Creating Dedicated Pages for Ragas

As I progress my lifelong objective of documenting compositions for the sarod, I’ve decided to keep material relevant to a raga on one page- instead of being scattered around the site.

Each page will be accessible via the Free Raga Guide Page

I’m going to start off with finishing off the grand Raga Marwa, with its  own dedicated page.

No Tea: Only Kafi

Here’s a brief extract of a Ragamala that I played recently- started off with a flavour of Zila Kafi, followed by an old gat from Shahjahanpur school in Kafi. Had my son playing the violin with me….

I’ll do a longer post on Raga Kafi and it’s variant later in the year…

 

Raga Bageshri- Conclusion

Here is my last post on Raga Bageshri – a gat in Rupak Taal (7 beats) to round off the full series: Vilambit, Madhyalaya and Drut…

I learnt this composition from Ustad Shahid Parvez – he also showed a different style of taankari- using phrases. As always, I’ve ended up experimenting with tihais etc – more of a concert thing…

The notation is fairly simple – starts from 1. (Sam)

Sthayi

g R S  D(lower) n(lower) S

Antara

g- M- Dn D

M- P gg R- (back to Sthayi)

The taans are played in a style which is not commonly heard either on the sarod or sitar, so very much enjoying this -it’s got a bit of rhythmwork (layakari) in it. There are some concert grade “dazzlers” in there such as the one taan where the end of the tihai is played thrice – once with space, the second at regular speed and the third without a space. All that is good for concerts, and musicians must keep their arsenal equipped for performance purposes. Even if you are not playing these in concert, it focusses you on taal practice and control of your laya.

 

 

Tihais – some mysteries explained

In my random ramblings on Classical music, here’s something that all musicians know but rarely acknowledge – a performance is in many cases, significantly rehearsed, even in North Indian classical music.
Let’s take the construct called Tihai – that’s a sequence which, repeated thrice, ends in the Sam.

Tihais need preparation. In fact, other than simple tihais, ALL tihais need preparation. If a musician tells you that they spontaneously think of complex tihais, they are part of the 1%. For mere mortals like us, we need to rehearse.

The key skill is to factor in the tihai within the music, so it doesn’t sound manufactured and blends in well with the rest of the taan. When amateurs do it, a tell tale sign is that of the musician waiting, marking time, for the start of the beat where they can launch into their prepared tihai.

Tihais are often generic, so a tihai for a taal can be applied to all compositions in that taal, irrespective of the raag.
Tabla repertoire (and Kathak bols) are fertile ground for “pinching” tihais to incorporate into instrumental performances. No wonder, some of our compulsive tihai players (whose every taan ends in a tihai) are formidable tabla players. Some WERE actually tabla players.

Tihais are not used that often in vocal music- whose presentation doesn’t try to “dazzle” the audience like instrumental music.

On that note, let’s look at a “medium” level 3 x 3 tihai – taken from Kathak. It is a set of three phrases, at different speeds.

The sequence goes like this: (repeated thrice to arrive at the Sam)
The first five notes are the same, and the last three notes are progressively slower…

1234567 (fast)
1234 5- 6- 7 (slow)
1234 5– 6– 7 (slower) (last 3 notes are at different speeds

Click on the picture to see a large version with the bols and taals notated.

As you can see, the last three beats are spaced out. Yellow shows rest beats.

Teentaal Tihai
Teentaal tihai borrowed from Kathak

I’ll upload a sound file with this tihai on it.
In the meantime, here’s the original version : Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj demonstrating this

(He explains the background of the tihai – the sprightly deer being hunted by the lion).

Raga Darbari: The King of Ragas, the Raga of Kings

Back to posting after a while… busy with working on a musical project – I thought I’d get on with my eternally  favourite raga : the emperor of Ragas: Raga Darbari.

Words cannot adequately describe the majesty of this Raga. In many ways, Darbari encapsulates all there is to say about Hindustani Classical music: the repose, the space, the meditative nature, the plaintive aspect, the introspection… the list goes on. For those who ponder the difference between Carnatic and Hindustani music, Darbari is the prominent example of the philosophical difference between these two systems and the contrast in their approach. While some say the origins may have been in Carnatic music, Darbari is the encapsulation of the Hindustani style, in particular, the meditative nature of the music.

Darbari has influenced everyone from ancient Dhrupad singers to Himesh Reshammiya to Abhijit Pohankar.  Such is the scale of this monumental raga, etiquette demands its performance in a respectful manner, taking care not to transgress the boundaries of the raga.

Historically performed by Miyan Tansen in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar, Darbari has been restricted to performance by senior musicians only – as a matter of tradition. For a long time, women performers were not allowed to sing this raga. Darbari is also not well tolerated by purists on newer instruments.

The essence of Darbari is its repose and majestic build up. Due to heavy meend work (portamento), Darbari carries shades of previous notes onto the next notes.  Without sympathetic strings, that flavour is lost.

The perfect Darbari that I can think of has been rendered by Ustad Amir Khan : the link can be found here:

Why do I consider this the perfect Darbari?

One, it is slow and full of repose. Two, it dwells upon the lower octave and draws out the gravity of the raag. Third, it “lets go” down to the lower Dha and stays there for a while, without rushing back to the Sa.

Instrumental Darbaris

Darbari rendered on instruments face the challenge of keeping the music interesting after the alaap. As the raga is not designed for high speed, this proves a bit of a challenge. The sarangi, surbahar, veena and sarod are particularly well suited for rendition, however, the published repertoire on the sarod does go up to higher speed, which, in my opinion, diminishes the appeal of the pure raga.

Note that dwelling on a lengthy, repetitive alaap is probably not good either – unless you have the musical material, you’ll put audiences to sleep.

Three instrumental renditions stand out – each for different reasons

The first is Pt Ram Narayan on the sarangi: pure Darbari -vocal equivalent

 

 

The second is Ustad Vilayat Khan with Shankar Ghosh – recorded in the 60s – he takes Darbari on a “sitarised” journey – it’s spectacular though – I was gobsmacked when I first heard it. This is also an adaptation of the famous khayal “Anokha Ladla”.

The third is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with Sabir Khan  – this is a master class of how to approach Darbari on the sarod – the approach of the compositions is very fresh and not the traditional sarod approach. I will record and document the notation in my next post.

More on Darbari compositions soon

PS – following comments by Smt Maitreyee Sarcar of www.surtarang.co.uk, I edited this post, by linking to the masterpieces of Ustads VK and AmAK. A few points about these two masterpieces:

Ustad Vilayat Khan’s piece is loosely based on the drut khayal “Anokha Ladla” sung by greats such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Ustad Amjad Ali plays no vilambit (he has a policy of not playing vilambit if the alaap jor jhala is extensively treated, especially in a time constrained situation -e.g cassette recording). Secondly, the drut ektaal piece has two parts: the second part settles into the famous ektaal composition Yareman Biyan Biyan, however, the mukhda is a complex rhythmic piece which uses an off beat Sam (I’ll publish the notation shortly). Thirdly, the drut teentaal piece is possibly the highest clarity Darbari played on the sarod at that speed – especially if you pay attention to the right hand bols being executed at the same time in the ekhara phrases. Fourthly, the sound engineer has gone nuts over adding a concert chamber effect to the sound, although it sounds ok. Fifthly, I was advised that Ustadji waited for a long time before recording this masterpiece and used his largest sarod for this performance.

Raga Charukeshi

In the second post of the Ekalavya Project, here are my musings and some compositions on Raga Charukeshi.

This raga comes to us from Carnatic music. It the 26th Melakarta in that system.

Charukeshi has the following notes: Sa Re G M P d n (lowercase= komal swara). From the note point of view, it is marginally different from Darbari – only the Ga is shuddha instead of komal. However, the treatment is very different.

My survey of Charukeshi has found multiple approaches to this raga. One can dwell on the d n of the lower octave, tapping into a “Darbari -ish” style of Charukeshi. On the other hand, one can focus on the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa shuddha swaras, conveying lightness, and brightness of mood. Tradition has it that Charukeshi is associatied with feelings of devotion and surrender. I agree.

I have not found a lot of sarod performances of this raga.

Anyway, down to the compositions: (I’ll need to improve the audio quality- as usual, all errors omissions and mistakes are mine) (italics: lower octave, lowercase= komal)

1. Raga Charukeshi (Vilambit Teentaal) :Source : Maihar, various, Shri Kushal Das

I love this composition. It ends in a Darbari like flourish which really appeals to me:

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12      13      14          15    16

nd      P GRGM       GS   P

1 2 3 4           5     6     7        8           9    10     11 12      13      14          15    16

d – – dn R    nR    G    RGM      G  RM   GS

2. Raga Charukeshi (Vilambit Teentaal) :Source : Me (recent composition)

I came up with this one last year. Nothing special about it, but has a quirk about the sam being on the Sa. Builds up tension on the Ma and then washes back to the lower octave:

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12       13       14          15      16

RG      MM GS          dd nPd

1  2 3 4           5       6     7        8           9    10     11 12      13      14          15    16

S – – RG         MM  dd PP    MP         G   RM   G

3. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Various (Imdadkhani heritage)

A very simple composition. Uses the Kanada (Darbari) Flourish again

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I’ve simply repeated the notation here: starts from the 8th matra

S R G  M G R S – S d-d n R S

The antara can be developed in a number of ways. One way is to go forward with the notes:

G M d-d P – M P G R G M G —-> Back to sthyai

4. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Maihar, Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Kushal Das

This is a terrific composition on the sitar. Note the attempted use of the percussive strokeplay on the notes in Pt. Nikhil Banerjee’s style:

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I’ll provide the notations later

5. Raga Charukeshi (DrutTeentaal) :Source : Ustad Amjad Ali Khan

Finally, a rather unique Charukeshi. Derived from a raga which Ustadji calls Haripriya Kanada, this has the unusual movement of starting from the Ma (madhyam). It also employs note combinations not seen in standard Charukeshi renditions. The antara is a bit of finger breaker. This is probably not the best recording, but please bear with me for the moment. The antara bears the signature climb to the upper Sa, so common in vocal music and in Ustadji’s style. Notations will be provided later.

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In each of these compositions, there is ample room to improvise in the Sthayi passage in the last section. Go for your life !!!

 

 

Sarod Sitting Posture, Finger Positioning and related topics

Some of the most frequently asked questions about the sarod relates to posture and holding the instrument: how do I sit with the instrument? Should I sit on the floor all the time? Where should I keep my arm? How should I place my nails on the fretboard? This post attempts to answer some of these questions.

Firstly, sarod posture and finger positioning are all related – one influences the other. Secondly, students tend to copy the sitting position of the teacher from who they receive instruction, often subconsciously (I know I do). Thirdly, the shape of the instrument will impact the way you hold it and your fingering on the fretboard.

The key rule to keep in mind is that you need to be comfortable with your sarod. Everything else is secondary. If you are not used to sitting on the floor, sit on a chair to start off. Practice sitting on the floor over time. If you can’t sit with your legs crossed in the traditional position (I am one of these people), sit in a position that feels comfortable. Try 10 mins, then 15 mins and so on. Sit on a cushion if that helps (I sit on a cushion all the time).

In the Amjad Ali Khan style, the basic rules of sarod posture are:

– back straight

-horizontal sarod, with the plane of the fretboard  perpendicular to the floor – do not bend the sarod so that the fretboard is inclined towards you.

– fingering hand loosely grasping the neck like a guitar. If you are a guitarist, this will come to you naturally. See a photo below taken of my sarod.

Sarod finger position
How to hold the sarod

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note that if you are holding the sarod correctly, you should not be able to see the fretboard’s plane, as it will be perpendicular to you. The fingers should be relaxed.

I have noticed other styles of holding the sarod such as:

– fretboard turned up towards the artist (primarily because the sarod is too big for them, perhaps?)

– sarod held  at an angle to the ground with the neck up higher than the base.

-entire body draped around the instrument with the back bent

-left hand under the fretboard – almost in front of the strings

While I have no experience in the merits/demerits of such techniques, the Amjad Ali Khan style lends itself to a lot of complex left hand movements. Therefore a compact sarod and relaxed grip is used. Coming from a guitar background, it feels quite natural to hold the instrument in this way.

Fingering:

Now this is another topic of great controversy and debate. Two fingers or three? How are the fingers placed on the fretboard? Which finger should be used on upper octave notes? If I grip the sarod in the Amjad Ali style, what happens to my thumb as I go higher up the scale?

Firstly, the Amjad Ali style uses only two fingers. (I’ve never needed the third). This is not to say that the third should not be used – if you feel it helps, go for it.

Secondly, traditionally, the only two notes played with the first finger are the Re on the Sa string and the Pa on the Ma string. The other notes are played with the middle finger. However, this is more of a guideline, as there are situations where the first finger must continue  up (e.g a long meend – or glide). My view is that the rule should be kept in mind for practice purposes, but given a performance, the fingering that produces the best sound should be used.

In the Amjad Ali style, as you go up the octave, the thumb starts disappearing under the sarod. At notes like the upper Re or Ga, the thumb and palm of the hand is gliding along the body of the sarod.

Holding the Plectrum (Java)

In the Amjad Ali style, the plectrum is held at the sweet spot between the bridge and the beginning of the instrument. This is done to minimise the sound of pluck attack as well as to get maximum volume. You will often find a black patch on the skin underneath where the plectrum is placed. In case you are wondering how come Ustad Amjad Ali’s sarod doesn’t have this, that’s because he gets his skin replaced far often than you or me.

Again, the rules are simple. The plectrum is to be held firmly like a guitar plectrum. See some pictures of me on the site where you can see how the plectrum is held. Some other gharanas use the thumb across plectrum to push it down on a folded first finger, whereas in the Amjad Ali Khan style, the plectrum is pushed down on two fingers by the thumb.

Nylon and other plectrums (java)

Personally, I don’t care much about using non coconut plectrums. However, if you feel it helps your sound, go for it.