Sound connection

‘It’s all about breath control’: Jyoti Hegde in performance

‘It’s all about breath control’: Jyoti Hegde in performance  

Seasoned musicians talk about the deep bond between Indian classical music and Yoga

The inextricable connection between classical Indian music and Yoga is inescapable.

Prof T S Sathyavathi, eminent Sanskrit scholar and a senior Carnatic vocalist says, “Though there is no Shastric text, but experience teaches us that the combination of yoga and music is clearly hundreds of years old. It was an aural tradition that was handed down over the generations from Guru to disciple.”

Yoga linked with breath control is very important for a musician. “Of course, the asanas are useful for anyone, and correct posture is important for instrumentalists too, but it is the breath control (pranayama) that is really vital for vocalists. Pranayama teaches you how to stretch breath, how to hold your breath, where to take breath – it is literally a science that a vocalist needs to know. When you have to sing the texts, you need to know when to break, where to hold breath, where to take more breath. Even voice modulation is helped by Yoga; how the voice is made thinner, etc,” explains Prof. Sathyavathi, who has done extensive research on the subject.

“Shiksha shastras speak of the articulation of sound.The ‘Naradeeya Shiksha’ is linked to the Samaveda, and speaks of swaras and from which part of the body they should emerge.” Her research paper on the ‘Naradeeya Shiksha’ is really fascinating and useful for a vocalist. “It spells out exactly from which part of the body each sound emanates, and how to produce it correctly. This Yogic practice obviously helps a practitioner of music.”

Late Ustad Asad Ali Khan, torchbearer of the ancient “beenkar” tradition, used to emphatically endorse the value of Yoga for musicians. The Rudra veena (been) is said to be the instrument of Lord Shiva (Rudra), to be played with great devotion, and following strict rules. The Ustad refused to teach the then young Jyoti Hegde who used to come all the way from Karnataka to Delhi to learn from him, until she learnt Yoga. He would insist that she sit in ‘vajrasana’ to play the Rudra-Been (Veena), sitting in ‘sukh asana’ was not good enough. She also had to learn ‘pranayama’. “He believed the practitioner to breathe correctly as the sur of the instrument changed according to the person holding it. Each Rudra-Been had to be custom made for its practitioner. The sur of the saaz is true when it is on one’s shoulder. It changes when it’s placed on the ground.”

Jyoti Hegde is one of the finest Rudra-Been players of the old tradition. She admits that after pregnancy she cannot sit in vajrasana for a full performance, but underlines that “the position does result in a different, finer hold of the saaz.” “I would not have been playing the Rudra veena today if I did not practice Yoga for one hour every morning.” She recalls how her Ustad insisted on the recitation of ‘Aum’, despite being a devout Muslim. “The sound was to be produced from the navel. Guruji’s ‘Aum’ was a very powerful sound. At 75, he would sit only in ‘vajrasana’ while he played,” remembers Jyoti.

Sangeet sadhna

Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, pre-eminent vocalist of the Hindustani tradition, says, “Our tradition of classical singing obviously has techniques of how to sing correctly, how to prepare the voice. We may not have been taught to term these as such, but these techniques are actually Yogic practice. They come under the bracket of ‘sangeet sadhana’, and have to be done. Singers have to know how to fill the lungs and release the air . ‘Aumkaar sadhana’ (saying ‘aum’ for as long as one can hold one’s breath) is also a Yogic practice. Great singers like Kesarbai (Kesar bai Kelkar) and Bhimsen ji (Pt Bhimsen Joshi) had ‘dam saans’ of over one minute!”

On ‘asanas’, Panditji is equally positive. “As a musician you are expected to sit for 8-10 hours a day. So you need to remain flexible. Pt Kishan Maharaj used to play the tabla in vajrasana. I personally do ‘pranayama’ whenever my concert regime permits.”

It is heartening to hear the younger generation too understands how vital Yoga practice is for a singer. Chaitrra Sairam, a talented singer from the Carnatic tradition, says, “I would say 80% singers in my generation do practise ‘pranayama’. They may not know that other practices of Yoga help too.”

She was able to connect with her Yoga teacher through her Guru (Bombay Jayashri). “Despite being 72 years old, she knows what my body’s weaknesses are and what needs to be strengthened. Of course, it’s all about breath control.With Yoga practice, my voice quality has improved, my breath control is better.Yoga takes time to have effect. One becomes more sensitive to one’s body after Yoga. I am more aware how to eat right, how to analyse my body. Acid reflux is something many singers suffer from; again Yoga can help with that. Even sitting in the same posture for over three hours needs to be worked at, especially after childbirth. The voice pitch changes with age; I find practising Yoga really useful in so many ways – I feel lighter.”

(In Delhi, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is celebrating World Yoga Day through “Nritya Yoga”, involving eight ancient dance forms.)

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 3:06:02 AM |

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