From the Jacket
This authoritative work deals comprehensively with Tabla rhythm, focusing, if in brief, on its history and aesthetics. It is aimed at the Tabla student, the Tabla performer, as well as the inquiring listener of Hindustani music, for whom it encapsulates a Tabla practitioner’s knowledge acquired over a lifetime of learning and teaching.
Beginning with the evolution of the Tabla, the book explains the technique of producing the basic bols. It further describes the way to do reyaz on the Tabla, to maintain the instrument through changing seasons, and to raise and moderate its pitch, besides other practical directions. The author explains the principal compositions that make up a standard Tabla recital, and how they may be played in solo and sangat contexts. The major gharanas of Tabla are discussed critically, and their notated compositions are provided in both Roman and Devanagari scripts. The CD accompanying the book carries samples of the Tabla of these gharanas recorded under the author’s direction, as well as demonstrations of compositions used as illustrations in the book.
Grounded in traditional learning in Tabla rhythm, the book is written with a rational, empirical mind, and in a lucid manner all along, which makes it accessible to a wide range of musicians and listeners.
The first drummer in India to have worked as Professor of Tabla at a centre of higher learning, Sudhir Kumar Saxena (1923-2007), retired from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, in 1983 as head of its music department, after serving the institution for thirty-three years. Besides teaching Tabla to generations of students, a lifetime work which he lovingly continued in retirement at his residence, Professor Saxena had, in his long career (1945-1995), participated in most of the major music conferences of the country as a Tabla accompanist to almost every front- ranking musician and Kathak dancer.
His pupils abound. Some of them are themselves distinguished teachers in India and other countries. Many more are serving All India Radio; and some of them, the very university where he worked as a teacher. All of them are proud of the authentic training they had received — authentic because Professor Saxena himself had the privilege of learning the art for years from- Ustad Habeebuddin Khan, the doyen of the Ajrada gharana of Tabla.
As an accompanist, Professor Saxena had always delighted not only audiences, but the main artiste as well, be it a musician or a Kathak dancer. As a teacher, he was analytic, and therefore easy to follow. This book should bear it out.
THIS book climaxes a lifelong interest. Rhythm has fascinated me from my very childhood; and so this academic fruition of my commitment to the art, at the age of eighty-three years, is very satisfying. As I grew up, I had the privilege of nurturing the interest in every possible way, namely, the following: first, years of systematic and dedicated learning under the doyen of the Ajrada gharana of tabla playing, the late Ustad Habeebuddin Khan, at Meerut (in U.P.); second, serving the A.I.R. (Delhi, Calcutta) as a staff artist (1945-48); thirdly, participation in most of the important music conferences of the country, mainly as accompanist, to almost every leading exponent of music (both vocal and instrumental) and Kathak dance of my clay (1945- 1995) including such legendary maestros as Ustads Faiyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan (vocal); Ustads Vilayat Khan and Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, and Pandit Nikhil Banerji (sitar); and Sarvashree Acchan Maharaj, Damayanti Joshi, and Roshan Kumari (Kathak dance).
What is more, I had the privilege not only of listening to live performances of, but of also having intimate dialogues on the art with, almost every leading tabla player of my day including the following maestros of yesteryear whose revered names and artistic skills I cherish to this day: Ustads Ahmad Ian Thirakwa and Amir Hussain Khan (Farrukhabad); Ustads Abid Hussain Khan and Wajid Hussain Khan (Lucknow); Pandits Anokhey Lal and Samta Prasad (Varanasi); Ustads Feroze Khan and Allah Rakha Khan (Punjab); Ustads Gami Khan and Inam Ali Khan (Delhi); and Ustads Abdul Karim Khan and Habeebuddin Khan, both pioneering exponents of the Ajrada gharana (traditional family-school) of tabla—playing.
Above all, I have trained generations of aspirants in the field of tabla rhythm during my tenure of thirty-three years at M.S. University, Vadodara (Baroda), from where I retired as Professor and Head of the Department of Instrumental Music in 1983. To this self-education as a teacher I attach as much value as to my own thorough training under a maestro of undisputed merit, whose name has rightly appeared as one of the Music Makers (percussion) of the 20th century in the January 2001 issue of Sruti (Madras), India’s leading magazine of music and dance. It is indeed this long spell as a teacher which has given me the ability to analyze what I myself learnt as a pupil; to discover not only the essentials of Hindustani rhythm, but the principles and devices that determine both composition and effective practice in the region of tabla playing; and so to compose quite a few patterns of my own in the different idioms of rhythm.
My pupils in the field abound. Quite a few of them are excellent performers themselves. Some are serving the A.I.R.; others, the very institution where I myself worked as a teacher; and all are held in esteem for their proficiency in the art. Happily, this is quite as true of those of my old students who are teaching tabla in foreign lands. But so far as this book is concerned, the main impulse to work it out — in spite of my general indifference to writing, as against my penchant for performance and practical teaching — has come from my occasional articles and talks on the subject. It is these which made me realize that I could do some clear thinking and writing on the art which has not only won me a fair measure of recognition as a player of merit, in the form of quite a few Awards, but has nourished me in spirit and kept me cheerful and fit all along. One of my talks, "Appreciation of Tabla” first recorded by A.I.R., Baroda — and later translated into our different regional languages — has been broadcast all over the country; and my article in Sungeet Natak (Nos. 117-18, July-December 1995), ”The Art of Tabla rhythm: Past and Present," has also been well received. It is to these essays in analysis and to my reverence for the art and for its masterly, if unlettered, exponents of old; and, above all, to my concern for preservation of the art in its purity, that I owe the present offering, in print, to this magical art of sheer sound, variform pace, structure, articulateness, and flow.
Peter Kivy’s well thought out book, Music Alone (Cornell University, 1990) is today regarded as a pioneering essay on "pure instrumental music, sans everything" (Ibid., p. IX). But, if "purity" in art be taken not only as utter freedom from both verbal meaning (and so from representation) and expression of emotions — and (in sangeet) from multiplicity of notes as arranged in a scale — yet without any detriment to art’s capacity for giving us what has been called "disinterested delight" by aestheticians, no art can claim to be "purer" than the one I speak of in this book, with love and regard, and not a little wonderment at its creative potential.
The truth that aesthetic delight is by no means inseparable from representation and expression of emotion was first brought to my notice by my brother, Professor Sushil Kumar Saxena, who, I happily acknowledge, has also taken pains to improve the language of this book. Indeed, on looking at the Taj Mahal for the first time, when we vent our instant shock of delight by exclaiming, "How lovely" — or as a sheer gasp of wonderment — is not our reaction determined simply by the impeccable symmetry of the structure and its semblance of a primal, organic singleness, as against the thought of having been constructed by degrees?
Be that as it may, the completion of this work, I repeat, gratifies me. How its readers will react to it is quite another matter. My own effort has been all along to make it easy for them to follow what it says and presents to the ear. This indeed is why the notation of every rhythmic pattern has been given in both English and Hindi letters.
As for the select patterns recorded in the CD, the listener should find it easy to follow them with the help of recurring ‘announcements’ which have been kept minimally brief, so as not to interrupt the relish of listening unduly. Reading alone will not do. The ear has to be tickled; and one’s feeling for articulate form and flow, quickened and gratified.
I am naturally happy to see that this labour of love is going to take the definite form of a book. But I would have been happier had Madhukar been there by my side as I write this preface. Unfortunately he passed away, quite unexpectedly, on 9.7.2004, well after recording the compositions for the CD accompanying this work, but well before its appearance in book form. His help has been invaluable, and I cherish the memory, fondly and sadly.
However, he has not been the only source of help to me. Prajna, my wife, has all along taken excellent care of household matters and my personal comforts, releasing me thereby for exclusive attention to the practice and teaching of tabla. My daughter Hina deserves my gratitude not only for continually goading me to get on with the writing of this book, but for providing the fitting ‘announcements’ that go with the compositions recorded. And how can I fail to acknowledge the many-sided help given by Mr. K.K. Goswami, always happily, in the last thirty years or so? Unluckily, he too is now a memory, though a fond and recurrent one.
It is not easy to bring out a book of this kind. The printing of tabla only (mnemonics) can be tricky. So D.K. Printworld must be thanked most heartily for producing the book presentably. I indeed feel mellowed in gratitude as I bring this preface to a close.
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