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Seminar Report

20th September 2005                           Glimpses of the Seminar

Eighteen panelists got together at The Crossroads held at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy auditorium in Kolkata to define and find solutions to what was termed as “a crisis” in the present day Hindustani Raag Sangeet performance practices. The mood was upbeat in the opening hours when the seminar started off to a hall packed with well-known musicians, connoisseurs and media personalities from the city and even from as far as Mumbai, who were all present despite a public transport strike on both the days and a nagging downpour through out the week. Sitar, sarod, tabla, sarangi or dhrupad, khayal, ghazal or raga, tala, gharana- these are known the world over today. They represent Hindustani Art Music - in reality, a part of Indian Classical music.

In his welcome address, the executive director, Shri Amit Mukerjee said that over the years the message that has been looming large on the concert scene is that despite some very talented and skilled musicians around, after many a concert the general feeling seems to be ‘woh baat nahi bani’ or in other words the old magic is no more. And here was an opportunity to find out why. Tradition and change have always been inseparable aspects of this music and it is also true that some fifty years ago great maestros broke away from prevalent norms and yet remained entrenched in tradition, never losing focus of the classicism of this music. In the process, they not only produced quality music but also created a special class of audience who would never tire of hearing music and swarm into the halls to witness concerts ‘live’.

A century of raag music was divided into three eras commencing with the raag sangeet scenario in the first four decades of the century. The first speaker was the erudite musicologist from Mumbai, Dr Ashok Ranade who gave a detailed account of the socio-economic state of the country and predominance of dhrupad and veena during the period and the gradual shift to khayal and thumri.

In continuation of the same session the noted exponent of Gwalior, Dr. Vidyadhar Vyas spoke on prominent khayal gharanas of the period. He said that the possible reason behind khayal’s popularity was that its form, which was able to incorporate the alaap and bol-bant from dhrupad, taans from qawali and bandishes at different tempos provided a wider canvas for the singer to exhibit his creativity and skills. In fact he also said that the birth of gharanas was primarily due to the limitations within a gharana and a particular pupil often trying to supersede these limits evolved new techniques, merged ideas from other styles and subsequently developed new patterns, which when passed onto the following generations gave birth to new gharanas.

The mainstream instruments of the period, said Shri Buddhadev Das Gupta were definitely a variety of veenas and rababs as also the sarangi followed by the sitar and sarode. However, very soon the veenas and rababs found their way to obscurity making the sarode and the sitar the most widely accepted instruments. The sarangi as a solo instrument was also becoming gradually extinct and existed mainly as an accompanying instrument to vocalists. It was denied even that status with the advent of the harmonium. Both in sarode and sitar music, the earlier styles were more packed with right-hand movements compared to the left-hand work. There was a predominance of complex bols and variety of jhala patterns compared to long meends, sustained notes and sapaat taans that were to become the order of the day during the following decades.

In the post-tea session, Shri Vijay Kichlu and Shri Gajendra Narain Singh discussed important issues such as birth of music conferences, and festivals. In the absence of empirical records, one has to depend on hearsays and versions of old musicians and a few books that are available. The first so-called music conference was held in Kolkata in 1867 followed by one in the 1890s. One at Baroda was held in 1916 followed by the ones in Lucknow and Allahabad in the 1920s. Since the 1930s, public festivals and conferences became regular events all over northern India. Organizers were either musicians of the caliber of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande or the rajas and zamindars who were well-trained musicians and connoisseurs, something that cannot be said about the conference-wallas nowadays.

While during the early years, teaching raag sangeet was rather confined to family members of ustads, the doyens of modern khayal, Haddu and Hassu Khan were both instrumental in passing the Gwalior tradition of singing onto the Hindu families. The same is true about Abdul Karim Khan who went as far as opening an institution for the masses. Very interestingly, two things also came out from the discussions on students outside musical families or gharanas by Ulhas Kashalkar and Shruti Sadolikar. One, that gandabandhan was not such an important issue as it has been made out to be and two, that the gurus themselves encouraged their students to listen to other contemporary ustads as well as study under them.

The post-lunch sessions were devoted to the period, 1940 to the late 1960s. Noted Bengali writer, Shri Sankarlal Bhattacharjee gave a vivid picture of the socio-cultural background of post-independent India. He saw the advent of radio and films as alternative sources of entertainment as convenient vehicles for the popularity of raag sangeet. He cited examples of many a Bengali and Hindi film where raag music has been used extensively right since Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ days.

Talking on the prominent khayal exponents of the period, Shri Amit Mukerjee explained in detail the unique styles of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Hirabai Borodekar, Kesarbai Kerkar and D V Paluskar among others, all of whom could be called true path breakers. Moreover, these are the luminaries who have been the greatest influences on later generations and are still idolized much in the same way, as they were fifty years ago.

While speaking on prominent instrumentalists of the same period, Shri Arvind Parikh chose to speak on sitariyas and generally limited his opinions to his gharana (Imdadkhani) only. He spoke at length on the contributions of Ustad Vilayat Khan both on the re-designing of the sitar as also his legendary style of playing, which undoubtedly brought about a sea change in the prevalent manner of sitar playing. It was apparent from the discussions that there was a general preference among all instrumentalists to depict delicate nuances of vocal music, like mudkis, kans, gamaks and long glides on their instruments often resulting in evolving new techniques especially on the left hand.

An important issue like role of media and recording companies was dealt with by the noted music journalist from Mumbai, Shri Amarendra Dhaneshwar. In the course of discussions it was evident that what we were really talking of was music reviews and not music criticism, the latter being a much more vast subject. Usage of microphones definitely played an important role towards the voice cultivation of new generation vocalists, who nowadays, do not quite concentrate on the volume and intensity of the voice relying a great deal on the public address system. Both the All India Radio and record companies like HMV, Hindustan and Columbia played an important role in the passage of raag sangeet to music lovers. And together with stalwarts, many musicians who were comparatively less successful in the concert circuit were also recorded regularly.

Although the credit goes to both Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar to popularize raag sangeet in the west, the first musicians who went to perform before Queen Victoria in the early part of the 20th century were sarode players Hussain Ali and Enayet Ali followed by Sakhawat Hussain, who was invited to perform by Adolf Hitler. Speaking on Exposure to the west – its effect on the musicians, both the panelists, Buddhadev Das Gupta and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande said that initially it was necessary to curtail the length of the concert, edit the alaap portions and emphasize on the rhythmic areas to attract the uninitiated listener in the west.

The last topic on the first day was students – their cultural background, role of institutions etc. HOD Rabindra Bharati, Prof. Sanjoy Bandopadhyay and Ajoy Chakrabarty said that initially these colleges were meant to create awareness in the society, improving audience quality etc. but later on curriculum were structured on an examination oriented basis as an alternative to the existing one-to-one gurumukhi system. Prof Banerjee said that while the music of earlier ustads cannot be called less cerebral in any way, it is also true that general education among the students may have made them more inquisitive and the training system more logical, although the period in question, (1940 –1970), may not be long enough to justify these changes.

21st September 2005

Shri Deepak Raja opened the proceedings of the second day speaking on the socio-economic effects on musicians in the last 35 years. He cited the death of Amir Khan as a turning point in the history of raag music, which according to him was the official end to the classical era and the advent of the romantic period. He said that since raag sangeet musicians and their audiences are products of the same society, it is no use expecting them (musicians) to act any differently. He said that with the overall increase in the accepted noise levels in India, it is only natural that the all the finer elements and delicate nuances in our music are at a premium. He also mentioned that the ‘star’ culture has hit the raag sangeet scenario, as a result of which, the star musician often finds it lucrative to pursue star-assignments rather than work on his music.

Shri Buddhadev Guha said that diverse interests and sources of entertainment have definitely reduced the general level of awareness and enthusiasm in the audience. He said that while AIR and Doordarshan initially pioneered the propagation of raag music in the country, with the advent of cable television and private radio channels this music is given least priority. None of the so-called music channels seem to care at all about this great heritage.

According to Shruti Sadolikar, as a result of these socio-economic factors, the worst sufferers seem to be the students who have become most impatient together with their parents, who often fail to guide their children, being over-ambitious themselves. While students should not follow their teachers blindly, it is also necessary to have faith in the experience of the teacher and remain in focus at least in the training period.

Speaking on the next topic: plethora of CDs and recorded materials, Sankarlal Bhattacharjee said that it is true that a section of the audience, especially the older generation, may prefer to sit back at home and listen to recordings of past masters but the current generation of audience normally looks out for musicians in the present generation. Music students however need to be careful while using these recorded materials as guidelines and refrain from imitating. He also said that it is inevitable for the gharanas getting mixed up and individual styles getting overlapped in this situation.

The post-tea session opened to very relevant problems like quality of performances of present day musicians. It was evident from Gajendra Singh’s statements that formerly, performers would practise and prepare for a concert all right but leave alone a lot of elements to take their own course during the performance. With lesser concerts around and probably in an urge to be an instant hit with the audience, the present generation of performers rehearses the raag, taal and even tihais and sawal jawabs to perfection and spontaneity has become rare quality lately.

Speed and rhythm seem to be the order of the day said Ashwini Deshpande. Bikram Ghosh tried to justify the melodic content in the tabla itself or rather in the bayan. He said that emotional content is not confined to raag and swaras only but exist pretty much in the same way in taal and tabla vocabulary too. He was not in agreement with the accepted hierarchy of raag and then taal in our music and preferred to give them same importance.

On music journalism and accountability, Amarendra Dhaneshwar mentioned that while it is not necessary for a music critic or a reviewer to be able to perform on stage, it is imperative that he or she goes through some formal training and gather experience before being judgmental about anybody’s performance. It is also necessary to recognize and acknowledge some positive aspects of a performer before writing him off completely. He said that newspapers nowadays are in competition with the electronic media and hence are opting for sensational news and photos. Reviews and regular articles in the newspapers are a must as a first step towards preservation and propagation of our music on a larger scale.

There were two sides in the discussions of the last session of the crossroads, which was called towards solution. The first being, a kind of code of conduct for current performers to follow. Amit Mukerjee reiterated the importance of complete attachment to the subject during the formative years of a musician and cited examples of research scientists and doctors as comparisons. Buddhadev Das Gupta explained in detail to use the electronic medium prudently. The usage of microphones, the tape machine and computer can go a long way as guidelines for students. He also mentioned that it was in training schools like SRA, where the students can have access to all these facilities very early in their lives. Emphasis has to be given on voice culture, said Shruti Sadolikar. She said that although many a young performer is skillful, not all are so aware of correct shrutis of the ragas. The musical impact of the earlier ustads could be attributed to their ability to sing in proper shrutis and depicting the raag bhav correctly, something that cannot be said always about the current performers.

The other side of the above topic was a code of conduct for the listeners and the promoters of raag sangeet. Ajoyji said that no matter what we perform or rather how well we perform; most of it would fall on deaf ears if the audience is not well informed, appreciative and discerning. While it may be impossible to convert mass audience, it is worthwhile to at least make a beginning. Dr Vidyadhar Vyas mentioned a newly opened course on music appreciation and journalism at the Bhatkhande College, Lucknow. Shri Chakrabarty said not merely the students but their parents need to be trained first if they are to guide their children and create the proper ambience at home. Last but not the least, Deepak Raja concluded by saying that all these call for a mass movement that can be only handled by the government, institutions and the media. It was apparent from the discussions that in the west, classical music has also been through such turmoil but has always enjoyed a kind of protection from the government and universities. Shri Arvind Parikh mentioned forming a kind of ‘pressure group’ consisting of 15 recognised musicians both from the northern and southern parts of India to guide the government departments to work towards creating an ideal atmosphere for this rich musical heritage to prosper in the days to come. On that happy note, the executive director of ITC SRA, Shri Amit Mukerjee thanked all the participating panelists and members of the audience and brought an end to the two-day seminar. One hopes that it is in effect, a beginning to move ahead from the crossroads that we find ourselves at.

Glimpses of the Seminar


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