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Interaction between Vocal and Instrumental Music – Pt. K. G. Ginde

In today’s seminar, I have been requested to discuss the corelation between vocal and instrumental music. As explained by Dr. Premlata Sharmaji, in her speech a short while ago, a “geet”, “dhun” or melody, whether sung or played on instrument will be identified as a “geet” or “song”. But I want to quote an ancedote here. Late Aftab-e-Mousiqni Ustad Faiyaz Khan Saheb was accused of singing in “tant-ang”. In 1936, at a well attended conference, he announced, “During today’s vocal presentation, anyone  who feels that Iam singing in “tant-ang” should stand up and object”. That day there was not even a trace of “tant-ang” in his rendering. The fact that there can be dimension other than the “tant-ang” in vocal performance was thus revealed to the students of the music like myself. We are all aware of the fact that in India, Drupad music accompanied by the “been” was in practice for a long time. Unlike today, using of sarangi or “samvadini” for accompanying the khayal music was not in practice; instead the dhrupad form of music was performed to the accompaniement of “been”.

In continuation with the descedants of Tansen, two distinct traditions, each representing “drupad” and “been” have been traced. “Been” was played to render only the drupad form of music. The alap performed during drupad-singing was known as ‘Rupak alap’ and it was based on four distinct divisions of “Sthayi”, “Antara”, “Sanchari” and “Abhog”. When “been” achieved the distinction of a solo-performing instrument, it is possible that some special techniques were evolved resulting into a characteristic style of ‘been’ – playing. As far as the influence of vocal music upon the instrument playing is concerned, embellishments like “sut”, “meend”, “gamak” that have been characteristic of vocal music are adopted by instrumentalists. Linking one note with the next, employing techniques such as using of ‘anulagna’ and ‘poorvalagnakan’ to maintain the continuous flow of a given note is the important characteristic of Indian music. In the plucked instruments like sitar, been, sarod, the left hand plays the melody while the right hand indicates the rhythm, whereas human voice Can simultaneously produce both, the melody and the rhythm. The factors of svara (melody) and laya (rhythm) are of paramount importance in Indian music, be it vocal or instrumental. It is interesting to note as to how these factors undergo a change. I shall sing for you alap of a raga in ‘nom-tom’ style. You will notice that many elements of this demonstration have been adopted for instrument-playing (Demonstration-raga Jaunpuri). Please note how the voice indicates the laya. These types of important phrases have been adopted by many ‘Been’ players and also sitar players. This is not a tan of antara. Even if I touch the upper octave Rishabh or Gandhar, I am still in sthayi. Every raga has set patterns to approach the upper sa, called tan or antara. After singing that we can settle on the upper octave sa. Note how slowly the laya of the rendering has been increased. Now I am performing sanchari.

In continuation with sanchari, abhog section signifying the closing of alap section will be performed. Now we come to the next step with increasing tempo. This has been referred to as ‘yati-prastar’ in our ancient treatises i.e to use yatis for exposition. This section of alapti is dominated by laya. It could be surmised that this feature which is the characteristic of right hand of a n instrumentalist may be adopted by vocalists. Note the similarity to jhala playing of instrument. Thus we can see that in alap section, the instrument follows the vocal technique while during the second half, when the laya increases, vocal music follows instrumental patterns. I have heard great sitar players like Inayat Khan Saheb and Hamid Khan Saheb of Lucknow. They laid stress on alap­ playing. Hamid Hussein Khan Saheb’s sitar was rather huge, say of the siz between ordinary sitar and surbahar. It had a broad “dandi” and therefore seven note meend could be easily produced on his sitar. He played more of ‘been’-ang alap incorporating meend-s. His performance showed heavy influence of gayaki (vocal) baj. Some sitariya-s developed the right hand technique very much. By improvising upon the bol-s like dir, da, ra, dadir, dara, etc, some instrumentalists created a new style showing the dominance of ‘laya’ aspect. Hyder Khan Saheb of Delhi used to play with 2 mizrab-s in this style. He had innovated a new technique of playing dir-dir in fast laya using two mizrab-s. During conversation with him Irealised that many gat-s have been composed based on the “tarana” form of vocal music that includes phrases like nadirdir, tumdirdir, tantom, etc. This kind of vistar has been adopted for “gatkari”. Meanwhile , Ihad a chat with Nissar Hussein Khan Saheb, and as Premlataji also knows, during the last seminar, Khan Saheb stated that he has adopted certain instrumental techniques to make tarana popular. Thus this kind of mizrab techniques have been adopted for tarana singing. This has certainly enriched the tarana form, which otherwise suffers from a limited scope of improvising a few phrases and tan-s. Nissar Hussein Khan Saheb has thus made an innovation by adopting the instrumental techniques which has helped popularising tarana. In this way there has always been interaction between vocal and instrumental forms of music.

The element of layakari, if presented beyond a certain limit, tries to dominate the melody and damages the serene quality of music. This maybe the reason due to which many musicians today are turning towards gayaki-ang. When the khayal music replaced the drupad form of music, certain elements of khayal were adopted by instrumentalists. These embellishments had no place in drupad but they have an important place in khayal and have been adopted by sitar-players. Such alankars rendered with “jamjama” have also been adopted by sitar-players. This is the influence of vocal music upon the instrumentalists. So much so, that today vocal compositions(bandish) are preferred by the instrumenatal ist rather than the mastikhani or razakhani gat-s due to their popularity. If a gat is played based on this bandish and improvised upon, there is nothing wrong or bad because these kinds of changes do take place with time. Such changes can be also transformed into regular practice. This is a cycle, in which different styles come to prominence and fade off.

In this way there is a close relation between vocal and instrumental music, rather they are complementary to each other. The elements that can be easily expressed through voice remain incomplete when played on instruments but are complemented by other related techniques. Similarly, to enrich the melodic content expressed through voice, several instrumental techniques have been adopted. Thus, the dialogue between voice and instrument has been prevalent in the past and will continue to exist in the future also.

(Paper presented during Seminar on Sitar, organised by ITC-SRA (Western region) on 23rd Sept.  1990) at Indian Merchants chambers, Mumbai 400 020)

Courtsey:  Sangeet Research Academy (Western region)

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