Musical lore is filled with inspiring stories of seekers trying to get great musicians to accept them as students. Some others are privileged to be invited by great musicians to learn from them. Kishori Amonkar, working on the music of a play by Prabhakar Panshikar, was tired of repeating the line to the actor and looked at young Raghunandan, who was hanging around. “You sing, don’t you? Why don’t you sing and show how it is to be sung?” Raghunandan did. And impressed, the great Diva of Khayal enough for her to ask him to come and learn from her.
What was her way of taleem ? Her way of teaching?
She would have us practice the thaat first — the parent scale of the raga — for the notes and pitch positions to get drilled into us. The first exercise for us was to practise situating each swara with precision against the tanpura’s soundscape. We learnt to draw notes from the tanpura; we would sing sometimes while playing all four strings, sometimes just the Sa strings. And then of course alankaras, etc., and the compositions were taught. Swara shuddhi was primary with her.
And it was this swara shuddhi that she herself sought in every performance of hers. She so wanted to show the divinity of the swara to the audience. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it did not.
How did she innovate within the Jaipur gayaki?
Jaipur gayaki, as is well known, is a style created by Ustad Alladiya Khan. He lost his voice due to excessive strain and had to find a way of singing that did not involve holding swaras for long since he was unable to do that. Since he could not rely on his voice to dazzle the audience, he dazzled by the intricacies of patterns and subtle complexities of vistaar. In his style, vilambit is absent and the raga is delineated mostly in madhya laya. Didi brought vilambit into her presentation, not, as some say, by drawing from Kirana gharana, but rather because her own experiences of music led her to read up on the emotional impact of swaras. She studied Natya Sastra, Abhinava Gupta, Sarngadeva and other texts from Soundarya sastra. For her music was not just something to be performed but also studied deeply. She herself did that.
What about the shuddha aakaar that she was particular about? What is its significance?
Aakaar is the way Alladiya Khan saheb got back his voice — that is the best and optimal way of singing. The positioning of the tongue, the cheeks, the voice are naturally at their optimal if the aakaar is produced right. If some student came in having trained the wrong way, it was very difficult to correct that singer.
How about your own journey as a musician?
Didi was very careful to warn me against imbibing “feminine singing,” a natural danger since I was learning from her. She encouraged me to sing whatever the voice could take to. So I sing film music, ghazals, natya geet as well as Khayal. Each has its own demands and my journey as a musician knows no artificial restrictions.
Raghunandan Panshikar performs under the aegis of NCPA, Mumbai, and Music Club IIT Madras, on September 16 from 6.30 p.m. at CLT. This is part of Music Club’s Clasfest 2017, the other artists being featured in the series being K. Gayatri and R.K. Shriram Kumar.