital instantaneously, the connoisseur determines the meaning of entertainment in the marketplace."

The dictionary word 'guru' symbolises excellence and even in a company situation, we know of mentors and bosses who groom their subordinates to be achievers. Jayashri says, "For us artistes, an internalisation of the music takes place, and we learn to absorb from gurus of the past." In music, dance and even in Bollywood we know how important a role the guru plays.

The concept of "misram" is combining apparently irreconcilable opposites, for example, singing a morning raga in the evening - something that is generally not done. The operative word here is "irreconcilable."

In some multinationals in the interest of their bottom line, senior management not only tolerates but also encourages 'irreconcilable differences' between 'combating' managers. Objective: To bring about optimum quality output for the company. A current example in Indian politics would be the arrangement between the ruling Congress party and its allies where opposites seem to be the flavours of choice.

A creative mind such as A R Rahman's could be easily frustrated or discontented by mediocre accompanying artistes, but while pushing the right buttons he has excelled. Identified as prasna this is the area where uncomfortable questions are asked or where authority or the established rule is questioned. In a corporate setting, the freedom to challenge the boss is certainly limited - if not nonexistent - but these days in a Microsoft or a Google in Silicon Valley, we hear challenging the boss's thinking is normal.

Dhruva is being an icon, a leader not a follower. A management icon provides direction. Bill Gates, Ambani and Narayanamurthy come to mind. Maestros of the past were original, different and left an indelible stamp for posterity.  

Creative types and performing artistes consciously or unconsciously engage in nava-akaanksha - or wishful thinking - to challenge the establishment. Outstanding artistes who constantly challenged themselves were M S Subbulakshmi or Lata Mangeshkar.

They could raise the audience to great heights with their versatility and range. From a company standpoint, haven't we heard of the maverick employee who dreams that one day he or she will occupy the boss's chair like a Tata or an Indira Nooyi?

Business creativity board-game

The trio has now taken the concept to the next level. At a session for 20 senior executives from Rane Holdings in Chennai recently, they organised a Business creativity board-game based on the seven principles.

Participants were encouraged to proactively think for themselves and nothing in the creative exercise was predictable or expected. They had to correlate between Carnatic music and business.

To a query, "Isn't there a mind block about mixing music with management?"  Krishna responded: "Most people think that in art there is no business, but art doesn't exist without business. At one level it's our livelihood, but unless we know how to market our future we cannot survive. Business goes with art, but in no way overshadows the brilliance or greatness of the art."

Jayashri, the performer, nailed it succinctly: "Ultimately, music always puts everybody on a sublime plane," whatever your culinary preferences or imbibing predilections.

Raj S. Rangarajan, a New York-based writer, can be reached at

Raj S. Rangarajan