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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Classical Music Ghazals and Concerts

Ghazals are not musical compositions - they are basically rhyming couplets following a particular meter. They have neither a raaga nor a taala associated with them.

Ghazal is an Arabic word which literally means talking to women. Ghazal originated in Iran in the 10th century A.D. It grew from the Persian qasida, which verse form had come to Iran from Arabia. The qasida was a panegyric written in praise of the emperor or his noblemen. The part of the qasida called tashbib got detached and developed in due course of time into the ghazal. Whereas the qasida sometimes ran into as many as 100 couplets or more in mono rhyme, the ghazal seldom exceeded twelve, and settled down to an average of seven. Because of its comparative brevity and concentration, its thematic variety and rich suggestiveness, the ghazal soon eclipsed the qasida and became the most popular form of poetry in Iran.

The ghazal is a poetic form comprising a collection of shers, independent two-lined poems. Thus each couplet, or sher, is a virtually autonomous expression of ideas. However a collection of sher does not necessarily constitute a ghazal. The couplets have to be in the same meter and the lines have to be rhyming.

A ghazal is always introduced with a matla, a mono-rhyming couplet (sher) whose pattern is repeated in the closing line of each successive couplet. This couplet was considered in Persian as a single line interrupted by a long pause. Thus a portion of the first line -- comprising not more than two or three words -- immediately preceding the rhyme-word at the end, should rhyme with its counterpart in the second line of the opening couplet, and afterwards alternately throughout the poem.

The opening couplet of the ghazal is always a representative couplet: it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the ghazal called makta often includes the pen-name of the poet (like wali in the above ghazal), and is more personal than general in its tone and intent. Here the poet may express his own state of mind, or describe his religious faith, or pray for his beloved, or indulge in poetic self-praise. The different couplets of the ghazal are not bound by the unity and consistency of thought. Each couplet is a self-sufficient unit, detachable and quotable, generally containing the complete expression of an idea.

Some poets including Hasrat, Iqbal and Josh have written ghazals in the style of a nazm, based on a single theme, properly developed and concluded. But such ghazals are an exception rather than a rule, and the traditional ghazal still holds sway. However, we do come across, off and on, even in the works of classical poets, ghazals exhibiting continuity of theme or, more often, a set of verses connected in theme and thought. Such a thematic group is called a qita, and is presumably resorted to when a poet is confronted with an elaborate thought difficult to be condensed in a single verse. Although the ghazal deals with the whole spectrum of human experience, its central concern is love.

Public performance of Indian Classical Music is a recent phenomenon, evolving only in the last century. Earlier the performances were confined to royal courts or temples. They showcase talents of one or two individuals, rather than a large group, as other classical traditions might do. The main performers will be one or two and a small number of accompanists support the main performer/s.

The main performer will be a vocalist or play an instrument. He will be accompanied on one or two percussion instruments. In Hindustani music it is usually the Tabla, except in Dhrupad form where Pakhawaj is used. In Carnatic music the main percussion instrument is Mridanga. Ghata, Khanjira and Morsing are also frequently as additional percussion instruments (and rarely in the place of Mridanga). Thavil is used with Nadaswaram. The job of the persuasion accompanist is to maintain the rhythm and keep time according to the Taala being used.

The main performer will also be accompanied by a "melody" accompanist. In Hindustani that is usually a Harmonium. Sarangi has become a rarity. Violin is used very rarely. In most of the instrumental concerts, a melody accompaniment is not used. In carnatic the accompanying instrument is Violin. Rarely other instruments like flute are used. Again, if the main performer is playing an instrument, there may not be a melody accompaniment.

The drone is provided by Tanpura. Tanpura will be either played by a disciple of the main artist or by a professional tanpura player. Most of the top grade artists, especially when they get older will ask one of their main disciples to accompany them. If the main performer is a vocalist, the disciple will usually play the tanpura and also lend vocal support to the main artist, especially in Hindustani. If the main artist is playing an instrument, the disciple might accompany the artist on that instrument. It is not uncommon to see the son or daughter of the main artist accompanying the artist. Sometimes, there may be more than one Tanpura accompanists, esp. in Hindustani. Tanpura-s forming the backdrop on both the sides of the main artist make an excellent picture. Unfortunately, sometimes, a sruthi box or an electronic drone is used instead of Tanpura.

The seating arrangement in concerts start with the main artist seated at the center. The percussion accompanist is usually to the right of the artist (left from audience perspective) and the melody accompanist sits to the left of the main artist. The tanpura artist sits just behind the main artist. Rest of the accompanists sit behind the main artist and the main accompanists. Usually the instruments are first brought out and kept on the stage. Then accompanists come and occupy their positions before the main artist comes on the stage. The artists sit cross legged on the stage, after removing the footwear as the tradition demands.

Artists spend some time tuning their instruments on the stage, though most of the tuning is expected to have been done before they come on the stage. The main artist tunes the Tanpura before the concert starts. Some instruments may need retuning as the concert proceeds, usually in between two raaga-s.

Pakistani Concerts
Distinction needs to be made between Dhrupad and Khayal traditions when describing Hindustani concert structures. Also within Khayal, vocal and instrumental performances follow different structures. There are some differences among various gharanas too.

Vocal Khayal

The main artist chooses the raag to be sung, usually before the performance starts. It has to be a raag that is usually sung during the time of the day the concert is scheduled. Usually the audience (and even the accompanists) have no knowledge of that before the performance. Some artists may announce the raaga before commencing the performance or may just start the performance and let the audience figure it out.

Khayal performances begin with a slow un metered aalaap. The exposition of the raga is very short and normally lasts no more than five minutes, except in Agra gharana, where it can be quite long. The characteristics of the raga are developed in alaap and the characteristic phrases are sung, important notes of the raaga are emphasized. Alaap has no lyrics, though solfa syllables (sa, re, ga etc) are sometimes used. Alaap mostly consists of singing "Aakaar" i.e. enunciating the first letter of Indian syllable, "Aa". Since aalaap is unmetered, percussion accompanist does not join the performance, but the melody accompanist (harmonium or saarangi) follows the notes being sung. If there is a vocal accompanist, he (or she) might also join and sing a few phrases.

After the aalaap, the singer will start singing a composition, called Bhada (or bharaa) Khayal. The percussion accompanist on tabla will join the performance at this stage. The composition will be set to a taala in the Vilambit Laya (slow tempo), like Vilambit EkTaal. The words of the lyrics are usually not clearly enunciated and the stress is on the raaga. The composition consists of sthaayi and antara. Sthaayi is first sung, followed by the antara. The composition consists of just a few lines and most of the music is still improvised. Improvisations in the form of taans can either come at the end of sthaayi-antara presentation or in between sthayi and antara, and again at the end. In both cases, sthayi is repeated after antara. Mukhda is the first phrase of sthayi / anatara. The singer comes back to the mukhda at the end of every cycle of improvisation. Rest of the text of the composition can be sung indistinctly and the same syllable can be sung in many pitches. The syllables can be drawn out or compressed. Infact, except for the mukhda, rest of the text of the composition may be completely unintelligible. Apart from taans, artists use sargams (solfa syllables) in improvisation. Bhada khayal can be a long performance, from half an hour to more than an hour, though, longer performances are becoming rare now.

Immidiately after bhada khayal, without break, chota khayal is sung in the same raaga. But a faster tempo, dhrut laya, is used, usually in a different taala, like Dhrut TheenTaal. Improvisations continue in chota khayal. But, instead of the leisurely pace of presentation, emphasis is on vocal wizardry, in terms of fast taans and sargams.

After chota khayal, there might be a small break to retune the instruments and give vocal chords some rest. Either another raaga or towards the end of the concert a light classical composition like Thumri or Bhajan is then sung in a light raaga. If a Bhairavi composition is sung, that would be the last composition, since Bhairavi is considered the supreme raaga, though another Bhairavi composition can be sung after that.

Instrumental Khayal

Instrumental Khayal concerts are similar to vocal in many respects. The main artist chooses the Raaga-s to be performed. Usually the only accompanist is the Tabla player. There may be supporting artist, usually a disciple on the same instrument. Tanpura is used as the drone, though many times it is replaced with a shruthi box or some sitar and sarod players rely on the open strings of their instruments to provide a drone.

The performance begins with a slow alaap. The alaap is meditative, slow and unmetered. Unlike the vocal performance, alaap can be rather long. The melodic structure of the Raaga in terms of the scale, characteristic phrases, transition between notes etc are systematically explored. Usually the artist starts at the base 'Sa' i.e. the tonic. Then the lower octave is explored, returning to the tonic. Then the upper octave is explored, slowly moving from note to note, embellishing every note, returning to the tonic often and playing the characteristic pattern called mohra.

The second section within alaap is called Jor. Here the same exposition of the raaga structure continues but in a rhythmic pattern. But, percussion accompaniment or a Taal is still not used. Also, the tempo os performance slowly picks up and reaches a climax as tonic on the upper octave is reached. The melodic patterns are also more complex and ornamented.

The third and final section of alaap is called Jhala. Here the tempo is fast and melodic patterns short. A rhythmic pulse is introduced by the artist, though the percussion accompanist and a Taal are still not used.

After the alaap a khayal styled composition, called Gat, in a particular Taala starts. The Tabla player joins the performance. Elaborate exploration of the Raaga is not done, but the artist continues to improvise and also play the gat alternately. Also, the artist may play the Gat in various ways. When the main artist plays simple Gat, tabla player improvises and plays complex improvisation patterns within the Taala. Whether the main artist or the Tabla player improvises, it is imperative for both of them to come to synchronize at a Sam.

The method of synchronization at the Sam is musically a very pleasant experience for the listener (and the artists). Slowly the tempo also increases. Towards the end, Gat is no longer played and a transition to Jhala takes place. Unlike in alaap, jhala is now played within the confines of the Taala accompanied by the Tabla. This phase of the performance would be at a higher tempo and can be an exhilarating experience. Manytimes, the rhythmic and melodic patterns re repeated three times and is called Tihai. After the Jhala the raaga performance comes to an end.

Artists usually present a couple of Raaga-s in a performance. The first Raaga is normally elaborated with a long alaap, the rest may have short alaaps, but a more elaborate Gat presented in a slower tempo.

Towards the end of the concert a few lighter compositions like Bhajan or Thumri are performed. These will be based on particular Raaga scales, even though every aspect of the raaga may not be adhered to. This is sometimes referred to as semi-classical. The Raaga-s chosen have light and often romantic or lilting mood, leaving the audience in a happy mood at the end of the concert.

One variation to these compositions is raaga-maalika. A series of raaga-s are presented one after the other without a break and in smooth transition.

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