Perpetuating the taal and tehzeeb of music

A workshop on Hindustani classical music strikes a harmonious note amid all the disturbing news of terrorism in Mumbai.

Do you know that our soul is composed of harmony? – Leonardo daVinci.

Amidst the aftermath of the recent terror attack on Mumbai and the relentless media blitz that followed, a small group in Bangalore was truly privileged to be part of three serene, music-enriched evenings at a Koramangala home in the first week of December.

Aditi Upadhya, Hindustani classical music

Aditi Kaikini Upadhya. Pic source:

Aditi Kaikini Upadhya, daughter of renowned Hindustani vocalist Pandit Dinkar Kaikini and an accomplished musician in her own right, held her audience spellbound with a three day workshop on Hindustani classical music. The workshop was interactive and lively from the start. The topics covered ranged from core concepts of classical music to the role of the guru, musical aesthetics, developing an ear for classical music and engaging children in musical study.

Throughout, what came across was the musician’s deep understanding of Hindustani classical music, the singing voice, the performing artiste and the psyche of the music student!

In her own words, the aim of the workshop was to create a better audience; for a better audience truly made better musicians.

The workshop attendees were a mixed bag – there were those who had studied Carnatic music for several years and then switched over to Hindustani, a few who were Hindustani classical music students, some who greatly enjoyed listening to Hindustani but had never trained for it and even half a dozen children! Suffice it to say that everyone was completely absorbed by the insights provided by the teacher and her group, going home each day with more than enough to ponder over or practice.

The workshop proceeded seemingly without too rigorous a structure, the next topic often taking off from a question posed by the audience; but thinking back later, one realised that the teacher was indeed covering topics in meticulous order and detail, starting and ending each session on time, leaving enough scope for doubts to be raised and answered.

Day one covered basic concepts – swara, saptaka, shruti (microtones), pitch, raga, and the all-important meend (gliding from one note to another, faintly going over the intermediate notes) which is so integral to Indian music.

Aditi Upadhya spoke about the traditional style of oral learning and its importance. Since Hindustani classical music is primarily improvised by the performer, she also stressed the importance of etiquette or tehzeeb in an artiste’s performance. This etiquette dictates what liberties the artiste should or should not take during the improvisation of a raga. As one of her students aptly put it, "It is creativity within the box rather than outside of it!"

The singer, next, went on to elucidate how a good composition was not simply a pleasure to hear but also a great pleasure to sing. The first session concluded with a little bit of the history of Hindustani classical music, its evolution from temple and court music to its current form, the correlation of ragas and prahar or time of day, and an introduction to the concept of taal.Taal represents the rhythmic element in Hindustani classical music. A particular taal is defined by the number of beats it has and its unique bol (language) pattern. A tabla player can improvise a taal within the boundaries of its definition, just like the vocalist can do with a raga.

The second evening was a challenge for the audience – they were called upon to sing, recite taals and then do various timing exercises with the taals learned! The teacher demanded complete concentration from her audience, expecting them to quickly pick up and repeat the Yaman sargam she taught, followed by a small bandish in jhaptaal in raag Marg Bihag, composed by Pandit SN Ratanjankar. The session ended with demonstration and practice of how to count in double time, and various other counting exercises to strengthen the understanding of taal.

The last session was a delight – Aditi Upadhya explained that, just like the five elements that make up the universe (earth, water, fire, wind, ether), there are five elements that comprise the whole that is classical music – sur, taal, laya, chhand and ras. Sur denoted integrity of the swara (note) and how it was rendered, taal represented the understanding of the rhythm of the composition, laya was the movement of the notes, chhand represented the meter, and ras, the mood. She elaborated the concepts with several musical examples including demonstrations of ‘incorrect’ styles, so as to better appreciate correct ones!

This workshop was a seva from the artiste – it was free, the only stipulation to entry being a genuine and keen interest in Hindustani classical music. Aditi Kaikini Upadhya was extremely generous with her time, knowledge and insights, making the workshop a true voyage of discovery for her audience.

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