Bageshri – Drut Ektaal – Notes from a practice session

In this post, I have published a video showing a recording of a practice session featuring a Drut Ektaal composition in Bageshri – which I believe has never been played before on the sarod (so I get to be first ???).Anyway, frivolities aside, I’m not quite sure why this masterpiece of vocal music  (called Apni Garaj Pakar Leeni Baiyan Mori) hasn’t been played more on the sarod. It suits the vocal style perfectly. The video is designed to show the fingering approach to this piece.

The link is here:

After the main part, I focus on taan and tihai development, with multiple iterations and permutations designed to terminate on the Sam. This bit is sometimes the hard slog of “tayyari” or readiness for a performance. You need to have the framework of the piece ready in your mind and improvise within that framework. Most of the taans are linear vocal type, but I do fit in some rhythmic style ones as well, designed to vary the tone of the taan.
Due to the vast expanse of the raga, I simply manage to cover taans just ending in the first line (mukhda) – imagine the possibilities… you could spend months on this piece alone….

Next, I’ll post a few drut teentaal bandishes on the sarod in Bageshri – most of them never played before on this instrument.

Raga Bageshri – Part 1

Of late, I’ve been studying and playing Raga Bageshri (variously called Bagesri, Bageshree, or Bageshri Kanada).  Bageshri is a grand raga, attributed to Thaat Kafi and is a staple of evening concerts. The time prescribed for this raga is evening to late night.

I learnt Bageshri when I was 7 years old from my first music teacher Smt Ruby Bose (wonder where she is these days). She taught me a drut khayal “Moha Liyo ” a Sadarang composition. As Bageshri is a staple of music schools, everyone learns it. But, like Yaman, it’s a ocean of a raga – the  more you delve into it, the further you can go.

Bageshri has the following scale :

 (italics – lower octave, bold – upper octave – Caps -Shuddha -Natural swaras, lower case – komal (flat)

Ascending: n S g M D n S

Descending: S n D M g R S

Bageshri uses the Pa beautifully to embellish the emotion of the raga. Pa has to be judiciously used, as too much or too little can ruin the raga character.

I start off with a slow (Vilambit) composition set to 16 beats recorded raw in my music room. I learnt this composition from Shri Sugato Nag, and it has Imdadkhani and Shahjahanpur elements in it. A number of other vilambit compositions are similar to this one:

The notations are (simplified form)-Starts from the 12th beat

Sthyai

S n D – M P g R D n S

D n SM g M D P D nD g-g R

S n D – M P g R D n S

Manjha – starts from 4th

N d M DD N S M g R N S

D P D n D g g M D N S

S N d M PP D M P D g R S – back to Sthayi

Antara

N D gg MM DD N S-S-S

SRRS N g g R N NSRSS

S N D n D  M D N R S- M

M g R S D N D – M PP D M P D g R S – back to sthayi

There is infinite scope to vary this composition and put in embellishments – that is the nature of Bageshri.

Next, I’ll do the Madhaylaya and Drut gats from various sources.

Afternoon ragas- continued with Madhuvanti

Am falling a bit behind in putting up fresh ragas, so here’s a small episode from a recent concert, where I played the afternoon raga – Madhuvanti. (Known as Dharmavati in Carnatic music).

Madhuvanti has the scale:

S g m P N S  (m= teevra Ma)

S N D P m g R S

The phrase S g m brings great tension to this raga.  The roll back to the R on the descending relieves some of this tension.  In some ways, Madhuvanti is the logical successor to Multani – which has a more stricter form than Madhuvanti.

My imagery of Madhuvanti is as follows:

Ascending scale – Expectantly going up to the door to see if your guest/friend has arrived – tension and expectation

Descending scale- No, he/she hasn’t – it’s futile, let’s get back to our base (Sa)

As I did not get an opportunity to rehearse, I communicated the gats by recording them on my iPhone Voice Memo and sending them over via Dropbox. The resultant sound files are here: (the iPhone is not too bad at audio, I’d say)

Madhuvanti Vilambit Teentaal – standard run composition

 

Madhuvanti Drut Teentaal – I think my phone was too close to the tabla rather than the sarod – an adaptation of the famous khayal “Kahe Maan Karo”

This is raw audio -however, I think it’s best to publish “real life” examples rather than the curated, sanitised versions recorded in a home studio…

A few points to students about the whole set up – you will notice especially in the vilambit the degree of sustain – especially after the gat ends – the Re lingers on… This is primarily achieved by having a perfectly tuned sarod. I play the Amjad Ali variant of the sarod which has less sustain than say the Maihar construction, but with perfect tuning, you can get very good sustain and clean sound. Please, please tune the tarabs and other strings to perfection before starting. It is vital.

Will be setting up a Youtube Channel in Sep/Oct.

Off to Varanasi – back mid September.

Raga Pilu

I was chatting to Sandipan, a fellow sarod player based in Sydney and we were discussing Shri Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (who has guided him) and his style. We got around to discussing some compositions and eventually onto Raga Pilu

Pilu (Piloo) is a light raga with a vast canvas to paint. Mishra Pilu allows tremendous scope for the artist to bring in melodic lines from other ragas.

Pilu belongs to the Kaafi thaat and uses both the Gandhars (Ga). However, in the Mishra (mixed) form, almost all notes are used.

One of the best Pilus on the sarod is by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. I’ve taken his Teental composition and changed it a bit, however the key characteristics remain, in particular, the ascending antara leading up to the upper Sa from the 9th and use of some ekhara phrases.

Following this, I also remembered a Deepchandi gat (14 beats) popular with sitar players – it has been played by sitar players including Ustad Shahid Parvez:

Then we have a Pilu in Madhaylay Deepchandi (which has been played by Tejendra da), however, I conclude the piece very differently to him, and have essentially simplified the ending…


– I’ll upload the notations shortly.

 

Various tributes to Ud Amir Khan

Ud Amir Khan was one of the greatest musicians of the last century. Although very well known to regulars of Indian classical music, he remains relatively unknown among the population generally.

He inspired many stalwarts including Ud Vilayat Khan, Pt Nikhil Banerjee and others.    I personally consider his Darbari as the mother of all renditions of North Indian Classical Music of this raga – maybe only Tansen could have surpassed him.

http://caferisko.ca/ak/articles.html

Here is a collection of some articles on this “musician of musicians”.

 

Raag Khamaj : An ocean of sweetness

My New Year’s resolution is to keep content on this site updated regularly – aim is to cover off one raga a month at least. I start off with Khamaj.
Khamaj is a huge repository of very melodious and sweet tunes – so sweet sometimes, it’s unbearable !. Key ragas of this camp include Khamaj itself, the beautiful raag Des (or Desh), Tilak Kamod and Jhinjhoti. Variants include Jaijaywanti, Gorakh Kalyan and the like. Even Kalawati is technically in the Khamaj camp.Khamaj dominates semi classical and Bollywood songs as well.

I start off with a tribute to one of the greatest leaders of mankind : Mahatma Gandhi, whose death anniversary was marked this week – and whose favourite song was the Bhajan “Vaishnav Jan To” composed by 15th Century Poet Narsinh Mehta, set to Khamaj.

Vaishnav-ism is a sect of Hinduism, with particular emphasis on kindness, non-violence and empathy towards fellow beings. A Vaishnav is a follower of the God Vishnu. The first line says ” He/She who is a Vaishnav is one who understands the pain of others”

Here’s a rendition of this classic (first stanza only) on my sarod, with a bit of Desh tacked on to the end. As always, this is a one-take affair, no computer skullduggery to hide the rough spots, recorded on the Zoom in my music room.

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Sultan Khan and the Sarangi

Recently, sarangi maestro Sultan Khan passed away – a great loss to the musical community. I met Khan sahab on his 2009 tour of Melbourne, where he performed in the Arts Centre with his brother on the tabla. I will post a clip of that recording – it has a few interesting parts – when he started off, he said “My English is like your Chinese or Japanese – pretty bad”. Then he demonstrated the complex trio of Puriya, Shree and Puriya Dhanashree. In the last raga, he sang the well known khayal ” Payaliya Jhankar Mori” – stopping to explain to the audience the difficult “saas -nanad” (mother -in-law and sis-in-law- who usually give the wife a hard time) relationship.

His performance was also marked by an outburst at the organisers on stage. (about a glass of water).

Musically, I was most inspired by a rather unique rendering of Malkauns that you can find here: (Tarana in 12 beat drut Ektaal)

http://youtu.be/qM5_OLOVzfE

What’s so special about this rendition? A few points come to mind

1. The points of emphasis are very deliberate.  He really “beds” down the note  e.g the Ga Ma movement. This is not that typical of Malkauns treatment. It’s more a reflection of the sarangi (vocal) treatment.

2. He introduces a quirky movement (around the 0.16 second mark and again at 0.21) -it is a quick Ga-Ma-Dha movement, done very quickly, but I had never heard this movement before. Note, that this movement is not directly translated in his playing (except at one point). This adds a new “angle” to Malkauns

3. He doesn’t dwell on the lower Dha Ni much – which is pretty much a Malkauns signature- he’s up on the middle octave most of the time

This is precisely the kind of innovative raga treatment that I crave. He also played “benchmark” compositions, instead of settling for lesser ones.

May he rest in peace.

 

Raga Darbari (continued)

Following on from the previous post, here are some of the Darbari gats that I learnt (often without “official” permission, as Darbari is meant to be learnt/taught at senior levels only.

The first one is a Vilambit gat – which is a variation of one played by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan:

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Again, this is a raw recording with my Zoom H2 with Mr. Electronic tabla.

The notation is fairly easy: (starts from the 12th beat on Vilambit teentaal)

Dha Ni Sa Re Ga – –  Re-Re  Sa-Sa-Re Dha

Ni Pa — Ma-Ma Pa – Dha Dha Ni Sa – Ni ReRe Ga Re Sa

Now, a few points:

1. The trouble with Darbari is that every little microtone has to be perfect. The above rendition has a couple of points which could have been better (this was a one take recording) – as always, all errors and omissions are mine. If I ever find the time to re-record (unlikely), then I’ll fix these.

2. I’ve modified the gat somewhat – both the mukhda and the antara. Instead of a linear motion up and down the scale, I’ve tried to bring in a bit more gamak than in the original. One movement towards the end was inspired by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s rendition in the Emperor

3. I recorded this sitting in a large empty room (my wife’s dance studio), so as to get a bit of a space effect – most sarod Darbaris seem to have a bit of reverb in them (natural or artificial)

Playing Darbari requires patience and calibration. By calibration I mean that you must be “coloured” and “soaked” in Darbari. Before recording this, I spent the whole week playing Kafi, so found it hard to “calibrate” myself. Anyway, I’d rather publish than talk about the raag.

There are several other finer points to be mindful of. One is the play on the Kharaj string:

Ma- Pa Ma Pa – Ni Pa Ga  – the gamak between Ma Pa and back to Ga is extremely delicate and requires great skill to execute.

Overall, the vilambit should be slow and reposeful – something I’ve tried to maintain.

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.