|Tuesday, 22nd January, 2002
Today we are to be given a lesson in Indian music. The veena-player Narayan Mani says that an instrument should be treated like a member of the family. He mostly performs alone and accompanies himself with his voice. All participants have already performed in Europe. The singer Uday Bhawalkar lives in Amsterdam and will be in London in the summer. He tells us about his studying under a guru, with whom he lived for 8 years, seeing to the housework and doing the cooking but not having to pay. He is committed to an old tradition called dhrupad. His guru used to wake him up at 4 a.m. to sing a morning raga. The voice was warmed up for an hour on one note, but this was varied, ornamented with glissandi and sung round.
The respect due to a master or guru is evident in the respect shown to Ashok Ranade, a music ethnologist and true master, as we were able to find out. Uday greets him by dropping to the ground to kiss his feet. Uday shows us the tanpura. Like a sitar it is played upright and serves to supply a singer with the background harmony. Tuning it is an art in itself. The four strings are stretched, pressed, tuned finely and compared, all of which is the master's responsibility, though it is then played by a pupil - in this case a girl.
If a musician manages to do something especially beautiful, the audience responds by murmuring and wobbling the head. This looks rather like shaking the head but has the opposite meaning. One has to practise it awhile to get the hang of it.
In the afternoon we speak about the concert of the morning. Often we talk about the different kinds of rehearsal in east and west. In the west we rehearse together, study new works all the time, and no work is much like another, whereas our Indian colleagues nearly always play together with musicians whom they are friends with and who, in belonging to the same school, need no rehearsals. The style and the works are clear and familiar, and all the musicians take their cue from the soloist, mostly a singer. The Indian musicians are impressed by our concentration, which surprises me, since their concentration seems to me to be much greater. Which of us westerners could calmly play around with a single note for an hour?
Indeed this calmness, this self-awareness, makes it easier for me to understand why some folk become indophile. Though everyday life here seems to us to be chaotic, there is an inner calmness, a contentment, much of which we are able to adopt. As to how we shall be able to get on with this mentality, this is still an open question, since a mentality is hard to grasp. Accordingly I made an appointment with a musician to practice together. It was my suggestion. He agreed but neglected to come, and the matter was not brought up at our next meeting. Likewise there were participants who in the evening officially agreed to come in the morning then neglected to do so. Asked on the phone about it, they were evasive.
We asked our Indian colleagues about their playing together and received a very interesting answer: To play together one has to be good friends - to know and like one another. One may wonder how that differs to playing together in the west. Naturally not all members of an ensemble can be friends, since an ensemble is too big for that. What the members have in common is the kind of music played and their attitude towards it. The program and the conductor are chosen by mutual agreement. Indian musicians have less choice, and the situation is more hierarchic.