Melharmony is an avant-garde form of music composing that explores new harmonies and voice leading anchored on melodic progression. In other words, melharmony aims to create chords and counterpoints based on the melodic rules of evolved systems across the world. Melharmony thus blends the two primary, yet diverse concepts in world music - melody and harmony. It was originally proposed and developed by musician-composer Chitravina N. Ravikiran. British-American composer Robert Morris  further developed it from the standpoint of Western theory. Melharmony is an inclusive, comprehensive approach to music that takes into consideration the rules and aesthetics of melody-centric systems like Indian classical as well as harmony-anchored systems like Western classical and jazz but is not limited to only those. Some of these approaches can be fundamentally very different between cultures - including concepts of consonance & dissonance, melodic rules in modal/scalar systems as opposed to rules of counterpoint in harmony based systems. Melharmony breaks new ground by exploring artistic solutions to create music that sounds true to and enjoyable and acceptable to connoisseurs and scholars of both melody-centric and harmony-centric systems while performed by symphony/chamber/string orchestras as well as jazz and world music ensembles.
- 1 Background
- 2 Definition and approach
- 3 Classical Western harmony and melharmony
- 4 Melodic principles in melharmony
- 5 Illustration
- 6 Performance repertoire
- 7 Melharmony festivals
- 8 Melharmony in schools and colleges
- 9 Academic papers and college courses
- 10 Melharmony and harmony in contemporary Indian and film music
- 11 References
Melharmony is about empowering composers to have awareness and reasonable knowledge of any given systems that are being fused and creating music that sounds true to listeners of each system or votaries of both systems. Music can sound true if composers and artists handle each fused system with sensitivity. For instance a composer trying to harmonize an Indian raga must be aware of not only the chords each note can produce and their progressions from a Western standpoint but must also be cognizant of what notes are present/absent, prominent or non-prominent in that raga and in what sequence they can be used in ascent and/or descent etc. This is rarely the case in reality, as it can seem almost impossible for a composers to master two very different systems. However, a mastery of one system with a working knowledge of the other would be quite sufficient to melharmonize.
Definition and approach
Melharmony has been defined as "harmony and vertical layers of music with an emphasis on the rules and principles of highly evolved melodic systems". It was initially seen as a unique classical fusion engaging Western and Indian classical systems, though it has subsequently also been a synthesis of melodic rules of India's classical music with jazz, Brazilian and other world cultures.
American composer and music theorist Robert Morris notes, "Melharmony therefore suggests that voice leading should be derived from the melodic and combinational structure of a mode (raga). Further, while almost any note combination could be workable when rendered successively, only certain combinations will be palatable when rendered simultaneously, which makes melharmony all the more intricate."
While a number of systems like the Raga system of Indian Carnatic Music/Hindustani classical music, Chinese Music and Makam system of Persia or have been built upon solid melodic principles dating back to thousands of years, Indian and Chinese systems, which use twelve-tone musical system like Western classical music would be easier to "melharmonize" as opposed to Persian/Arabic systems, some of which could have as many as nine micro-tonal intervals or comma within every whole tone
Morris further notes that melharmony could apply to African combinations as well and it also fits older forms of western music that evolved out the monophonic plainchant of the 10th century, CE. Until about 1550, western melodies were based on modes.
Classical Western harmony and melharmony
Classical Western approach to harmony has been Triad-centric for centuries though other important tools include ostinato, contrary movements, rhythmic augmentation or diminution, imitation etc. are also vital techniques. However, extrapolating a triad-centric approach to melodic systems like Indian Carnatic classical which have intricate rules for hundreds of modes (ragas) often creates conflicting results.
Likewise, the rules of counterpoint in Western systems have features that are quite distinct from the rules of mode (raga) based systems.
Melharmony shifts the focus from triad-centric harmony to fragmentation for creating multiple parts. If fragmentation were to anchor harmony in close alliance with melodic rules of diverse systems, one will be able to employ triadic harmony, ostinato and other tools around it, which will result in reconciling both melodic and harmonic approaches.
Melodic principles in melharmony
Melharmony functions on a sophisticated set of principles that also take into consideration melodic rules and structure. Melodic systems in many parts of the world have tended to expand horizontally, exploring more scales and modes with specific ascending and descending sequences as opposed to the primary Major or Minor scales which form the core of harmonic systems. An instance of this would be the Carnatic music of India where each raga (mode) demands integrity to scale, sequence, key phrases (fragmentation), hierarchy of notes within its structure and so forth. In other words, each raga is not merely a melodic mode or scale but a unique melodic scheme. Melharmony pays attention to these rules while creating multiple parts.
A few melodic rules are illustrated below.
Illustration 1 - Sequence of notes: The sequence of a raga Kadanakutoohalam is C D F A B E G C - C B A G F E D C. Even though it is using the same notes as C major, a major chord like C-E-G will not sound as appropriate in a melharmonic context as E-G-C. D-F-A would work very well but in the case of E-G-B, an inversion (B-E-G) could be a good option. F-A-C, G-B-D and A-C-E would also be non-appropriate.
Illustration 2 - Hierarchy of notes: Arabhi uses a simple sequence: C D F G A C - C B A G F E D C. But B and E are employed only fleetingly in this raga, which eliminates several chord options including C-E-G (in any permutation). However, careful choices such as F-A-D (rather than D-F-A) can make the melody come alive since all three notes are dominant in this raga.
Illustration 3 - Ornamentation of notes: Raga Shankarabharanam, (one of the "Big-6" modes in Carnatic) is the equivalent of the major scale: C D E F G A B C - C B A G F E D C. But several chords that are routinely employed in Western compositions may not sound appropriate to the raga's character, because of certain ornamentation which include oscillation of notes like D, F and A, a force imparted to B which almost pushes it to the high C and so forth. Chord triads which sound appropriate in a melharmonic context (such as diminished B-D-F ) are more exceptions to the rule.
The above illustrations do not imply that melharmony is limited in scope. Quite the converse since there are diverse harmonic options in many ragas which can be explored and employed appropriately. Similar melharmonic options can be created for any highly evolved melodic system.
Melharmonic compositions employ a diverse forms, some of which are original. They also employ musical forms of Western classical such as daprice, étude and concerto for various instruments and also forms like geetam and krti (also spelt as kriti), which are used in Indian Carnatic music. They often showcase ragas novel to Western audiences and often feature inventive rhythmic cadences, mathematical codas and embedded sequences suggestive of melodic improvisation.
Melharmonic arrangements of traditional Indian composers including Tyagaraja, Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi and Muthuswami Dikshitar have been performed by various professional symphonies & chamber orchestras, string orchestras, quartets and quintets ensembles as well as Jazz, Rock & world music groups. Melharmony plays a dynamic role in Jazz and world music concerts, when coupled with interesting rhythms. It has been acknowledged to have had a “profound influence on many musicians' notions of improvisation”.
Melharmony festivals featuring two master composers who were contemporaries from the diverse worlds of melody and harmony such as OVK-Bach Festival centered on the creations and contributions of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi (1700 - 1765) from the East and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) from the West or Tyagaraja (1767-1847) - Mozart (1756–91) Festival  and Dikshitar (1775-1835)-Beethoven (1770-1827) Festival have pioneered a new era in world music attracting musicians, composers, orchestras, conductors, scholars, students and listeners of both cultures alike. The highlight of such festivals are performances of traditional Eastern melodic and Western harmony-centric repertoire and a climactic section of Melharmonic arrangements of pure melodic works performed by Western orchestras and ensembles. Scholarly sessions, contests, student and community music and dance events as well as skits/plays centered on the master composers also enhance the artistic and academic experience.
General Melharmony Festivals and events have been held in Gottingen, Germany, Goetheanum Switzerland, London, Bradford, Manchester and other cities in UK and in various cities in USA including Houston and Minneapolis.
Melharmony in schools and colleges
Since melharmony gives practical perspectives in different world music systems effortlessly, it has been increasingly used to provide educative and exciting performing experience for orchestra students in schools in cities such as Madison, Houston, Middleton, Round Rock, Oregon, Sun Prairie, Sacramento, Minneapolis  etc. in United States, from Middle School to Youth Symphony Levels. Orchestras have been part of melharmony residencies and camps and performed pieces in their concerts.
Academic papers and college courses
Prof. Robert Morris' (Chair of composing, Eastman School of Music, NY) paper - 'Ravikiran's Concept of Melharmony: An Inquiry into Harmony in South Indian Ragas" in the Society for Music Theory Conference in Nov 2005, Boston, USA, brought out several theoretical aspects of Melharmony that could be applied by both composers and students of Western systems. In the New York AAWM Conference (June 2016), Morris shared recent developments on two-voice frameworks and the harmonization of Indian ragas, citing melharmony. Papers, panel discussions and lectures presented in various conferences in Amsterdam, Houston, Orlando and other cities have highlighted diverse aspects of the concept.
Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY presented a college credit course on the subject in August 2015. Other institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, the University of Georgia in Columbus, the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Leeds College of Music in the UK, have presented workshops or classroom lectures on melharmony.
Melharmony and harmony in contemporary Indian and film music
Several composers[who?] including leading film music composers in India have often attempted to harmonize raga-based songs in diverse ways. Since their aim is to more often than not suggest a raga rather than pursue it through the course of a piece, they have not hesitated to use melodies or harmonies outside of the raga. Attempts by other orchestras and ensembles in India to harmonize new music or works of traditional composers have also been directed more towards creating conventional harmony, which contrasts with the melharmonic approach.
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