Is music genetic? Or not?


Issue Musician GEETHA BENNETT wonders about whether genes have something to do with musical talent…


Recently Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri and Subbaraya Sastri Days were celebrated with Carnatic concerts in Los Angeles, CA, u.S. Several members of the south Indian community participated. Each the participants was of high professional calibre due to the standards of the several teachers in Los Angeles.

The hall was about one fourth full with participants, their parents and friends. The youngsters sang without a care in the world while one of the parents sat in the front row to video tape the presentation. After singing, the children were seen chatting with friends or texting from their mobile phones.

After attending the Dikshitar Day celebrations, while driving home, my husband Dr. Frank Bennett and I were talking about the calibre of the participants.

Bennett was amazed at the talent available today and mentioned that the children were good singers because they have good genes. His argument was that their ancestors must have been exposed to or were practising this sophisticated and complex art form. Without that, how could it be possible for the U.S.-born and bred children to sing with so much involvement, and understand the subtleties and nuances of Carnatic music?

Interesting questions

This got me thinking. Is it true that genes are one of the main reason for the quality of music? Can learning and absorbing classical music be attributed to genetics?

In my case, it is true as of my father is musician/musicologist Dr. S. Ramanathan. But then I realised that my grandfather, my father’s father was not a musician. He was a priest. Of course, there must have been some music somewhere.

This question nagged me all the way home. Can one sing only if he/she has music in the genes? Isn’t passion and training just enough?

Once I reached home, I turned on the television to watch one of my favourite shows, ‘Super Singer 4.’ A young man, Dhiwakar was singing. It was a superb performance.

After the performance, clippings of his background wee shown. I was flabbergasted.

Dhiwakar’s mother works as a labourer and earns just enough to pay for the family’s daily needs. He has no background in music. So genetics was ruled out here! Dhiwakar had busted the theory about genetics and music.

The young man will in my heart forever. When he finished talking, there was not single dry eye in the audience, including mine.

His last comment was, “Even though I am poor, I do not worry about anything because I have my music. It keeps me happy.” Well, that’s what matters in the end. True enough, his words has become my motto since that day.

Sudhakar’s mother works as a labourer… He has no background in music. So genetics is ruled out here!

Credit to,

The Hindu Friday review magazine section dt 13-12-13 ,by Geetha Bennette d/o Musicologist cum musician Dr S Ramanathan