Tracking tones and talas

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ENCOUNTER Rudra veena artist Dr. Philippe Bruguiere and pakhawaj player John Boswell love to explore the Indian music systems. LALITHAA KRISHNAN

MUSIC TALK:Dr. Philippe Bruguiere and John Boswell.Photos: B. Velankanni Raj
MUSIC TALK:Dr. Philippe Bruguiere and John Boswell.Photos: B. Velankanni Raj

“While studying the expansion and contraction of sound within a unit of time in the context of European music, I happened to listen to a recording of the rudra veena. I was struck by the incredible aesthetics and scholarship of this style of music and the attention it brought to micro tones,” says Dr. Philippe Bruguiere, a Hindustani rudra veena player.

On a tour of India (Chennai, New Delhi and Jaipur), Dr. Bruguiere played at the Alliance Française, with John Boswell, a well known drummer and pakhawaj player.

Dr. Bruguiere wears many hats. A renowned musician, ethnomusicologist and teacher, he has been the curator of extra-European music at the Musée de la Musique, Paris, since 1994. Prior to that, he was the curator of musical department at Musée Guimet.

Dr. Bruguière is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Société Française D'Ethnomusicologie.

He says, “Being trained in Western classical music, I used to play the violin, the guitar and the viola de gamba (a bowed string instrument with frets employed in Baroque music). I played jazz as well.

Exciting discovery

Talking about his tryst with India, the rudra veena and Hindustani music, which began in the 1970s, Dr. Bruguiere says, “Here was a wonderful illustration of what I was working on and that too, in an ancient, highly evolved system of music where these discoveries had already been made and implemented hundreds of years ago. I knew that I just had to come to India and learn this instrument. I was fortunate to be accepted as a disciple of Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar who, after extended teaching sojourns in the USA, had decided to return to India. I studied under him for several years, continuing to touch base after I became the head of the Musicology Department, Paris.”

He continues, “Each raag has a unique rang (colour) and I became attuned to the emotive element. For example, I perceive and interpret Pancham Kauns as serene and peaceful.”

As for John Boswell, he has trained under Kenny Clarke and played in several rock and jazz bands. He underwent intensive training in Indian classical percussion from Pt. Kishan Maharaj, Pt. Ishwari Lal and Pt. Amarnath Misra, Benares. He now teaches at the Ecole Nationale de l'Opéra de Paris, Ecole Nationale de Musique et de Danse d'Evry, Ecole de danse Peter Goss and the Folie Musiques of the Cité de la Musique.

As a composer and musician, he is much sought after especially in dance-related music where he has collaborated with Carolyn Carlson, Groupe Recherche Choreographique of the Paris Opera and the Atelier de Paris, Compagnie Dominique Bagouet, Régine Chopinot and the National Opera of Helsinki among others.

Like Dr. Bruguiere, Boswell's brush with India began in the 1970s. “Initially, I played the drums in cabarets. I happened to hear Pt. Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha at the Woodstock festival, and needless to say, I was floored. I wanted to learn the tabla,” reveals John. “So I came to India where I met other westerners studying the tabla. Benaras was the hub where Hindustani artists and music seekers converged. There, I found my gurus in Pt. Ishwari Lal (Rampur gharana) and Pt. Kishan Maharaj whose percussive play radiated an amazing energy and power. When I asked Maharaj-ji what I should pay as a fee, he declined payment and said he only wanted me to learn and play well with concentration and dedication.”

Between 1973 and 1981, Boswell lived in Benares. His wife was learning Kathak and the sarangi, and his first daughter Basanti was born there. Later, the family moved to England before finally settling down in Paris.

Boswell recalls, “In Benares, I stayed next door to Pt. Amarnath Misra, a mahant of the Assi ghat and a pakhawaj exponent. Although I expressed my desire to learn from him, he could not take me on as his disciple since I was already learning from Pt. Kishan Maharaj. However, he permitted me to attend classes when he taught other students, and observe his style. Watching him, listening and observing, I imbibed the fingering techniques and bols. That is how I became a pakhawaj player!”

Music apart, experiencing the Indian way of life on the banks of the Ganga has had far reaching effects on Boswell's approach, attitude and perception. “It has added greater depth and dimension to my music.”



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