‘Formal training helps a lot’



While at AIR, I had access to superb recordings of Abdul Karim Khan Sahib and Amir Khan Sahib, I also gained experience in editing, producing and sound production.

Prabha Atre turned 75 recently. It is an opportune time to take a look at her musical journey. It began quite by chance but her motivation, a great deal of energy and training resulted in her becoming a celebrated representative of the Kirana gharana, bearing the legacy of the inimitable Abdul Karim Khan Sahib. Recipient of the Padma Sri and Padma Bhushan, Prabha Atre, a law and science graduate, through her teaching and work experience, proved the relevance of scientific approach to music and in so doing, bridged the gap between the gurukal system and learning of music as a subject in educational institutions.

Prabha Atre stands out for her singular and individual contribution under the Kirana banner but imputes her thumri to the influence of the doyen of the Patiala Gharana, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib.

Teaching and research…

After a 10-year stint at All India Radio, I looked to furthering my interest as a performer and travelled extensively. Satisfied with the kind of interest and discussion my performances drew, I decided to standardise what I had learnt and impart it to students at the SNDT College, where I was heading the Department of Music. The importance of orderly learning and research was something which motivated me to open the minds of the young aspiring singers, so that while they practised singing, they did not lag behind in understanding the numerical nuances in a bandish, a theory which is the backbone of formalised training in music.

Exposure at AIR…

While I had access to superb recordings of the maestros such as Abdul Karim Khan Sahib and Amir Khan Sahib – the two pillars of the Kirana school – I also gained experience in editing, producing and recording and sound production, which stood me in good stead at different times in my life. It was a great learning experience, something which helped me mature as a performing artist.

Her gurus…

Pt. Suresh Babu Mane’s tremendous contribution to my life, to the intricacies of the Kirana School, to its three dimensional arcs, the rising in silence at the ‘sam’ ‘jagah’ or place, exploring and bringing to life each time a musical area as a living moment is something that can never be replaced. As a matter of fact, my six years with him were like a defining moment and I could never extricate myself from them. However, Hirabai Badodekar, Vijay Karandikar and Bakre Srikant also taught me a lot.

The Kirana style

The Kirana style rests on introspection and the raga development reflects it. The long encompassing alaaps and taans in meend build and explore around the ‘sa’ in the mandre saptak and while the edifice is being built, the angles in the structure are only hinted at gently and the high points, when achieved, are left to the imagination of the listener, without being theatrical and loud. The general tone is spiritual and meditative, so the taal and the laya are smooth, lending serenity, unity and divinity. The entire scale is regarded as a continuous flow of musicality and not as a series of separate notes. This extreme fine-tuning of the intonation of the line gives the impression of subtlety and of a single musical sound which has a particular emotional aura to it.

Teaching and its effect on singing

I think teaching has motivated the students. It is critical in the context of analysis and progression. After the theoretical aspect, the practical aspect is looked at with great curiosity and interest.

Also speaking aloud in the class does not harm the vocal chords, on the contrary, it is an exercise in the use of the ‘natural voice’ which should be strengthened and cultivated in classical singing.

Voice training

It is essential and needs to be done under the supervision of a guru. Consistency in learning a style is of paramount importance. The breathing techniques will facilitate good sound production, but for many it may be a natural process.

Broad outlook

Absolutely, as a head of the Department for Research, I have encouraged research in Psychology and Sociology of Music and in other possible fields so that different aspects of Musicology can be studied.

Feelings at 75…

I feel good because for me, music is sadhana, an exercise in disciplined learning. At each stage, at the suggestion of some family friend, I took a new direction. I believe I was destined to make a mark in the world of music.

New dimension to raga…

After Abdul Karim Khan Sahib, who rendered sargams beautifully, I am perhaps the only one from the Kirana school to revert to sargam singing. But for me, music is ‘art for art’s sake’, and I am weary of the commercial face of it. Influence of Carnatic Music

I feel Carnatic music has a standardised format of learning in the early stages, which is missing in the Hindustani system. Each teacher devises his own alankars or sargams. Standardisation is required in the initial years for new learners.

Ragas as you re-define them

In Raag Shyam Kalyan, the kalyan ang is more emphasised; in Jogkauns, the komal ni of Jog is used to greater advantage and in Maru Bihag, the sparingly used shud ma is totally deleted and tivr madhyam is used with great flourish by me.


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