About the Book:
This is a book of and about the classical music of North India, among the oldest continual musical traditions of the world. Presented here is a small part of the musical legacy of one of the foremost families which has preserved and collected this ancient music and developed it to the highest standards: the Baba Allauddin Gharana of the Seni tradition. This volume introduces the great richness and variety of the different styles of music as taught by one of the century's greatest musicians, Ali Akbar Khan.
About the Author:
George Ruckert has been disciple of Ali Akbar Khan for nearly twenty-five years, learning the sarod, violin and vocal music. He helped to found the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in California and served for many years as an instructor and administrator. Also a teacher and performer of Western Music, he is especially qualified to convey the music and teachings of his mentor. He is presently completing his dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley on the music of Ali Akbar Khan.
Preparing a book on Indian music in the name of perhaps its foremost practitioner has not been an easy task. Even though I have studied with Ustad Khan for more than twenty-five years every time I wrote a word, I felt I had either all India or all Music looking over my shoulder. Indeed, Khansahib (as Ali Akbar is known to friends and students) represents both: he is at once an embodiment of India's great musical tradition (and all that this magnificent music an cultural legacy represent), as well as an individual musician of towering eminence. His language is not just Hindi or Indian or American or highbrow or raga-and-tala: it is just music, and cannot be obfuscated or dimmed by the grasping possessiveness of any one cultural, artistic, or social group. It speaks to everyone with or without experience of India or special musical initiation. In the rare and lofty heights to which we are taken by this great artist, most people are usually stunned to silence.
This awe has certainly bee a stumbling block in proceeding, for although it has been nearly fifteen years since Khansahib requested this beginning book, I have had to realize that the project ever required a larger book but at the same time a simpler one. Many people around the world look to Khansahib for musical guidance, and the book has had to address the needs of students of many backgrounds and cultural attitudes.
For Khansahib, and most musicians of this classical tradition, music is a process, a way of thinking about a divine intermingling of sound, art, and life-like some other kinds of music to a certain degree, but also unique. To represent it only as a product reduces it to something only partially viable-and this half-truth is difficult for "Indian" musicians to accept as a realistic representation of their tradition. Hence, the result: a great measure of humble silence, even reluctance to speak, by the musicians themselves in the face of the sacred immensities of music.
Over the centuries, this music has been used as a yoga, a spiritual discipline, practiced by musicians without idea of worldly reward. But it has also been a concert music in the splendor of court chambers, and more modestly in the homes of patrons in all walks of life. It has lived in the temples and in the tents of armies. It has been the vehicle for the divine expression of saints and of actors portraying sacred dramas. It has been subject to both the refinement and decadence of thousands of musicians in the service of both wise kings and foolish emperors. Through its millions of lives, it has developed freshness and preserved oldness-an incredibly rich artistic method of weaving sound pattern in which can be seen the many facets of the musical life of mankind, both public and private.
Our sages developed music from time immemorial for the mind to take shelter in that pure being which stands apart as one's true self. Real music is not for wealth, not for honors, or not even for the joys of the mind-it is one kind of yoga, a path for realization and salvation to purify your mind and heart and give you longevity.
Ali Akbar Khan
I hope that the quality and nature of the music to follow will reward everyone, from beginner to professional. Indeed, the scope alone of the musical styles represented is more complete than in any other published survey published in the West. But the form of presentation will naturally generate a number of questions: "Why didn't you put it in Western notation?" "Why are there no cassettes?" "Why haven't you put in more sitar music?" "Why did you choose Rag Marwa over Rag Bhupali in a beginning book?" I have attempted to answer some of these questions in the Introduction and text of the book. But another response is that is the beginning of a larger project-the presenting of the music of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in many volumes, which will include instruction manuals for particular instruments and a series of learning cassette tapes. But providing a background with the broadest viewpoint in mind was considered the best starting place, and this is the idea behind this first volume.
In trying to cover the great expanse of music history, style, and theory which are presented to us in this music, I have constantly been self-conscious of the superficial qualities of the descriptions; this is especially true in the omission of the immense personal contributions of so many of India's other great musicians. This book is written from the important, but decidedly non-Western, perspective of the approach from India's guru-shishya tradition-that is, in pursuing the understanding of one guru's point of view, the disciple gets the lesson; in pursuing everything, the disciple gets the lesson; in pursuing everything, the disciple gets nothing. I have tried, especially in the areas of vocabulary and terminology, to bring the reader into a basic awareness of the scope of what this great tradition embraces. For experienced students in India and elsewhere, I am sure they will feel that much has been glossed over-on the other hand, they may be rewarded with the simplicity of the way that one of their great musicians has presented his music (albeit with the warps in understanding that ever attend even the most earnest disciples.) This book comes out of many years' study with Khansahib at the Ali Akbar College of Music in California. In his weekly four days of teaching, Khansahib normally teaches a two-hour vocal class followed by a two-hour instrumental class. The music in this book was generated in these classes, and has been heard, sung, and played by many of his students. It was reviewed in subsequent lessons, and sometimes re-taught later in alternative versions. The versions presented here are chosen for their beauty and simplicity, over other perhaps more highly ornamented or unusual ones. The music presented here is only a drop in the ocean of Khansahib's creative output at the College, which, when published, will require more than forty volumes.
The format of the book has been with the practical musician in mind. In typesetting he music, choices have been made with the idea foremost of the student's sitting on the floor and reading from a slight distance, as would be normal in the practice of the music. After a brief explanatory introduction. The music itself comes first in the book's layout. The bulk of the text is in the back, where it is intended to be useful for reference. This is to reinforce the central idea that it is the music itself which will reveal its secrets, and that a knowledge of the theory and history is secondary.
Most of the titles of musicians have been left off in the text. For example, in India one would never refer to the eminently respected sitarist Ravi Shankar without a form of address or a title (in this case "Pandit," or "Panditji"), and similarly with other great musicians (see the chapter "Manners Among Musicians"). But in the West we say "Bach" and "Beethoven," or similarly, "Arturo Toscanini" or "Horowitz" without titles polite forms of address in person. This is the convention in this book, and I hope that Indian friends will recognize this as a literary convention rather than a lack of respect. Exceptions are made with Ustad Allauddin Khansahib and in the use along of the name "Khansahib" for Ali Akbar Khan.
When Khansahib is speaking directly, his further words appear in italics without citation. All other quotes have their author's name appended.
How do you learn Indian music? Or any music, for that matter? You hear it, practice it, and play it; or as the traditional Sanskrit expression goes, shiksha, diksha, pariksha: learning, dedicated practice, evaluation. Since ancient times in India, all three have traditionally been supervised by a guru (teacher) whose musical authority was the final word. And in the past, the student lived with or near the guru. There was no recourse to other teachers' opinions, recordings of other artists, books of music-the entire musical life of the student revolved around the oral exchange of the music directly from the teacher. If a disciple happened to hear other music, the teacher was close by and could correct any confusions of rag or impurities of stylistic presentation. During long hours of daily practice, the teacher would be near enough to interrupt and say, "not that way," "do that ornament ten more times," or even, "that's enough for now." The teacher would give many short lessons every day, so as the disciple's capacity to memorize expanded gradually, a repertoire grew progressively. And in off-hours, the teacher would tell stories of the past which casually but firmly shaped the student's sense of style, history, vocabulary, and theory. This was the way for thousands of years.
There was no need for written music. How could any system of notation capture the evanescence of rag, or the subtlety of emotion and ornament, or the numberless vari- ations of rhythm? It was never considered a possibility. In addition, musicians and families were noted for particular and personal repertoires, and writing parts of them down would have put the family treasures at risk.
Then came the dramatic changes of the modern world, the quickly vanishing older lifestyles, and the accessibility to Indian music all over the globe. The music was no longer the exclusive province of those few privileged to have a guru nearby. Neither could students afford to retreat from the world with their teacher for many years to get the training the music demanded. Individual music lessons became more infrequent and each session with the teacher became longer. Schools now taught the arts, subjects which were once the exclusive prov- inces of the individual exchange of guru and shishya (disciple). Primary lessons were expected to be learned before coming into the presence of the master artists, whose valuable time was too scarce to be spent going over and over the rudiments. Books and recordings now gave access to valuable materials which otherwise would have taken years to assimilate.
The life and music of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan spans these ancient and modern worlds of music. He was trained in the house of his father, Ustad Allauddin Khan, himself a musical giant of the twentieth century. He received his training in the old way: his father meted it out with the strictest discipline, teaching him daily and supervising his practice for more than twenty years. Early employment came in a royal court, just as an accomplished musician might have expected in centuries past. But the tale turned abruptly in the 1940s. World War II and the Independence movement disturbed everyday life in India. Shortly after India gained independence, his patron, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, died suddenly in an airplane accident. A new economic order severed all musicians from the age-old system of court patronage. A twentieth-century trend was accelerated: musicians went to the cities, and the music became accessible to the masses through recordings, concerts, films, radio, and in the schools. No performing artist was spared the changing course of events. The musician became a traveller, playing far and wide.
Ali Akbar Khansahib first came to America at the invi- tation of Yehudi Menuhin in 1955. He began teaching in Cali- fornia in 1965, founding his College of Music there three years later. This Book, then, emerges out of his teaching for more than twenty-five years in the West. He has always taken great pains to bring his basically traditional conceptions of music into fruition, and, at the same time, to lift it beyond the barriers of time and culture into this new world.
It is not a question of Indian music, or American music,like that: any music, in rhythm, in tune, gives you food for your soul.
Khansahib, as Ali Akbar Khan is known to friends and students, has dedicated his life mostly to teaching, although he has also maintained an impressive concert and recording ca- reer. He teaches to classes of students as in any school, but in the traditional style, composing anew for each class, and not relying on written materials to communicate this music. Hence a point of departure in this book: presenting the music in written form has never been his teaching method. The stu- dents, who come from all backgrounds and all levels of musical understanding, have become used to writing the music down as it is orally taught, and thus have a copy of a newly created composition for their weekly study and practice. In review sessions, elder students help younger ones understand and assimilate these lessons.
This book has been assembled at the request and under the supervision of Khansahib, so that learners all over the world might have a basic primer with which to work.
Give the basic compositions in the rags-sargam, dhrupad, dhamar, slow khyal, fast khyal, tarana, slow gat and fast gat, and include some light music, too. Show the different styles of variation-bolbant, boltan, vistar, tans, tora, lari, jhala, etc. Give an explanation of the notation and some exercises ... what they need to get started. Of course you must include something about what sort of material we are teaching, but only explain the basic ideas of history and theory, for that is covered in other books. My father didn't think that theory was so important in learning music; he didn't teach that way.
Just what is a raga (Hindi, rag)? That is a difficult question, because rags can include a wide range of possibilites, from simple scales to complicated melodies. Even a short description would probably run several pages in length. A rag's essence is embodied in traditional bandishes (fixed com- positions). These may be in a number of different styles, from the simple sargam to the old and stately dhrupad, the appealing and romantic khyal and thumri, a lively tarana or gat, and developmental added sections: vistars andtans. Rags are not learned through the memorization of theoretical concepts, like ascending-descending melodic patterns, vadi-samvadi (pitch hierarchies), etc., although these may indeed help in the con- ceptual grasp of the rag. A basic knowledge of a rag comes with learning how it behaves in the context of the above named types of compositions: the durations of the notes, the slides, the shapes of the note patterns, and the ornaments. The composi- tions themselves are an inventory of the rag's configurations, and a student may have to learn hundreds of them in order to understand one rag thoroughly.
One can see, then, that alap, the slow abstract introduc- tory movement of a rag, is not taught in the same way. Rather, one learns many compositions in a rag and then is able to reconstruct the rag in the abstract independently. Later, this picture of the rag is played to the teacher for corrections and additions.
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