Newsletter May / June 2012

1. Hindustani Gata-s Compilation - Book with Instrumental Compositions
- Reviewed by Yogendra -

Gats (or gata-s) are short compositions for plucked string instruments, like sitar or sarod, in classical North Indian music. They are used as thematic starting points for further improvisations in raga and tala. Gats are one of the few relatively fixed elements of Hindustani music (except of course the sound shape of the raga itself), therefore they are an important framework for theoretical and practical studies. Ideally, they give a melodically and rhythmically sophisticated portrait of a raga, which includes the essential features in an artistically convincing form.

In his book "Hindustani Gata's Compilation - Instrumental Themes in Indian Classical Music", published early in 2012, French musicologist and sitarist Patrick Moutal presents an impressive collection of gats. On over 250 pages, he has given notations of 454 gats in 164 ragas and 15 talas which he has collected during his studying years in Varanasi between 1970 and 1983. Among them are, of course, not only the 70 to 80 well-known ragas, but also many lesser-known rare ones. Equally dazzling and intricate as the featured gats are the sources from which they originate. Most gats come from Lal Mani Misra and K. C. Gangrade, Patrick Moutal's teachers in Varanasi, and represent musical traditions, which are relatively little known outside India. But there are also gats from internationally renowned masters like Allauddin Khan, Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Rais Khan, Imrat Khan, Balaram Pathak and Buddhaditya Mukherjee. V. N. Bhatkhande has also contributed, as well as several well-known singers from the first half of the 20th century. And last but not least Patrick Moutal has also included some of his own compositions. The gats were collected either from personal lessons, from written publications, or from transcriptions of published recordings.

All gats are notated in V. N. Bhatkhande's Svaralipi system, a letter notation using the characters of the Indian Devanagari alphabet which is explained in the book in full detail. Unfortunately the choice of the Svaralipi system is a weakness of the work in two ways at once: First, the unfamiliar letters make access to the notation unnecessarily difficult to the Western reader. Second, the rigid form of the system allows only a rigid, relatively superficial representation of the music. Ornaments and articulation rules that define the raga to a large extent are mostly missing. And rhythmic subtleties that go beyond a uniform subdivision of a unit of time are omitted throughout.

Patrick Moutal takes a very traditionalist position here, restricting the use of notations to mere memory aids and skeletal representations of the actual gats. According to this line of thought, a gat can only be filled with musical life when the student has learnt it orally from his teacher (or at least heard it in a recording), or when he has already mastered the underlying raga in all its subtleties. This biased view seems a bit outdated today. It ignores the wider possibilities of notations deliberately for mere ideological reasons and neglects the transmission of more information in more detailed contemporary notation systems like those used in Joep Bor's "The Raga Guide" or George Ruckert's "The Classical Music of North India" .

Who could make good practical use of the book then? It is not suitable for beginners in Indian music, because it requires a fairly thorough prior knowledge of the ragas. Fluent Hindi readers will probably rather draw on the extensive Indian publications. And those looking for fully notated complete pieces for in-depth study of performance practice will rather find them in George Ruckert's work. This leaves us with all those who already have a good control over a wide range of ragas and talas as well as over the principles of improvisational raga development and who are looking for new gats for the expansion and differentiation of their repertoire. These people will definetely find Patrick Moutal's collection highly interesting - if they are not discouraged by Devanagari and the very heterogeneous sources. For this rather small target group the book could be a real treasure trove.

Hindustani Gata's Compilation is now available for 28.- Euros (plus shipping) from India Instruments.


2. Raga CD by Yogendra - New Edition
- New in our Assortment -

"Peace, Love & Joy - Three Ragas for Sitar & Tabla", the new edition of Yogendra's classical Indian raga CD along with tabla player Paul Ashis, has been published in May 2012. It brings three traditional Indian evening melodies to life with sitar and tabla, opening a door to the magic and deep spirituality of India. Ideal for relaxation, meditation, yoga, ayurveda and tantra - but also for demanding artistic listening pleasure! Peace: the meditative and dignified raga Bageshri. Love: the romantic raga Kirwani. Joy: the innocent light-hearted raga Bhoopali. The CD was first published in 2011 in a very small run. Now it is available in an attractive new design and is physically available in stores from distributor Silenzio and for download at all major platforms - and of course at a particularly low price from India Instruments!

This duo brings the beauty of the tradition in an accessible and understandable way for untrained ears. The three ragas are sparkling and melodic and show two musicians who enjoy intensively the music they play. A rich album that might brighten your horizon.- Eelco Schilder,
The music has sweetened my first warm spring evening ... I have not heard anything so beautiful in a long time. - Shyamala, yoga teacher.
I like the continuous peaceful atmosphere and how the peacefulness spreads. - Dakini, Amma devotee.
These ragas awaken exactly the feelings in me for which they have been created. Wonderful - Atma Singh, Kundalini yoga teacher.
There are probably few non-Indians who have studied the sitar and Indian music as seriously and mastered it as thoroughly as Yogendra. - Georg Lawall, composer and guitarist.

Sitarist Yogendra hails from Germany and studied the secrets of Indian raga music for decades with renowned masters like Ali Akbar Khan and Partha Chatterjee. Tabla accompanist Ashis Paul has studied with Anindo Chatterjee and is considered one of the most sensitive and musical tabla virtuosos of his generation.

Peace, Love and Joy is available now for 15.- Euros (plus shipping) from India Instruments.
More Indian classical CDs available here.


3. The Young Masters (2/8) - Kaushiki Desikan, Vocalist
- Background by Arunabha Deb -

In the first edition of the new Indian music, dance and theater magazine Avantika (published in January 2012), music journalist Arunabha Deb wrote about the new generation of great Hindustani classical musicians aged between 30 and 40. We present his article with an introduction and seven portraits of musicians as a series in eight parts.

Kaushiki Desikan, 31, Kolkata, vocalist of the Patiala Gharana

Kaushiki had started out as a complete traditionalist. She stormed into the world of music at the age of 17, in 1997, with her debut concert at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi. Her rendition of Kedar (later released by Music Today) was enough to answer the critics who were vicious in attributing her early success to her lineage. Daughter and disciple of Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, Kaushiki has always carried the weight of her legacy with clarity and ease. "I'm not foolish enough to think that other girls my age couldn't have achieved what I have if they got the same opportunities as I did," she says. But she's quick to add that she has justified these opportunities: "An organizer may come to me once or even twice because I'm my father's daughter, but he wouldn't come back a third time if he didn't really want me to perform in his festival."

At 31, she is unquestionably the leading female vocalist of her generation. Today, it would be laughable to insinuate that she holds this mantle on the strength of her father's stature in the music world. Right from shaping her gayaki to deciding on the trajectory of her career, her decisions have been her own. Earlier in her career, she was heavily criticized for her overemphasis on tayari (especially on sargam-based taans) in her recitals, but she stuck to what she believed in. "I'm not a 40-year-old trapped in a twenty-something's body," she had told this reporter three years back "As a young girl, I like to perform my sargams and provide a certain climax to my recitals." Eventually, what was a point of criticism became a celebrated hallmark in her singing. Naysayers still point this trait out as a signifier of her immaturity, but, as always, her response to criticism is balanced. "I know that sometimes I go overboard with my tayari. I am working on it. But at the same time, it is ridiculous to say that tayari implies immaturity. So, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's gayaki was immature?"

In terms of her professional choices, she has been less in haste than many in her generaton to experiment with other forms. "I first wanted to ensure that my identity as a classical singer was entrenched in the minds of audiences. I was apprehensive that by experimenting with other forms too soon, I would risk diluting that identity," ??she said. For her, the decision to involve herself with a non-classical project is always dertmined by one factor: "I ask myself, can I justify my presence in the project?" Of late, her inner voice has been answering fairly frequently in the affirmative: she has sung in two Bengali films: Chaplin and Jani Dekha Hobe; in another, Chitrangada, apart from having sung, she appears in the film as herself (quite a clever ploy by Bengal's raging auteur Rituparno Ghosh to finally get her on the screen; he has been badgering her to act for quite a few years now).

There are also independent albums in the offing: one in collaboration with Rabindrasangeet singer Sraboni Sen and another, a joint effort with Purbayan Chatterjee and Sonu Nigam. But these new ventures have not hindered her previous schedule in any way: even now, she is as busy as ever with her classical concerts. This season, she has a concert in Maharashtra almost every week.

4. Concert Life in Calcutta (2/5) - Bhawanipur Sangeet Sammilani
- Travel Report by Yogendra -

In February 2012, Yogendra had the opportunity to experience classical concert life in the Bengali music metropolis Calcutta. He tells of the many facets of the current scene in a five-part series.

Sangeet Samelan - Private Music Circles

The southern city of Calcutta, between the old centre and the shopping area Rash Behari Avenue (home of? sarod maker Hemen and until a few years ago also of sitar maker Hiren Roy), is a densely populated, vibrant and raging Indian metropolitan district. In a side street you can find a nondescript old building in the usual local condition - dirty sidewalk in front, mouldy walls, narrow entrance and small stairway full of unspeakable odors. But once you make your way through the uninviting exterior to the first floor, you reach one of the oldest and most respected private music circles of Calcutta - the Bhawanipur Sangeet Sammilani, in English: the music assembly of the district Bhawanipur.

In the late 19th and early 20 century the emerging educated middle class in major Indian cities discovered raga music as a national cultural heritage. In many places private music societies were established to foster this treasure. The classical music monopoly of the nobility and the rich with their traditional Mehfils crumbled and was replaced by increasing civil commitment. The foundation of the Bhawanipur Sangeet Sammilani in 1900 was a result of this movement. During its more than 100 years of history the Sammilani has seen quite a few brilliant soirees: Bade Ghulam Ali Khan has performed there, as well as Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan. And today's greats like Rashid Khan, Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar and Veena Sahashrabudhhe are regular guests as well.

In the concert hall of the Sammilani, the glorious history is mainly reflected on the walls with their height of about four meters - they are covered up to the ceiling with paintings of famous music masters and give the room a unique venerable flair. Apart from that the hall makes a rather simple impression: the area, covered with carpeting, is barely larger than a very spacious living room. There are no chairs, just a few benches placed along the walls. The audience sits cross-legged on the floor. A few low platforms covered with white sheets are used as a makeshift stage. However, the amplification system is surprisingly sophisticated - every instrument gets its own microphone, including the tanpura, mixer and speakers are state of the art, and large monitor speakers for the artists are placed in front of? the small stage. This setup might seem a little bit exaggerated considering the small size of the room - even without amplification it wouldn't be any problem to hear the music properly. But the unique beauty of unamplified natural sound still seems to be largely unknown in India. A certain powerful volume seems to be a general requirement just about anywhere.

Scheduled for this evening is sitarist Partha Chatterjee, preceded by a non-resident Indian singer from Canada as opening act. Let's spare any details regarding the singing NRI lady - her intonation was so painful that I had to practice active non-listening and leave the hall after her first item. It remains a mystery to me how she had gotten the invitation to perform at the Sammilani. Fortunately sitarist Partha Chatterjee turned out to be a real treat to the ears with raga Bihag. The striking clarity of its interpretation of raga, the musicality of his vocal phrasing, his perfect proportions of the various formal elements and the organic flow of his creativity were pure delight. His alap, jor and slow gat are probably among the best that Indian classical music has to offer today. Only his fast gats and tanas often sound strained and over-ambitious. But at that stage of the performance, brilliant tabla accompanist Ashok Mukherjee compensated with supreme ease and playfulness.

While the musical performance was great, attendance was really quite poor. Only 25 to 30 visitors found their way to this programme, about half of them students and relatives of the artists and the other half Sammilani activists in retirement. True, Partha Chatterjee is none of today's popular raga-superstars who fill the halls simply because of the glamour of their ubiquitious media presence. But even a fair audience of music lovers is obviously hard to gain in Calcutta today in view of the great variety of cultural programmes and the rapidly increasing commercialization and compression of all aspects of everyday life. Perhaps the basic idea of civil commitment in cultural associations is no longer compatible with contemporary life - the venerable patina of the Sammilani certainly seems more dusty and old-fashioned than fresh and cool. The Sammilani as a cultural institution faces the danger of becoming a kind of museum - it could well do with active young members, bringing in fresh blood and new ideas in order to connect with our times and stay alive and kicking.

The following video gives some impressions of the Bhawanipur Sangeet Sammilani: Youtube - Anirban Bhattacharyya sings raga Rageshri.


5. Reduced Service - June / July
- Company Info -

Our managing director Norbert Klippstein is going for a vacation from 4.6. to 8.6. and from 30.6. to 15.7. Therefore India Instruments can only offer reduced service in these periods - sorry! The email traffic will not be affected, however - we will answer all inquiries and take orders and reservations as quickly as usual. We will also try to process and ship orders to the best of our capacities - just allow an extra one to two weeks for delivery. Small items can probably be delivered with only a very small delay. The dispatch of large instruments, however, might have to be postponed until after 11.6. and 16.7. in some cases. Urgent and time-restricted orders can not be handled during Norbert's absence, unfortunately. Visits to our Berlin store are restricted to special appointments within those periods. We apologize for the inconvenience!

6. Concert Calendar
- Scene Info -

Indian minister of commerce Anand Sharma inaugurated the "Days of India in Germany" in Hamburg on May 11th. They were initiated by the Indian government to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between both countries and will run until March 2013. However, a programme has not yet been published. And the opening reception with a concert of violinist L. Subramaniam took place exclusively with invited guests - excluding the general public. In view of this secrecy it will be interesting to see whether India is still going to come up with substantial contents, or whether the "Days of India in Germany" will turn out to be a mere empty box. Meanwhile, private organisers keep on presenting Indian concert highlights tirelessly in tedious work and practically without any funding:

01.06. MUNICH: Partha Bose - sitar, NIKOLA LUTZ - saxophones, INDRANIL Mallick - Tabla
02.06. FRANKFURT: BHARATHI AVIREDDY - Bharathanatyam dance, Surangama Dasgupta - Kathak dance
08.06. MUNICH: Hariprasad Chaurasia - Bansuri
09.06. CH-KREUZLINGEN: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
10.06. COLOGNE: MADRAS SPECIAL R.Shotham (perc), S.Sanjana (Voc), Z.Lantos (violin), C.Zürner (bass)
13.06. CH-THUN: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
14.06. CH-ST GALLEN: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
15.06. CH-BASEL: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
16.06. CH-BERNE: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
16.06. ESSEN: Shahid Parvez - Sitar, ATULKUMAR Upadhye - Violin
20.06. CH-WINTERTHUR: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
21.06. CH-LIESTAL: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
22.06. CH-LUCERNE: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
23.06. A-LINZ: RINA CHANDRA - bansuri, Gerhard ROSNER - Violin
23.06. CH-LAUSANNE: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
24.06. FRANKFURT: SINGING STRINGS 2x sitar, tabla & vocals
30.06. HILDESHEIM: Yogendra - sitar solo
30.06. STUTTGART: MANOJ Baruah - violin, SUMAN SARKAR - Tabla
01.07. STUTTGART: MANOJ Baruah - violin, SUMAN SARKAR - Tabla
22.07. COLOGNE: USMAN KHAN - Sitar
27.07. BERLIN: Sukhwinder Singh "PINKY" - tabla, Al Gromer Khan - Sitar & surbahar

Please check our concert calendar for more detailed information, venues and time as well as additional dates in 2012.

7. Indian Classical Music (3/7) - North and South
- Background by Yogendra -

Indian classical music and its instruments are the basis for the work of India Instruments. But what's so special about this tradition? In a 7-part series by Yogendra, we are giving an introduction for beginners.

Indian classical music (3/7) - North and South India: Two great traditions

Common roots

In classical Indian music, there are two great traditions today. They differ significantly in their instruments, repertoire, musical vocabulary and forms. Hindustani music is mainly practiced in the North and Carnatic music in the South. They have common roots in the Sama-Veda, in which musical rules for the use of three to seven notes in reciting sacred texts of the Rig-Veda were described. Both music systems are based upon raga as the melodic foundation and tala as the rhythmic principle, both are modal and monophonic, based on vocal performance as aesthetic ideal, transmitted orally by professional musicians, using seven syllables Sa, Re / Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni, and place great emphasis on improvisation. They have only evolved as two different traditions from the common elements from about the 12th century AD onwards.

Hindustani music

Hindustani music is cultivated throughout the India states north of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, as well as in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. It emerged from the confrontation with Persian influences that came to North India with the Muslim rulers. Stars like Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Hussain have gained worldwide reputation for Hindustani music in the second half of the 20th century. Today, many non-Indians are so intrigued by Hindustani music that they promote and practice it. Together with the large Indian diaspora in Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and the Arab Gulf States they constitute a vibrant community and make sure that high-class concerts of Hindustani music take place outside India regularly. Because of its huge popularity, the next parts of this series will deal with the styles, performers and instruments of Hindustani music in more detail.

Carnatic music

Carnatic music is mainly at home in the four South Indian states Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and also in the Tamil speaking part of Sri Lanka. Its core are the vocal compositions of great masters, both in the classroom and in concert. Here, the musical structure and the text are equally important. Even if Carnatic music is played on an instrument, it is based on the song - special instrumental compositions are not common. Improvisation in raga and tala takes up less space than in Hindustani music and is often incorporated into the composition. However, Carnatic music has its own form of improvisation in a format called Ragam Tanam Pallavi, consisting of three successive elements: In Ragam the raga unfolds purely melodically without any fixed metre, in Tanam the raga melodies are woven into a rhythmic pulse, and Pallavi consists of a row of improvisations around a recurring short chorus.

Purandara Dasa and the Big Three

The foundations for today's practice were set in the 16th century by Purandara Dasa after Carnatic music had already developed independently for several centuries. In his songs he created an exemplary combination of expression, melodic beauty and rhythmic sophistication. About 1000 of them have survived to the present day. In his texts, he integrated everyday stories and everyday language, but also explanations of philosophical topics. In that way he made the music accessible to a wider audience. Moreover, he developed a teaching method with systematic exercises that is still used in Carnatic music today. The heyday of Carnatic music came in the late 18th and early 19 century with the three composers Tygaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri. Their works form the core of the modern concert repertoire, and they are sometimes revered like saints. Their song lyrics deal mostly with religious or philosophical themes.

Carnatic instruments

The basis for the music is the string instrument tanpura with its long neck and spherical body. The open strings of the tanpura are plucked gently and evenly to produce a continuous drone sound. The violin is particularly capable of imitating the human voice with its melodic flexibility, the long sustained notes and the rhythmic articulation. Therefore it is so often used as accompaniment for the main singer in Carnatic music. But the violin can be a solo instrument as well. The most common solo instrument though is the Saraswati veena, a plucked string instrument that looks similar to the North Indian sitar at first glance. Due to large differences in construction and playing technique, the Saraswati-Vina, has a very distinctive unique sound. Very important in Carnatic music is the rhythmic accompaniment. The main rhythm instrument is the powerful barrel drum mridangam, whith different skins on both ends for bass and treble sounds. In larger ensembles, ghatam, a kind of clay pot, the little tambourine kanjira and the jaw's harp morsing are used as well.

Carnatic concerts

A typical Carnatic concert takes about three hours. It usually starts with several shorter pieces, has a long main piece with Ragam Tanam Pallavi in the middle and finishes again with several shorter and lighter pieces. Often there is also a separate percussion part which climaxes into rousing rhythmic dialogues when several percussionists are involved. High season for concerts every year are December and January with the six-weeks long Madras Music Season in Chennai, one of the largest cultural festivals in the world. Unfortunately in Central Europe, Carnatic music is relatively seldom presented in live concerts.

CDs with Carnatic music

Information on and sound clips of Carnatic instruments:
* Saraswati-Vina
* Mridangam
* Ghatam
* Kanjira

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