Friday Review

Deliberations on dhrupad

“What is the order? Again!”

“Full sthaayi, sthaayi vistaar, antara mukhada, antara vistaar, full antara, sthaayi, taan and then tihai.”

After a bit of confusion, they all get it right. The six students sitting in a tastefully done up room in Brihaddhwani are participants of the three-week intensive workshop conducted by Arijit Mahalanabis, visiting musician from the U.S.

I can sympathise with the participants. A khayal rendition is a blur, a melodious blur, for most outsiders, especially for a Carnatic musician or listener who has known a different way of presenting ragas and has preconceptions.

How is the music organised,and presented? What are the guiding principles for the coming together of compositions and improvisation?

In a refined system like Hindustani music, there is bound to be an order and Arijit is keen to get across an understanding of this. After the drill, a short presentation by the participants follows. The raga Alahiya Bilawal, with segments of what would normally be improvised is presented, with a bandish, alap, bol alap, taan etc.

“It is a floating population of about eight to ten participants. Not everyone can make it to all sessions. We begin at 6 a.m. with Kharaj Sadhana when the participants are asked to delve into the lower ranges. This improves voice strength, steadies it and refines the tonality. In the next session, we sing Khayal and Dhrupad. I also discuss musical concepts from a philosophical perspective. For example, Dhrupad is a form that submits to time, to temporality in a way other forms don’t.

All musical forms do unfold in time but time as an organising principle is thrown into sharp relief in Dhrupad. I discussed the notion of raga and raga lakshana in Carnatic and Hindustani music. In Hindustani music, the idea of raga is primarily governed by the concept of raganga — raga as belonging to a family of ragas because of its key phrases — rather than as falling under a melakarta as is the case in Carnatic music. We have deliberated upon musical lore to try to make sense of, for example, the structural uniqueness of raga Deepak that it is supposed to spontaneously generate heat.

All this is to give a sense of these musical systems so that these participants have an enduring interest in them as well as an idea of what happens in a concert which will surely enhance appreciation.”

“A three-week workshop like this, even if intensive, cannot churn out a performer. The participants come from varied backgrounds and are at different stages of musical attainments. So, I cannot work on the musical accents of the participants, that would be a long-drawn effort.”

“I decided to only engage with one raga — Alahiya Bilawal. Yes, it is not exactly a beginner’s raga and that choice was deliberate. This raga does not have a straightforward structure and its identity lies in phrases, which is actually true of all ragas. But if I had taken a raga like say, Yaman, whose basic structure is linear, then it is easy to ignore the phrases in which alone the raga nestles. With a raga like Alahiya Bilawal, one cannot but work with phrases since it does not have a linear structure.”

Arijit, who holds degrees in Engineering, quit his job to take to teaching and performing music.

He runs a music school, The Society for Indian Music and Arts, in State College, Pennsylvania.

“My mission is primarily to help music aspirants, who might have missed out on learning, those who may be told that it is now too late to start. One learns music, one yearns for music, not only to perform before an audience.

“Music is a form of expression, a humanising expression, that goes beyond language and anyone who aspires for it deserves to be taught. Such humanising expressions are important; they can bring people together, they can heal.”

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 11:29:30 AM |

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