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music Uncategorized

21st Century Crises Hovering Over Indian Classical Music

In ecosystem of any art form, one individual can play multiple roles; for example, I am a student of Indian classical music, I perform very rarely and I am an avid listener.

As a listener of this magical art form and after listening to musicians from past three to four generations, I have my views about the current Indian classical music ecosystem based on some observations. Apart from this, as a part of Baithak Foundation we also organise concerts of artists, mostly in schools, for kids.

Most importantly, I am a believer who believes music can change lives. Thus this article, about music, musicians and the overall scenario, is inspired from all the positions that I have mentioned above. I am writing this not because I hate some artists and prefer some others; rather, I am writing this because I love this beautiful art form.

Are we going to wake up only when we need nine stitches?

Is everything alright with the present Indian Classical Music scene? Well, on the surface, yes. Let us ignore the impact of COVID-19 for the time being and consider the situation at the beginning of 2020. You may say, concerts are happening everywhere. Festivals are flooded with audience. Some artists are busy, doing as many as 20+ concerts a month. Even young artists have decent performance opportunities. With Skype and other tools, online teaching is also a source of additional little but steady income. More parents want their kids to learn an art form which creates ample of employment opportunities for the young as well as mid and senior musicians…….wait, wait!

I am not asking about the musicians. I am (right now) concerned about the music. What’s the state of music that is being served? What’s the quality of music being presented, what is the quality of experience that audience has? What is the quality of Taalim that is being given and received by disciples (or students?)

In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. maybe, things do not look that bad. But what’s the situation other than these few large cities? Let us take an example of Amaravti, a district in Maharashtra. I stayed in Amaravati for a couple of years and when I was living there, I came to know of many musicians who could perform phenomenal music. As cases in considerations, I am sharing two videos here.

First one is a recording by Pt. Manohar Kaslikar from Amaravati, presenting Raga Gaud Sarang:

Second video features Pt. Dinkarrao Deshpande, singing a Natyageet. Some of his full length Raga recordings are also available.

In the 70s and 80s, there were at least 5 musicians of this calibre in Amaravati. Same was the situation for Nagpur, Yavatmal, and other nearby towns and fairly across the country.

What do you think is the current situation in these or similar smaller towns? Many places may have teachers but do smaller towns have musicians and Gurus of the above mentioned calibre?

I want to point out a steep deterioration which is happening throughout; it might not be visible in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Kolkata, yet. That does not mean that there is no deterioration.

In our holy field of music, some questions are never asked. Forget of asking them, even having them in your mind might be perceived as a crime. In this long piece, I am going to put aside my fears, respect and other things. When one enters a temple, one keeps out the footwear.

I think undue pompousness about tradition, teachers, rules, formalities are like footwear if one wishes to enter the temple of genuine enquiry.

I am not claiming that I am out of the problems that I am about to discuss; I might be a part of them but I am willing to stop and question. Readers are free to share their thoughts through comments on this article or by writing to me on my email.

The music field has become diabetic because everyone is sweet!

Two years back, I was sitting in front of the editor of a leading Marathi newspaper. This newspaper wanted me to cover the famous Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav. They did not want me to do facts reporting; rather, they wanted musical comments and insights.

With lot of excitement, I met the editor. The first thing he told me was not writing anything negative about any artist. To quote, ‘this is a festival and we never say anything negative on festive occasions.’ That was the clause which came before discussing anything else.

Imagine, if every newspaper tells this to their music reporter, all musicians would be maestros, pundits and ustaads.

But, I was not ready to give up so easily. I played my card.

“Okay, I understand, but can I write suggestive?” I asked.

“Means what?” the editor questioned.

“I won’t say what went wrong. I would write about what could have been better,” I answered the query.

I got an approval on that.

With tremendous enthusiasm, I wrote my first piece, taking all care that I nowhere sounded negative or even critical. I only made few suggestions which were very obvious!

Next day, when I checked the paper, those suggestive comments were simply chopped off.

Why? Why cannot someone as a listener point out what was not right? We all understand that for a musician it might be a bad day and one wrong review might spoil his or her career. But there are dozens of musicians who are consistently performing crap for decades. You can’t anymore call a spade a spade. Immediately your ‘knowledge’ and ‘humility’ bear a question mark.

And, a good reviewer can of course mention that it could be a bad day and be as gentle as possible. Today, no organiser will book an artist from reading a newspaper review. There are YouTube Videos, fancy brochures, personal recommendations etc. through which organisers make these decisions.

Frankly, the world of Indian Classical Music has a history of honest reviews. If you do not believe, sharing two reviews written by veteran journalist Mohan Nadkarni – here and here . I am sharing these reviews just as examples of how critical a reviewer could be. I have heard of far more pungent reviews written about artists of the stature of Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and the likes. Many of these reviews were out of hatred; some of them had a point. The point that I am trying to make is, there was no pressure on a journalist that he needs to sound sweet.

Honesty is the new Aprachalit Raga

We often hear many anecdotes about how great maestros of the old time shared their frank opinions about music of fellow musicians. At times, these opinions were born out of a sense of competition and jealousy but, in general, musicians shared what they felt about the music presented. To take this a step further, even accompanists were quite open about sharing their views about the music of the main presenter and vice a versa.

Recently, the only feedback that artists give each other are nice, very good, kya baat hai, bahut badhiya! We never hear something like –

“I liked your performance but the tanpura could be tuned more precisely” or

“I like the vilambit rendition but I found the drut rendition a bit gimmicky which hampered the bhava of the Raga.” Or something as simple as –

“I liked your last month’s performance more than today’s.”

Lack of constructive feedback, from fellow musicians, from accompanists, from audience, from organisers is damaging not only the field of music but also the journey of musicians.

Is Sincerity the Lupta Raga?

Well, for this particular point (by God’s grace) there are exceptions. I request you to prove me wrong by pointing out more and more talented and sincere young musicians. But, I am talking about the overall scene here.

We are always told the stories of dedication, sincerity, riyaz etc. of artists of the yester-years. Keeping aside the details, we can safely conclude that they were utterly serious about what they were doing. We have the story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Sahab wearing a kurta made of the thread which he used for the javhari of his tanpura and we also have heard the story of Kesarbai Kerkar who would return ticket money of audience in the last rows, if they were not able to hear her clearly. She stopped singing when she had huge following just because she could not sing up to her own standards.

And then, we have musicians who share recordings of concerts where they are out of tune for 90 percent of the time! Being surel is very difficult and is a life long journey. What bothers me is, can a musician not avoid posting it? Don’t post it. I understand, one wants to be ‘seen’ and hence one uploads them. But please, do not DM your audience and tell them how beautifully you have sung. At least be humble!

Many times, artists do not even cut the patches where they have fallen flat on their faces; or record it on better quality devices. At least, learn a bit of technology to ensure the music that goes out is worth a listen.

I am not writing this sitting on a pedestal. I know I am far from being surel. What bothers me as a listener and as a music lover is this casual attitude. It makes me think of a salesman who sales rotten tomatoes with broad confidence on his face. It might be working for artists; but it is damaging the art for sure.

Today, lack of talent is not the problem knocking on our doors as much as the lack of sincerity and the burden of publicity. Somehow, we have lost fresh air which is very essential for an ecosystem to flourish.

One might argue that in spite of all this, the art form is becoming more popular and I am being pessimistic. Well, let me tell you a story.

Let’s hope Indian Classical Music does not end up like that coffee company…….

Once upon a time, there was a company which sold the finest Arabica coffee in the world. Their sales were growing exponentially. Their newly appointed CEO came up with a strategy to take profits up through the roof. He proposed to blend the Arabica coffee beans with the much cheaper Robusta beans. They did trials; some packets had pure Arabica while some had the blend.

Their study showed that most of the people are not able to make the difference and within a month, all the packets going out consisted the blend. The profits increased almost three to four times. Everyone was proud and happy. After 15-20 years, the sales started dropping crazily.

A team of consultants was hired to find out what was going wrong. The reports from the consultants said that only the people from earlier generations who were addicted to coffee drank coffee. The next generation stopped considering coffee as a drink of choice.

The company realised their mistake. By blending cheap coffee, they made huge short term profits but this new blend could not capture young consumers. They liked other options much more than coffee.

The company immediately banned the blending. It took them a generation or two to get back to their earlier size of consumers.

Let’s hope our rich tradition of music does not end up like this coffee company!

Categories
music Pune Society

Teenagers, Respect and Indian Classical Music

Three years ago, I and Dakshayani were quite frustrated this time of the year. Very enthusiastically, we had appointed 3 teachers under Baithak Foundation to teach at our three partner schools. This was a very concrete step to take Indian Classical Music to kids from underprivileged backgrounds. 

Through lot of ground work in the communities across Pune, sadly, we learnt that Honey Singh was the only ‘classical’ singer our next generations had heard of along with an ‘old lady’ called Lata Mangeshkar. 

What can be done to introduce our kids to our rich heritage? We always wondered. 

“Shall we appoint teachers to teach music in the schools?” Was the first idea that came to our mind. 

Since funding was not a constraint at that point, we started interview processes and also started creating a curriculum which could be taught in the schools. Our enthusiasm took a serious blow when we got to know the teaching skills of practicing young musicians. 

“We will train them” we were determined. 

After the recruitment, with initial training, we let the teachers go into the classrooms. The model was devised in such a way that all the grades would have two music classes every week in which we would talk about how music originated, types of instruments, some basic concepts like Swar, Taal, Lay, Raag etc. Initially both I and Dakshayani would attend the classes to give feedback to teachers and course-correct. We would often conduct informal meetings as well as well curated trainings for these teachers. 

Teachers often complained of discipline issues in the class rooms. One of the major complaint they had was lack of respect. 

“When I take classes at my home, the collector’s son comes and learns from me. He touches my feet every time he comes. These kids do not even know basic manners.” Said one of them, oldest by experience and age. 

We would also have meetings with the school staff and would request their intervention in the classes so that they went on smoothly. 

In spite of all this, just within three months, we saw resignation from the first teacher floating in our inbox.   

“I know your intentions are good; but these kids can never learn our music because they don’t know how to respect.” Said the same teacher whose relationship with kids had almost become hostile by then. 

We accepted the resignation and thought of finding a replacement. Before we could do that, came the second resignation. The program at third school was halted because of multiple issues, incompetency of the teacher being prime one. 

In short, our program had miserably failed. It was same feeling a start-up founder would have when his product backfires even though there is plenty of seed funding. 

It was very easy for us to conclude that these kids really do not deserve this kind of music and why force-feed them? This has been the common notion about Indian Classical Music anyways. Many musicians had told us this theory of how this music is meant for the rich- economically and socially. 

In spite of all this, both of us had a feeling that we were doing something wrongly. Instead of blaming it all on the kids, let us carefully examine the flaws in what we were doing.

The very first mistake that we realised was, we forced this music on kids. They had never heard it, never experienced it. So the first correction, we thought our program needed, was eliminating ‘compulsory’ aspect and making the program sign-up based.

The second grave mistake that we were doing was teaching in classroom an art form which was highly experiential. Can we make them experience the art form rather than teaching it in a classroom?

Baithak@Classes program was an outcome of these two learnings. We decided, for first two years, let us just do concerts in the schools for which kids can sign up if they wish to. No one is forced to attend. 

Out of the three schools we were working with, we rolled out @Classes program in two schools. We created nice poster for the first concert and put them in the respective schools. 

As the principal of one school says, “I thought, hardly ten students will sign up. Within one hour, I had fifty sign ups with me. I was surprised.” 

The concert was very well appreciated. We got similar but more engaged audience for all next concerts. 

“We liked Kathak. How can we learn it though?” Getting such questions from students became very common.  

Due to increasing demand from the students, @Classes program was further evolved to include workshops in it. 

After two years of concerts and workshops, Baithak, school and students – all felt thinned for deeper engagement. Everyone thought that we needed regular Art Clubs in school.

This is how The Taalim Project was born. We designed a fellowship program where fellowship was awarded to a musician who would teach a batch of 10-20 kids once a week. 

Acclaimed dancer and Guru, Arundhati Patwardhan joined us as our first fellow and took the bunch of 15 boys and girls under her wings. 

Arundhati Patwardhan in middle of a mesmerising performance at a school in Solapur. This concert was organised in association with Precision Foundation, Solapur.

After teaching these kids for couple of months, Arundhati Tai once proposed – “Can we arrange a small performance of these kids in our institute’s annual event?” 

That moment was truly priceless for all of us! 

_______________

Dakshayani was standing in the stage wing of Tilak Smarak Mandir, where Kalavardhini’s annual event was going to happen. Kalavardhini Team was kind enough to give a slot for Arundhati Tai’s students to perform a Vandana. 

The fifteen boys and girls were excited as well as confused; probably it was the very first time they were inside an auditorium; that too with a few hundred connoisseurs waiting to watch their performance. They were all dressed in a particular manner, to which they were not used to. 

The students were nervous, under extreme pressure, in a different air altogether. To everyone’s surprise, without anyone telling them, each of the kids touched Arundhati Tai’s feet before they began their performance!

Students of iTeach Ahilyadev Holkar English Medium School with Arundhati Patwardhan.

————-

The same bunch of kids, which could have been easily labelled as ‘manner-less’ reached a stage where they felt like respecting their teacher. Can respected ever be demanded? Or it has to be earned like Arundhati Tai did through her unmatched commitment towards her kids? 

The kind of ecosystem and patronage in which our music flourished ensured that this respect was always paid; either genuinely our out of force and fear. Now, the situation is very different. The respect must be earned. The process of touching the hearts of young ones and gaining their ‘true’ respect is very beautiful and worth all the efforts involved.   

To know more about Baithak Foundation’s work, visit : www.baithak.org

Categories
art music

It’s the time Indian Classical Musicians stop underestimating their own art form!

What’s art?

Is it an activity that we do repetitively to entertain ourselves and others?

Is it a vocation? Where we sing or dance or play with a few stretched strings to make a living out of it?

Or is it a ladder to climb up the ever increasing heights of our own ego?

More importantly, can art be same for each artist? And is it necessary that it serves the same role in lives of the audience that it does in the lives of the presenters of the art?

When one looks at any art and especially Indian Classical Music in the light of above questions, one will realise that it is very difficult to realise the full potential of this art form, even for those who practice it for their lifetimes.

Let me give you an example. What is sun? For a little kid who knows nothing of the world, it is just a red ball; probably a lollypop. As we grow up a bit, it is the sun – which does the arduous job of defining day and night for us. As we grow up a bit more, we realise that sun is what drives us. It is our source of energy. It is the very foundation of our survival. Our experiences and knowledge decide how we perceive things.

In same way, art can be looked at from different levels. Many will say that Indian Classical Music is like a prayer for them. While saying this, many conveniently forget that we do not pray to get fame for ourselves or in a prayer, there are no rivalries. A prayer has absolutely zero scope to show our intelligence and knowledge.

Many artists will say it’s their passion; something which they like as well as something which earns them a living.

For many, whatever they call it is, it’s the only thing they can do apart from basic reading and writing.

While I do not want to choose which answer is right and wrong, as it is an impossible task in itself, all these answers are from the perspective of the performer or the practitioner of the art.

What is Indian Classical Music, or rather, what role could Indian Classical Music play in the life of its audience? What’s in it for a kid whose parents barely manage sending him or her to school? What’s in it for a new born baby? for a coder who spends ten hours of his day in an artificial and stressful environment? What’s in it for a parent?

For any art, especially when it is a performing art, audience is as important as the performer. While artists spend so much time thinking about what role art plays in their life, do we really think about what our art has to offer to each of these audience members which at times cluelessly come to concerts?

It was quite a controversy when someone tried patenting turmeric. Indians suddenly woke up; we have been using turmeric for thousands of years may be. How can someone patent it?

Quite often, due to conditioning – by media, by peers, etc. or because of abundance of something, we start underestimating it.

Thanks to my mentors, as I get properly introduced to Indian wisdom, let it be about food, exercise, medicine, music or anything in general, I realise that our forefathers rarely discussed ‘why’. They just told us what to do but never told us why do it. In the age of science, reason and logic, lack of why was conveniently equated to absence of substance. As westerners take more and more efforts to study Indian wisdom, interesting things are surfacing up. Sadly, even now, when someone is throwing the ‘why’ right on our faces, we are unable to realise the significance and value of our own tradition. The same applies to the art of Indian Classical Music.

While so much research is popping up which clearly highlights the impact of music on brain development like this Swiss Study, we see a stark lack of awareness about all these things in young and even senior musicians who have been practising Indian Classical Music full time.

What happens in your brain when you are singing? Which neurones get fired up? Which centres are activated? How they communicate with each other? While western researchers are putting their best to study and document all these effects, the musicians will turn blank if you ask them these questions. I do not expect musicians to know about neurology but in today’s age, they should at least know how practising their art form helps the practitioner.

Through Baithak Foundation, we have been lucky to host more than 60 talented artists in schools and construction sites and thanks to community support, the work is expanding; but, as my general observation goes, most of the artists look at themselves just as performers and not as agents of transformation. Have they ever tasted the experienced the transformational power of music?

We have been taught by our Gurus that this art can change the life; it can bring about an instant transformation. We theoretically know it. Yet, hardly a few artists truly believe in the transformation quality of their art form.

While artists are happy to perform in small venues, as we interact with more artists, the subtle aims and objectives of the artists are quite defined – performing in famed festivals, at large scale events which bring huge publicity and money. There is nothing wrong about it; everyone is free to decide what they want in their lives.

But, more than justified focus on ‘eventizing’ Indian Classical Music is leading to another problem – there are hardly any artists in India who have first hand experience of the transformational power of music and are interested to take it to more people in that manner. On the other hand, a large number of western students and practitioners are getting increasingly attracted to Indian Classical Music and its transformational powers. Many are actively involved in integrating it with Yoga and other branches of Indian wisdom and are working towards creating valuable experiences. What happens if there are attempts to patent certain musical practices which we have been doing for years?

As the society matures, shift from entertainment to mindfulness is logical. As more and more artists get caught up in the rat race of concerts, unexplored opportunities exist for artists to absorb the practising aspect of Indian Classical Music and taking it to more people.

We should stop underestimating our own art form!

About the author

Mandar is a co-founder of Baithak Foundation. He is a passionate believer in the power of music as a tool for all round human development. Mandar brings his formal education in engineering and has many years of consulting experience with start-ups and MNCs. He is a published author with two books to his credit. He is a student of Indian Classical Vocal Music.

Categories
music

Review: A Hindustani Vocal Concert in 2050

It’s June 2050. The last concert that I attended in June 2049 was so horrible that I stopped attending all the concerts; but hope hardly dies. Just one more, I thought.

My self-driving car got me at the venue. Thanks to these self driving cars, parking is no more a problem. There were ten other people in the audience. The organizer were confident that some ten thousand people would watch the concert live on Facebook.

I was quite excited to attend the concert after almost a full year and thought of greeting the artist in the green room. The vocalist was sipping a smoothy specially made for vocalists, to keep the voice warm.

I could see two large fibre made towers with strings passing on them, kept in a corner.

“What’s this? I asked curiously”

“Uncle, this is called a Tanpura; you seem to be a novice”

“It’s made out of fibre?” I was thrown aback.

“Yes.. You no more are allowed to cut trees. Also, no one grows those big, old fashioned pumpkins. This is shock proof and IP 67 enclosure.”

He lifted the Tanpura and hit the wall with it and poured a glass of water on it.

“You see, nothing happens!”

I couldn’t dare ask him how it sounds. I was going to experience it in few minutes.

“The Tabla accompanist is late by 20 minutes, but we had done some sittings together via Skype, so that won’t be an issue.”

I simply thought of sitting in the auditorium in a corner and left the green room.

“Wait for a minute uncle.” He stopped me. He took out some leaflets from a bag.

“This is my brochure and other details. In case you want to learn or someone you know wants to learn… I am there on Fb, Twitter, Skype everywhere. Do like my page.”

“Sure” I left hurriedly.

The concert started with an introduction of the artist. I came to know that he got training from California Gharana for six months, Gwalior, Jaipur, Kirana for two months each and not to forget, had done a 15 hours crash course in Patiala.

The concert lasted for 25 minutes. The artist performed Alap in Puriya, Bandish in somewhat Puriya Dhnashree with alap and tanas in Marava . He wanted to make most of the time he had.

The concert was concluded with a half hour long speech by the sponsors followed by 10 minutes vote of thanks by the artist.

At the exit, everyone was handed with the kit which I already got in the green room. A lady dressed in minimal costumes handed it over to me.

“I already got a copy” I told her humbly.

“Do learn form him. He is really goood, crossed a million Facebook followers last night and has a 10,000 square feet large teaching facility!” she said.

“My pleasure” I said!

 

 

 

Categories
music

The Difficulty of Singing Easy Ragas

Looser the Raga structure, more difficult it becomes to perform it..

Ragas are the back bone of the Indian classical music. A certain collection of notes which follows certain rules and behavior becomes a Raga. As one starts learning Indian classical music, the journey begins with practice of basic Swaras and then eventually by learning Ragas and various compositions in those Ragas. Naturally, students find some Ragas very easy to sing while others are very difficult to master due to their complex nature and arrangement of notes.

Most of the students feel that Ragas like Bhoop, Yaman, Bilawal, Kafi etc. are very easy to sing when compared with Ragas like Kedar, Chhayanat, Darbari Kanada etc. Over the years, my observation is, students find easy the Ragas which are less rigid in nature. For instance, Bilawal or Kafi, though they have certain rules and behavioral traits, they can be sung with much more freedom when compared with Ragas like Chhyanat, Kedar or Poorvi which are heavily defined by specific phrases. Mastering these phrases is very crucial in order to perform these Ragas well.

This sounds so logical. Ironically, when one performs in a concert, these simpler Ragas are more difficult to present when compared with the so called difficult Ragas. Why so?

Since these difficult Ragas are heavily defined by the phrases, they already have a readymade face or flavor. Whereas in case of the simpler Ragas, one has to create a face from scratch as there is no such readymade face in existence. For instance, if one has to perform Yaman well, one has to thoughtfully select phrases and combination that add to one particular flavor or face that the performer has selected (which will be mostly defined by the lyrics of the composition).  Loosely structured i.e. the so called simple Ragas like Yaman can convey multiple feelings, even opposite feelings like happiness and sadness. So, the performer has to eliminate or avoid certain phrases though they absolutely fall under the premise of that Raga. Mastering the difficult phrases of the so called difficult Ragas is much easier a task than creating your own phrases in a simple Raga to convey a coherent story.

It is not an uncommon scene to see young artists selecting Ragas like Yaman or Bhoop assuming that they are easy to perform and then not being able to create a consistent picture out of the overall performance. This results in a performance which is technically perfect but emotionally dry and aesthetically scattered.

That’s why, simple Ragas  like Bhoop and Yaman performed by legends like Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva have a very special place in the hearts of the music lovers!

Categories
music

Better Late Than Never : Reflections on Pt. Sharad Sathe’s Concert

Listening to different artists and attending their live performances contributes a lot to the understanding of music of any artist or even student of music. After I came to Pune in 2008, for pursuing my engineering education, I attended most of the concerts taking place in the city. Eventually, attending concerts became like a routine. Within four years, I had heard most of the well known and most respected artists. I was under impression that these concerts had introduced me to the music of the best artists in India. How wrong I was! And, how unfortunate I was….

It took some time to realize that there are many hidden gems in the world of Hindustani classical music which one rarely gets to listen to in the typical concerts and music festivals. Listening to some such ‘gems’ completely undermined my understanding of and taste for Indian classical music. Pt. Sharad Sathe is one of those gems.

He has been living in Pune for past many years and I never heard of his concert being arranged somewhere in Pune. I got to listen to his magical music first time during the promo shoot for First Edition Art’s Secret Masters Session in a studio at Wagholi, near Pune. On that very day, I had decided not to miss the concert, which finally happened on 26th of March at Ravindra Natya Mandir.

There is so much to learn from Pt. Sharad Sathe’s personality and his music. It was without doubt the most fruitful concert I ever attended. Sharad Ji’s wisdom, developed and refined over many decades, teaches us a lot. Attending his concert was a very refreshing experience and his concert was different from the other typical performances in many ways.

To establish my point well, I would like to begin with his different approaches toward different Ragas. He started the concert with Raga Prabhat Bhairav followed by Todi, Yamani Bilawal, Miya Ki Sarang and Bhairavi. His methods of improvising each of these Ragas were strikingly different. For example, while singing Miya Ki Sarang, he did exceptionally brilliant MeendKam (glides), something that our generation has rarely heard. Whereas while singing Todi or Yamani Bilawal, his approach was totally different, suited for the nature and mood of that particular Raga. Many times, even while listening to some of the most acclaimed artists, one can see that they use same patterns and styles in different Ragas. So ultimately, as the Raga changes, only notes change; patterns remain the same. In case of Pt. Sharad Sathe’s performance, as the Ragas changed, the entire structure and aesthetic approach also changed. Something very rare and unique!

Second thing worth noticing was the way he handled the lyrics of the compositions he sang. Gwalior Gayaki is famous for rhythmic patterns which make use of lyrics of the composition being sung (layakari). Commonly it can be observed that when artists start with layakari, they break the words of the composition in parts and most of the times, these parts do not  convey any meaning. Pt. Sharad Sathe, even while singing some of the most complex rhythmic patterns ensured that he did not break the words in between. His attention to words and their meaning did not wither even when he was singing a complex Tappa in Bhairavi.

Third distinguishing point was his ease while performing. While improvising a Raga, to come up with distinctive phrases and patterns, the artist has to be at ease. He or she has to be fully ‘present’. It can be observed that most of the artists, while performing are hardly at ease. Even while they are performing, they are constantly engrossed in something – gauging the audience, acclimatizing with sound system etc. Sadly, with the time, everyone including artists are losing the ability to be at ease. As the art becomes more competitive and commercial in nature, this problem is going to be more severe. During the entire performance, Pt. Sharad Sathe was at ease. His practice, his devotion to his art, guidance under some of the finest Gurus and mostly, the contentedness that he has, keeps him in a very unique position where he can manage to be in ease while performing.

Singing at the age of 86 is not a joke. Even young artists are always under tension if their voice will co-operate or not. At the beginning, when just for a moment, audience felt that Pandit Ji was facing some difficulty while singing Pancham, he surprised and delighted everyone by singing Tar Shadja with ease and grace. As you grow older, your vocal cords tire, reflexes slow down, hearing might get compromised. Sharad Ji’s performance did not even give a hint of any of these problems. Most interestingly, he was constantly innovating on stage. One could feel that it was not a ‘set’ performance; rather it was co-creation arising out of his own wisdom and skills, his understanding of audience and their aesthetic sense and also the responses of the accompanists.

Listening to Sharad Ji and interacting with him re-emphasized my belief that artist and his art are not separate. The personality of artist percolates in his art. Sharad Ji’s unique personality makes a big impact on his music. His attention to details, graceful and humble attitude, love for everyone around him, desire to not only share his knowledge but also to constantly observe and learn from people and situations around him certainly put his music on a very different plane.

Listening to his concert filled me with gratefulness along with a tinge of sadness. Why there was not a single of his concerts arranged in the cultural capital of India in last ten years? In spite of all this sadness, I feel I am very fortunate that I could experience his music; better late than never…

Categories
Raga

Fifty Shades of Yaman

Every student of Indian Classical Music, at the very beginning of his student life, learns Raga Yaman. Similarly, every performing artist, sometime or the other has played or sung this Raga during his career as a musician.

In the world of Indian Classical Music, Yaman certainly has a spot which can hardly be taken by any other Raga. As a student of music, I was exposed to this Raga at a very young age and since then, have been listening to its renderings, by different artists.

Though considered as one of the simplest Ragas, presenting Yaman in a concert is a tough task.

I personally feel that Yaman is a multi-faceted Raga. It has multiple dimensions and multiple personalities hidden inside. Not every Raga is like this. For instance, consider Malkauns. Though Malkauns has a wide canvas, its personality is very well defined. In spite of artist and her creativity, the persona of Malkauns remains quite fixed. May be this is the reason why even beginners can also easily identify Malkauns when it’s being played by some artist- the persona is unique, well defined and hence, easy to grasp.

Yaman is not like that. Though it has well defined notes and patterns, artist has wide freedom to construct the personality. We cannot have fifty shades of Malkauns but we can certainly have fifty or even hundred shades of Yaman.

I have been listening to Yaman for quite few years and many times, heard it live, from different artists. What I realized is, though Yaman is capable of casting its fifty shades, artists fail to build a personality out of it. Listening to most of the renderings of Yaman, one realises that artists get caught in the shades, without being able to build a persona on any one dimension.

Is it necessary to build a persona? What is wrong if someone exposes the audience to different shades of Yaman instead of building on any one particular shade?

While exposing audience to multiple shades is not wrong, not building a persona clearly indicates the lack of understanding of the Raga and its nuances.

Every Raga is like a person and every person has a personality. We love a person because of his personality; if the personality is missing or not defined, it becomes difficult. Same with a Raga. A Raga has to have a personality. In case of a Raga like Yaman, artist has to explore different shades or the different facets of the personality and then build one in front of the audience; the one that the artist likes the most.

Sometimes, a person we know very well behaves strangely, in an absolutely unexpected way; this makes the relationship interesting. Similarly, an artist, though he is building the Raga around one particular facet, skilfully introduces some other shades, making the Raga even more interesting and unpredictable.

Out of all the Yamans that I have heard, I liked two renderings the most. First is Pt. Kumar Gandharva, who builds a very nice personality and makes it more interesting using his creativity and unmatched imagination.

The second one is Yaman by Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. Out of all the Yamans I heard, his one has the best personality- sober, humble yet graceful.

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music

Contemplation at Sawai Gandharva Festival: The Dangerous Trend in Indian Classical Music

Going with the trends is not always the best thing to do. Be aware of the trend; whether to walk with it or not, should be a decision and not a habit.

Not all trends are worth following. These days, not all trends are trends, most of them are just rumors which people believe to be a trend.

This came out through a contemplation of few moments, while listening to a flutist performing at the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival.  The flutist, was of course highly skilled, and played Raga Maru Bihag. The excellent Riyaz allowed him to explore Raga skilfully across the octaves. Almost all of the audience appreciated his music. He got claps at every ten minutes. I personally thought, he was following the trend which is common in young as well as a few elder artists- play for the claps; play to delight the audience, play to impress them and win their hearts.

sawai gandharva

In the same festival, a Sitar player also performed. The first Raga was played well- because it was played not as per the trend of getting more claps. The second composition- was absolutely as per the trend- fast, loud and with little music value. It got a lot of claps.

The more I listen to the classical music these days, the more I realize how everyone is trying to sell his music and attract more fans. The melody is and musical value is compromised for the claps and praises. It works, because it is a trend. Everyone does it, so why not me?

Indian classical music is a perfect balance of skills and aesthetics. The notes are approached in a graceful way and not to amuse or thrill the audience. When I go back and listen to the records of Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Nityanand Haldipur and other artists, who chose not to follow the trend, I realize their love for music and Swaras.

It is quite easy to play fast and loud and kill the aesthetics. Murdering a Raga does not take a lot of time; one arrogant note kills the Raga in the fraction of a second. I listen to the artists mentioned above and the tremendous efforts they take to not to heart and kill the Raga they are playing. I salute them for their love towards the music and the difficult choice which they made /make while performing in each of their concerts.

There is one more trend in the musicians around today which upsets me- they try to play same patterns in different Ragas; sometimes it sounds good, sometimes, it damages the Raga and its flavor. But, many artists can be observed doing this. Again, this must be a trend.

I think, classical music is going through a delicate period where the artists who are in charge, in a position of getting heard and are looked upon as role models, are walking as per the trend. I am not against artists trying out new things, creative outbursts in the Ragas. Creativity is always welcome, even along with the mistakes. I have listened to great maestros committing mistakes while trying to come up with something new and creative, which I do not find something to worry about at all. The problem which I see is, artists are following trend. They settle for what earns them praises and claps and just keep on repeating that. I would be much happier, if artists, for some time, close their ears to what audience is demanding and try to bring on surface the music which is yearning to come out from their hearts.

Indian classical music is able to transform souls simply because the fact that it is not played to please the listeners but because the artist looks at music as way of self-transformation. If classical music loses this touch, it will lose its magic.

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music

कट्यार काळजात घुसवायची आहे? आधी जरा धार लावा !

अनेकांच्या आग्रहाला बळी पडून शेवटी ‘कट्यार’ पाहिला. त्याहून अधिक अनेकांच्या आग्रहाला बळी पडून हा रीविव लिहितो आहे. जुन्या ‘कट्यार काळजात घुसली’ ला परत नवीन स्वरूपात लोकांसमोर घेऊन येणे हा स्तुत्य उपक्रम आहे हे आधीच नमूद करतो (आभार प्रदर्शन मेन शो च्या आधी करण्याची हल्ली पध्दत आहेच!). या उपक्रमामुळे अनेक तरुण श्रोते नाट्य संगीत अन शास्त्रीय संगीताकडे वळतील अशी आशा आहे. पुढेही असे प्रयोग होत राहावेत; पण काही बाबींचा उल्लेख करणे फारच गरजेचे वाटते. काहींना त्या पटतील आणि काहींना नाही. आपण सर्वच tolerant असल्यामुळे तुम्ही निदान त्या समजायचा प्रयत्न कराल हि आशा.

katyaar

हा रिवीव लिहायचं अजून एक कारण म्हणजे, सिनेमा बघून अनेकांचा सिनेमातील संगीत म्हणजे शास्त्रीय संगीत आहे असा समज होतो आहे किंवा खासाहेबांची किंवा पंडितजींची गायकी म्हणजे घरंदाज गायकी असा गैरसमज होतो आहे. या सर्वांपर्यंत शास्त्रीय संगीताचा गंध देखील कट्यार बघून उमजणार नाही हा निरोप पोहोचणे गरजेचे आहे. काळजीची बाब म्हणजे, कट्यार मधून श्रोत्यांना शास्त्रीय संगीत आणि चांगले संगीत म्हणजे काय? या प्रश्नाचे चुकीचे उत्तर पोहोचते. उदाहरण द्यायचे झाल्यास, सदाशिव जेव्हा खासाहेबांची गायकी चोरून ऐकण्यासाठी दर्ग्यात जातो (आता हा पण एक मोठ्ठा घोटाळा आहे. खासाहेबांची खरी गायकी फार वेगळी आहे आणि दर्ग्यात जाउन ते काहीतरी भलतच गातात. ती ना तर धड कव्वाली आहे न धड घरंदाज गायकी. कदाचित सदाशिव ऐकायला येईल हे त्यांना माहित असणार आणि त्यामुळे ते ठरवून अस काहीतरी गातात. असो.) तेव्हा त्यांच्यात कोण श्रेष्ठ हे सिद्ध करण्यासाठी स्पर्धा लागते. दोघेही गायक अधिकाधिक वेगाने ताना मारायचा प्रयत्न करतात. संगीताच्या जाणकारांसाठी प्रश्न- तानांच्या गतीवरून गायकाची थोरवी ठरवता येते काहो? शास्त्रीय संगीत म्हणजे गळ्याने केलेली कसरत नाही आहे. खरतर या सर्व कसरतींमुळे संगीताचा गाभ्याला इजा पोहोचते. हीच चूक काजव्यांची पकडा-पकडी खेळताना होते.

शास्त्रीय संगीत गाउन काजवे बोलविता येतात का? कदाचित येऊ शकतात. आपण असे गृहीत धरुयात कि ते येतात. परंतु, शंकर महादेवन जशी सरगम गायला  आहे ना, ती ऐकून आलेले काजवे पळतील. शास्त्रीय संगीतात अमाप जादू आहे. पिक्चर हि बाब श्रोत्यांपर्यंत पोहोचवतो देखिल. परंतु, हि जादू नेमकी कशात आहे हे दाखवताना मोठी गफलत करण्यात आली आहे असे माझे मत!

अजून एक खटकणारी गोष्ट म्हणजे, खासाहेब आणि त्यांचे शागीर्द उभे राहून रियाझ का करताना दाखविले आहेत? त्या काळात कुठलेही खासाहेब उभे राहून रियाझ करणे केवळ अशक्यच आहे. खासाहेब घराण्याचे नाव बदनाम झाल्यामुळे रावणासारखे जळतात. तेच खासाहेब घराण्याची तालीम विसरून, आपल्या शिष्यांसोबत उभे राहून रियाझ कसा करतील?

सर्वाधिक खटकतो तो चित्रपटाचा शेवट. सदाशिवाचे गाणे खासाहेबांना आणि त्यांच्या इगो ला कट्यारीसारखे कापते असे दाखविण्याचा प्रयत्न करण्यात आला आले. यासाठी वापरण्यात आलेला तराना मात्र फारच उथळ वाटतो. तो ऐकून पहिल्यांदा शास्त्रीय संगीत ऐकणारा एखादा नवखा भाळून जाऊ शकतो, पण अनेक किंवा काही वर्षे शास्त्रीय संगीताचा अभ्यास केलेला जाणकार नाही. खासाहेबांचा इगो खरतरं हे गाणं ऐकून अजून वाढायला हवा.

 

इथे जरा गंभीर होण्याची गरज आहे. कलाकाराचा गर्व कधी गळून पडतो? जेव्हा कलाकाराला गाण्यातून त्याचं स्वतःच ज्ञान आणि विद्वत्ता किती तोकडी आहे हे कळते त्यातून. सदाशिव गातो, गाता-गाता तो स्वतःच स्वतःच्या गाण्यातून मिटून जातो आणि तेथे मग अमाप दिव्यत्वाची प्रचीती येते. सदाशिव भारून जातो  आणि सदाशिवाची हि अवस्था खासाहेबांना  त्यांच्या गाण्यात ते आणि त्यांचा गर्व आहे आणि त्यामुळे त्यात ईश्वरी साज नाही याची जाणीव करून देते. खासाहेबांचा गर्व केवळ याच पद्धतीने गळू शकतो. सिनेमामध्ये मात्र सदाशिव त्याच्या गाण्यातून मिटत नाही; उलट तो अधिकाधिक ठळक होत जातो. खासाहेबांचा गर्व गळून का पडला? असा मोठा प्रेक्षकाच्या प्रश्न पाठीस लटकून रहतो.

कट्यार सिनेमा म्हणून यशस्वी होईल आणि होतो आहेच. या प्रयत्नाची स्तुती करायलाच हवी. अभिजात संगीत हे तरुण श्रोत्यांपर्यंत पोहोचवणे गरजेचे आहेच. परंतु, काही गोष्टी केवळ श्रोत्यांना भुरळ पडावी म्हणून टाकण्यात आल्या आहेत आणि त्यामुळे अत्यंत चुकीचा समज पसरतो आहे. हे कदाचित टाळता येऊ शकले असते.

 

कट्यार काळजात नाही घुसली. उलट, तिची बोथट धार त्याला उगाच जखम करून गेली. शास्त्रीय संगीताला glamour देऊन त्याचे खरे स्वरूप लोकांपर्यंत पोहोचवणे शक्य नाही. जेव्हा glamour, प्रसिद्धी, आवेग, उन्मेष आणि गर्व गळून पडतो, तेव्हाच अभिजात संगीत म्हणजे काय हे कोडे उलगडू लागते.  कट्यार मध्ये संगीताचा अभिजातपणा अजिबातच दिसला नाही. एखाद्या जुन्या प्रशस्त वाड्याची उरली-सुरली फळकुट गोळा करून, त्याला चित्र-विचित्र रंग मारून, सिंथेटिकचे बटबटीत पडदे लावून त्यातला अभिजातपणा पुनरुज्जीवित करता येत नाही, याची प्रचीती आली

 

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Pt. Mukul Shivputra

Review: Pt. Mukul Shivputra Concert, 15 March 2015, Pune

As many other music lovers do, I also keep on waiting for some good concerts. A long time entry in my wish list was a concert by Pt. Mukuls Shivputra.

In the last week of Feb, I was in Ahmedabad for some official purpose. I had been there for a conference. While going to the conference venue from our guest house, I passed by CEPT.  I have a collection of around 6 recordings of Pt. Mukul Shivputra performing at CEPT. All of them are high quality audio recordings and Mukulji has sung many Ragas like Malkauns, Puriya Dhanashree, Jog, Chhayanat etc. and also has given a demonstrative talk.

While passing by, I asked my wife this many times repeated question- “When would he sing again?”

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Pt. Mukul Shivputra after the concert

As clueless as I was, she was unable to answer. Just after reaching the venue, I got an alert from Facebook about Pt. Mukul Shivputra performing in Pune on 15th March 2015.

Though both of us were quite busy with the launch of our book, we marked the date. The occasion was Mukulji completing 60 years. The concert was to be followed by dinner.

Many music lovers and fans of Pt. Mukul Shivputra were already present, waiting for him to arrive on the stage. We could coincidentally meet renowned Tabla Player Shree Anand Badamikar during the concert.

He arrived and after some formalities, the concert began. In spite of having some issues and trouble with the sound system, Mukulji sang. Unfortunately, the concert was arranged in open lawns and another classical concert was going on in the immediately next place. In spite of all these hurdles, Mukulji took audience to a different plane.

As a policy, I avoid writing elaborately on what Ragas were sung in a concert, which Bandishes, which Talas etc. The purpose is go beyond all that and taste the environment which the artist builds in his concert. It is a precaution to ensure that reviews are not intellectual.

Pt. Mukul Shivputra opened the concert with Multani, very stirdy yet delicate. The chain went on ending with Bageshree and then Bhairavee. The music was enriching, sensitive. One of the biggest problem I see with musicians is their insensitivity. They take all the efforts to make their music wide, entertaining, intellectually compelling. All these things can be added with practice, sensitivity cannot. Pt. Mukul Shivputra won the audience and made a mark because of his sensitivity and delicacy.