About Me

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I am a professional Indian Classical Singer. I hold a Ph.D. in Economics and Master's Degrees in both, Economics and Business Management; and I also work as Faculty in Economics for Management students. I have a passion for writing and this blog is a platform for me to share my experiences and express my thoughts and ideas, views and opinions, gathered while working in diverse fields.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Concert at the Tagore Centre of the Indian Embassy in Berlin

It was a great honour to be able to give a one and a half hours' solo performance at the Tagore Centre of the Embassy of India, Berlin, Germany. This was on August 13th, last year which was just two days before India's 66th Independence Day! I had performed in Germany before, but this one was really special!

Music no doubt transcends cultures, languages and countries, but I believe that the audience must understand the music to be able to appreciate it even more. And that has always been my endeavour: to connect with my audiences as much as I can. This time, I decided to go in for shorter duration Madhyalaya and Drut compositions, which would depict my country's diverse culture. Also, being a Maharashtrian, I wanted to showcase my state's rich musical heritage, Abhangas, or saint poetry and Marathi Natyasangeet; the former which played a very important role in weaving the social, cultural and spiritual fabric of Maharashtra, and the latter, the quintessential stage music of Maharashtra, which is often credited with tuning the Marathi ear to Hindustani classical music. I selected a few appealing classical bandishes in popular ragas like Hansadhwani, Yaman, Nand, some traditional, and some of my father's guru Ustad Mohammad Hussain Khansaheb's unique pieces.

On the day of the concert, grey clouds covered the green city of Berlin and it felt as if the Indian monsoon was about to make its presence felt! As we reached the Indian Embassy, I proudly looked up to the Indian tricolour at the entrance of the Tagore Centre. The sound arrangements in the auditorium were top class, and after a quick rehearsal and a sound check, we were ready to roll!

Just as the clock was ticking, and the time of the concert approaching,  and as we were enjoying a piping hot cup of tea, there was a thunderstorm and it was actually the Indian monsoon making its presence felt in the German capital! It rained as it does in the tropics, and although the much talked about climate change might be to blame for this unexpected and unusual thundershower, for me it was as if I was sipping chai in my own city, the only missing thing probably being the garam garam pakode!

While I was enjoying this wonderful weather, the staff at the Embassy got a bit concerned about how many people would turn out braving this peculiar weather. As I looked at it, although the audience turnout was indeed very important for me as an artiste, it was an uncontrollable factor. Besides, it is more important how much the audience enjoys your performance, rather than how big it is. As an artiste, there was one definite change I had to now make in the line-up of compositions that I had decided to sing. Raga Malhar which is synonymous with the Monsoon, thundershowers and the beautiful feeling of raindrops covering the entire surroundings, had now to be included! I decided to sing Sawan Ghan Garaje, the famous composition in Raga Miya Ki Malhar.

As the curtain opened, I was pleasantly surprised to see a near full auditorium, which meant that the unexpected thundershowers did not deter the audience from coming for this concert. The Deputy Chief of Mission and other dignitaries of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India were present. Moreover, generally when Indian artistes perform abroad, a huge portion of the audience is Indian. But here, except 6-7 Indian faces, the entire audience was European. I am always touched and humbled by the amount of appreciation, curiosity and respect that the foreign audience shows for Indian classical music.

 Indian classical music is a vast canvas on which the musician sketches the images of his imagination and connects with his audience in his own unique way! And I feel I am blessed to be doing service to this huge art in my own small way.

Click on the link below to read my article in Marathi published in the daily Sakal:

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Academics and Music: Very Similar or Grossly Different?

Reading the title of this post, one might wonder what on earth am I exactly trying to say! Academics and Music? What's the connection?

Often I am asked questions about how come I am professionally into both: academics and music?
"One a science, the other an art! One serious, the other 'entertainment'! One about books and theory, the other about actual performance!"
"Economics, oh how boring! Musicians are artistes! And associating Economics with it, oh!"
"Well, to be a musician, you must take care of the economics of it! But for an economist, what's the connection with music, apart from perhaps being a hobby or an interest?"
This post is not in the least meant to run down these questions and comments, but to address them positively. Such questions are very natural and in fact have made me think on lines I would never have otherwise and when I did start thinking, I started seeing striking similarities between the two! Let me explain how:

I was born in a family where both, education and music were present in abundance. So it was natural for me that I take up any one or both of these professionally. Hence for me it was nothing exceptional or extraordinary. I grew up with respect for education and reverence for the arts. Appreciation for music, dance, literature, painting was instilled in me throughout my growing up years. And one day, I found myself professionally involved in both academics and music! I don't even know when and how this happened and I was and will always be equally devoted to both; and can never choose one over the other.

I have used the word academics for want of a more suitable word. The Webster English Dictionary defines academics as a 'course or study undertaken at school or college'. Strictly speaking Education would have been more appropriate as education is 'the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.' However, I cannot separate education from music, because classical music is definitely a systematic instruction, although traditionally not received at a school or University, but under the guidance of a Guru. The points I want to make, will get lost if I use the term 'education', so to establish the meaning of what I want to convey, a career in academics is a more suitable phrase.

So what do academics (defined as a teacher or scholar in a university or other institute of higher education) do?

Academics generally work in universities and educational institutes and their work involves research, teaching and administrative duties. 

Now, let us understand these three terms in detail:
  • Research is defined as the process of scientific inquiry or systematic investigation for fact-finding and reaching new conclusions. It is a detailed systematic study of a phenomenon.
  • Teaching is the act of imparting knowledge or skills.
  • Administration is the process or activity of running a business or an organization.

And what do professional musicians do? (I am specially referring to Indian Classical Musicians here)

In Hindi or Sanskrit, classical music is called 'Shastriya Sangeet', which literally translated, means Scientific Music. There is a science, which governs a Raga, the notes to be used, notes not to be used, the season or the time of day when it sounds best, its impact on healing, and so on. The basis of this science is not completely explicit as there is hardly any documentation for this ancient art-form and it has been interpreted differently by different practitioners. However, the process of scientific inquiry and research remains the same. 

Research Methodology basically deals with how to study a phenomenon scientifically and systematically. Hence, it is the study of 'how to study' and applying the principle of Unity of Science, although individual methods of research and inquiry may vary with the phenomenon which is being studied, the methodology remains the same.
As Karl Pearson puts it, "The Scientific Method is one and the same in all branches and that method is the method of all logically trained minds. The unity of all sciences consists alone in its methods, not its material."
Hence, a practitioner of Indian Classical Music studies this ancient art-form and the science behind it and tries to make his own interpretations and puts those interpretations into practice. Needless to say that although not mandatory, a little knowledge of Research Methodology will always be of help in the scientific study of any phenomenon, even musical notes and Ragas! 

The second analogy that I draw is that while the academic studies, researches and teaches a science, the classical musician studies and performs this art form and presents it in front of an audience. In a similar manner, an academic makes presentations in the classroom or at seminars and conferences. The  aim of the musician maybe to give listening pleasure to his audience and that of the academic to teach his students or present his findings in front of scientists and research scholars. Hence, although the content might be very different, the medium is largely the same: that of presenting before a gathering of people and presenting in such a way that it keeps the audience engaged. Hence, along with the quality of the content, the art of presenting it in a proper and interesting manner is equally important. So naturally, if you know how to use the microphone and the stage in the most effective manner, you can use if for all those jobs which require putting forth your ideas before an audience. Music and academic disciplines are both based on a science, but to present that science effectively is an art! Similarly, as an academic teaches and trains his students in his discipline, almost every Indian classical musician grooms his shishyas.

Finally, like an academic does administrative work which essentially means sound management of his department or the educational institution, a musician too has to effectively manage his shows, concerts, his own study and riyaaz, teaching his students and of course managing the economics of his own 'business'! Here, I feel like mentioning the Greek root of the word Economics: Oikos, meaning household and Nemein, meaning to manage. The word Oikos in this context can be interpreted in an expanding scope, right from a small household economic unit, to a business organisation, to a country, to the global economy, to finally the earth! This basically implies that economic principles are required for the effective management of all these units of varying scope. This same logic can be extended to an academic managing his educational institution along with his research and teaching; and an artiste managing his career, along with concerts, recordings, his own study and teaching others.

My experience while working in these two supposedly contrasting fields has been that they are in reality quite complementary. For me personally, working in both of them simultaneously has created a balance between science and art, concrete and abstract, intellectual and spiritual, analytical and creative!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

On classical music and its current status…

(I am re-publishing this post from the "Sharing Thoughts" page on my website www.kalyanibondre.com)

Classical music is the rich tradition of India, which has evolved over generations. It is unmatched in its scope, its depth, its aesthetics and its impact. It is a heavenly experience; something completely out of this world.

There are myriad of classical music festivals and events taking place, and people come in large numbers to catch a glimpse of the artistes and their music. Some of these people also turn up because they would like to be seen in the circles as the aficionados of art, literature, and music; and not necessarily because they have any special liking or understanding of classical music!

Yet, there is always a debate on the future of classical music, what with the new generation often preferring something more popular and contemporary. I am myself a part of this new generation, and as it is said, you should not make comments on something, of which you are yourself a part! But as a part of something, one often tends to get a better perspective of certain trends and phenomena, and understands things which cannot be understood from outside. Being a part of the so-called ‘new generation’, I would definitely like to share my views on this oft repeated debate.

A lot of my friends and contemporaries are either singers, musicians, or performers, themselves, or are simply music lovers, and I have often had interactions with them about classical music, its different schools, ragas, bandishes, and so on. When I see my students also having a keen interest in classical music, I feel that it is not just my generation, but even the next, and the next, that is going to carry forward this wonderful legacy of our nation. At some famous classical festivals, each year, the previous year’s record of the number of people who attended it, is broken, and tickets are sold out on the very first day itself! When I think of all this, the whole debate on classical music, sounds meaningless.

But then, I have my other set of friends who feel that classical music is something for the ‘classes’, which the masses cannot understand and hence cannot appreciate. They feel as against popular (pop) music, which is very easy to connect with, classical music requires even the listener to be well-informed to be able to appreciate it. Moreover, in today’s fast track world, who has got the time to listen to a bada khayal for 30 minutes? Add to it that many renowned artistes show up hours late for a concert, and when they do, they get so lost in their renditions, that they often end up presenting one raga for an hour and a half, or at times, even more. The listening pleasure also diminishes when the words of the bandish are pronounced in such a way, that one cannot decipher their meaning.

True! They too have a point, don’t they? How does one then resolve this conflict? Well, I would like to address all these points one by one. First of all, I would like to quote a famous Sanskrit saying ‘Ranjayate iti ragaha’, meaning, whatever sounds good to the ear, is Raga, or music. One does not necessarily have to understand the science and dynamics of a waterfall to appreciate its beauty, nor does one have to be a botanist to feel the colour and fragrance of a beautiful red rose. Is it so difficult to appreciate something one does not understand? Of course, if one does have an understanding of classical music, it definitely increases one’s pleasure as a listener; but not having that knowledge is certainly not a deterrent. Tastes build up and grow with time and I know hardcore hard rock fans who got completely addicted to Hindustani classical music, once they kept their prejudices aside and listened with an open mind. “We know nothing of the technical nitty gritties of classical music; what is sur, taalsam, but when we listen to it, it takes us to a completely different level of experience”, is what they tell me. Also, one need not exclusively devote oneself to listening to classical music. I am myself a fan of most of the rocking dance numbers which music directors of Hindi films churn out so wonderfully!

About their concern on the length of classical music and the time constraint in today’s age, I feel that it is a rhetorical question: the answer lies in the question itself. Due to rising stress levels, thanks to modern life, one should take time off to connect with one’s soul, something which we hardly do in our everyday routine. Classical music transcends worldly barriers and takes one to a higher spiritual level, giving one the benefits of meditation. Classical music, its healing powers and music therapy are all well-known.

Having said all this, however, I would also like to say, that classical music need not be always viewed in its mysticism and spirituality aspect. That also is overdone at times, taking away from classical music, its basic role of being music! Music is music, after all, and classical music has the same pleasing effect on one’s mind as any other genre would have. So, in the narrow sense, it is plain music, it gives one joy, melody, rhythm. In the broader sense, it connects one to oneself, and finally, to Him!

Now we come to the final argument; artistes showing up late, over-stretching the duration of the presentation of one raga, and hmm…finally that so typical criticism of classical singers: their diction and pronunciation. I agree there is no defending all of this. Artistes should respect the time of others and maintain a ‘sense of proportion’ in their presentation. I agree that a bada khayal cannot be cut too short, and it also should not be; as that is, in fact, its beauty. But stretching too far, in today’s instant coffee and fast food times, is also not recommended. Shorter forms like the Chhota Khayal, Tarana, Thumri, Dadra, Tappa give the best of both the words: the majestic depth of classical music, and the instant appeal of pop music.

As for the criticism that pronunciation of the words of the bandish should be clear enough, I would only say that a singer should make a conscious effort towards pronouncing the words correctly, breaking them at the right points, and expressing the emotions which the words portray. Classical music is the highest form of music, which does not need the dependence on words; the notes (sur) and rhythm (taal) are sufficient. Generally, artistes get so involved in the sur and taal that they often disregard the lyrics (bol), which is the second thread which constitutes the warp and weft of the fabric called music. Rich poetry and lyrical content which embellish the sur and taal even more, should be given their due importance. I was so pleased to receive a compliment from a friend, who on attending one of my concerts, said, “What I liked most in your presentation was that the lyrics of your bandishes were so clear. I never knew that this could ever be the case in a classical concert. For me, so far it was a given, that the words are not to be heard in classical music. Your presentation gave me a different listening pleasure, which I had not got earlier while listening to classical music.”

I feel that one needs to change with the changing times. In today’s world of aggressive marketing and media, we cannot keep sticking on to outdated concepts. Indian classical music has so much aesthetic value in itself that it is not dependent on any marketing or packaging. But if we only adjust ourselves and our music a little to the modern age, there would be no stopping for our music, and its future will be secure, not just amongst a small group of aficionados, but in totality.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Reminiscence: Vocal Harmonium Jugalbandi

It was sometime in 2009 when one day I was doing my riyaaz as usual and began musing on the beauty of the harmonium accompaniment in Indian classical music. Unlike in any other genre of music, Indian classical music (ICM) is completely spontaneous which is why even the same singer singing the same Raga and the same bandish (composition) in that Raga, creates a different mood, a different picture everytime. This abstraction of Indian music is rather difficult to comprehend and internalise for the layman. Of course this same abstract flexibility makes Indian classical music highly creative, and requires a very high amount of training for the musician, as the music is created on the spot, in front of the audience.

The same is the beauty of the accompanying instruments and the music they create in Indian classical music. In Hindustani or North Indian vocal music, it is generally the Tabla and Harmonium which mainly accompany the artiste, whereas the Tanpura or the drone is set to the same cycle of surs (notes) and keeps the continuity of the music, beginning before the singer starts and phasing out after the singer stops. While the Tabla plays the Taal (Rhythmic Cycle) in which the bandish is composed, the Harmonium usually follows the singer, who at every moment is improvising and presenting something new! Naturally, once the harmonium player understands the style of the singer, he often starts anticipating what the singer will be singing next, which makes following the singer easier!

As a trained Kathak dancer years ago, I was always much more fascinated by the Tabla, and I still am! As a singer now, for so many years, I have always had excellent pieces in my performances, where it is kind of a musical conversation with the Tabla. However, the harmonium in all these situations had played the supportive role of following me and when I stopped, playing the mukhda of the bandish or when the Tabla played its piece, providing the mukhda as the lehra. As any keen listener of ICM would agree, this role played by the Harmonium lends wonderful support and continuity to the main performance.

It was that day, sometime in September 2009, that while enjoying this beauty and spontaneity of the Harmonium accompaniment, I wondered if along with this main role,  the Harmonium could also engage in a jugalbandi (duet) with the main artiste. This had me thinking. I started reading a lot of literature on Hindustani music and tried to find out if such a thing was indeed done in the past.

Unfortunately, there is not much documentation in Indian classical music about the various experiments done by musicians. ICM invariably has been passed down through generations orally, without too much emphasis on documentation, one of the reasons being that ICM has to be demonstrated live to be taught. The spontaneity cannot be noted down on a piece of paper. So whatever literature was available, I studied thoroughly and found no mention of such a Vocal-Harmonium Jugalbandi done by anyone in the past. I also had conversations which senior knowledgeable musicians and musicologists regarding this; my training in Research Methodology, particularly Qualitative Research coming handy! The Marathi stage music, Natyasangeet has a few instances of some spontaneous jugalbandi taking place between the singer and the harmonium accompanist, but there was no reference anywhere of a full-fledged concert of Vocal-Harmonium Jugalbandi.

I further thought analytically of the role of the Harmonium player in this whole performance: does s/he only engage in a Jugalbandi with the singer or does s/he also accompany? As I envisaged it, I could not remove the traditional 'accompaniment' role of the Harmonium as that was an integral part of the performance. On the contrary, what I visualised was a more comprehensive role of 'accompaniment' in the real sense of the word; accompaniment which was not restricted to either of the above roles. This gave ample space and freedom to the Harmonium player as well. From this, was born the Vocal-Harmonium Jugalbandi, which we staged in March 2010. To the best of my knowledge, such a two-hour complete concert of Vocal-Harmonium Jugalbandi was presented for the first time in the history of Hindustani Classical Music.