14 January, 2007

Ram Narayan - the sarangi's "hum and buzz"

d/l Pandit Ram Narayan - Vol. 1
(Ocora 559060)

1. Rag Purya-Kalyan: Alap, Jor, Jhala
2. Rag Purya-Kalyan: Bandish, Drut

Ram Narayan: sarangi
Suresh Talwalkar: tabla

recorded Paris 1978 & Bombay 1979

This has long been one of my favorite Indian recordings. Ram Narayan pioneered the use of the sarangi as a classical solo instrument. Like poetry that would aspire to be 'musical,' the terrain of music that would emulate the human voice is quite rich & this recording occupies it quite comfortably.

from the notes by Christian Ledoux:
1. Rag Purya-Kalyan: Alap, Jor, Jhala

This traditional rag is played in the evening. It is a combination of rag Purya (which belongs to the Marwa family), and of rag Kalyan (which is played at the beginning of the night. It takes the seven notes of the Indian scale SA, RI, GA, MA, PA, DHA, NI, in which the second note RI is flattened (komal), the fourth note MA is sharp (tivra). The tonic SA differs according to the instruments played, but remains stable during the concert.

This noble and sometimes austere rag shows also a feeling of tenderness. It is rendered here in a very classical way, according to the melodic laws ruling it. The third and seventh notes are particularly important. The gentle strokes of Ram Narayan's bow gradually bring out the typical phrases of the rag (rupa), first in the slow and non-rhythmic alap, second, in the jor with the increasing speed of the tempo, third, in the very fast taan-s of the jhala (23'45 onwards).

2. Rag Purya-Kalyan: Bandish (Teental), Drut (Ektal)

A bandish is a composition for singing. This term can be applied to the sarangi as it is so associated with singing. (The gat deals only with instrumental compositions). Ram Narayan plays the theme within a slow 16 beat rhythm cycle (divided 4-4-4-4), several times in succession, while Suresh Tawalkar plays an introduction of rhythmic compositions on the tabla (peshkar). Once the theme has been presented several times, Ram Narayan develops other skillfully improvised melodies supported by the tabla player who plays only the rhythmic cycle (theka), and so on. A series of dazzling taans canbe heard after 10"40'. The drut follows, a fast composition in ektal (12 beats divided 4-4-2-2).
Born in 1927 in Rajasthan's Udaipur, his father was a musician "at the court of the Maharaja of Udaipur" who played the dilruba, described in the notes as "a sort of cross between the sitar with its movable frets and the sarangi with its bow," who "worked out a special and rather unusual fingering technique for his son . . ." to play the sarangi, starting at age 6.

Being associated since the 19th Century with the women-dancers (therefore with the courtesans) the sarangi has not since enjoyed a respectable reputation. Even though it is traditionally played for the accompaniment of classical singing, its status has been confined to a lower rank. Indispensable until a few decades ago for the accompaniment of khyal singing, it tends to be more and more replaced in this function by the harmonium or the violin. Its low status, its hair-striking difficult [sic - "sa difficulté redoubtable"] and the meager renumeration given for the accompaniment provided by the instrument discourage those who want to devote themselves to it. Another cause for its lack of popularity lies in the singers, who confess to being better supported by the harmonium or who accuse the sarangiyas of betraying them by being out of tune or by stealing the show through being better themselves.

During the concert the singer and sarangiya play alternately or in unison for the rendering of the composition (bandish). The sarangiya most often repeats the singer's musical phrases, like an echo. But he can launch himself into an improvised flight if the vocalist allows him to.
Ram Narayan studied as a child under a local sarangyia and also learned to sing dhrupad, "a hieratic and sober genre from which khyal originated," with the famous Dagar brothers (cf. Music of the World CDT-114). "The essential approach of dhrupad stands out in the alap elaboration more particularly." At 16 he was seeking employment at All India Radio in Lahore as a vocalist, "a ploy to increase his chances of employment. The producer he met did not take long to notice the scars on his nails, which he knew at once were the result of intense sarangi practice (from 10 to 16 hours a day)."
By the time he was just 14 years of age, Ramnarayan was a music instructor in a college in Udaipur; and by the time he was barely 16 years of age, he was appointed staff artiste by the All India Radio and posted in Lahore in undivided India. This was in 1943. By 1947, Ramnarayan had accompanied some of the foremost male and female classical singers of the time. His playing was both inspired and inspiring. He was able to spontaneously improvise as well as reproduce tonal nuances of the singers he accompanied. He played in the style of their ‘gharana’and made the sarangi both speak and sing in what we may now call, in retrospect the ‘gayaki ang’. . . .

He decided to become a free-lance sarangi artiste in Bombay where he could make himself financially independent by playing for commercial cinema as well as by cutting discs of his own. He recorded his first 78 r.p.m disc in 1950 with His Master’s Voice (now EMI) in Bombay. It is now a collector’s item with its beautiful rendering of the ragas Lalit and Marwa.

When Ramnarayan arrived with his sarangi in Bombay, film music directors did not know the potential of the sarangi. When he left the commercial film industry a few years later, music directors wondered what they would do without the sarangi of Pandit Ramnarayan. But Ramnarayan’s sight was set on something else that no one at that time thought was possible. His brother, Chaturlal accompanied Ali Akbar Khan on his pioneering visit to the West. Yehudi Menuhin welcomed and introduced them in the historic album “The Music of India”. In 1964, Ramnarayan and Chaturlal toured Europe and created a sensation. (from: A Tribute to Acharya Pandit Ramnarayan)
Sarangi and Ram Narayan are Inseparable:
. . . Initial reception to his solo performances , as expected in a traditionally orthodox environment, was rather lukewarm from all musical quaters. But having once decided to take a a different route, Ram Narayan persevered with an unfailing faith in the enormous potential of the sarangi and a supreme confidence in himself. Along with his brother Pandit Chatur lal (who is a great tabla player), Pandit Ram Narayan experimented with his instruments pursuing his search for the frontiers of expression of Indian Classical Music.

Ram Narayan had already been experimenting with the structure of the Sarangi and the bow, making necessary modifications in them. He also brought about changes in the traditional bowing technique as well as finger technique, all to suit the new role, the novel style of musical expression that he conceived for his musical instrument. By now, many of these changes have become established standards in sarangi playing.
from the cd notes:

At first a rather coarse affair, the sarangi has become through the ages a sophisticated bowed instrument whose imitative capacity to reproduce the sound and texture of the voice is without comparison. Hence its use for accompanying singers, which reminds us of the role played by the medieval fiddle in Europe during the middle ages. Its actual shape and structure probably date back to the 14th Century and it is mentioned in a 16th Century text. Successive improvements came later.

Its technique is unique in the fact that the back of the nails glide along the three gut strings placed 1 centimeter above the neck, which allows all types of phrases characteristic of Hindustani music: meend, which are glissandos prevalent in dhrupad, and gamakas, which are oscillations made around the notes and widely used in khyal. (Talc powder is used in order to ease the gliding of the palm on the side of the neck).

The gliding of the nails on the strings gives in the slow tempi a special flavour and much precision in the production of a continuous sound and it also enables the performer to display great virtuosity in rapid tempi.

The bow is rather broad and tightly held palm upwards, the middle and ring fingers being placed between the hair and the stick. The sarangi is made of a single block of "tun" wood carved out by hand and has a compact and asymetrical shape. The body or resonator is covered with goat skin on which is placed an ivory bridge. The neck, which is a continuation of the body, becomes slightly narrower at the tops and ends with a peg-box.

The perrenial charm of the sarangi lays in its sympathetic strings. Of all the the Indian instruments which have them (like the sitar and the sarod), it is the one that creates a halo of sounds for the most part continuous and integrated in the melodies, this being due to the everlasting vibrations emitted by the friction of the bow. The considerable umber of metallic strings further increases the resounding force (as compared to the 11 or 15 sympathetic strings of the sitar and the sarod). But their role is not confined in enriching the general sound effect: when perfectly tuned, they give a useful harmonic reference in order to reach the right notes as they start vibrating only on the impulse of the notes played on the frequency which correspond to any of them.

(back cover)

. . . Of all Indian instruments, is said to get closest to the sound of the human voice – able to imitate vocal ornaments such as gamakas (shakes) and meend (sliding movements).

Sarangi music is vocal music. It is quite impossible to find a sarangi player who does not know the words of many classical songs. The words are usually mentally present during performance, and performance almost always adheres to the conventions of vocal performance including the organisational structure, the types of elaboration, the tempo, the relationship between sound and silence, and the presentation of khyal and thumri compositions. The vocal quality of sarangi is in a quite separate category from, for instance, the so-called gayaki-ang of sitar which attempts to imitate the nuances of khyal while overall conforming to the structures and usually keeping to the gat compositions of instrumental music. Most sarangi players learn to sing before they begin to play" . . .

Carved from a single block of wood, the sarangi has a box-like shape, usually around two feet long and around half a foot wide. The lower resonance chamber is hollowed out and covered with parchment and a decorated strip of leather at the waist which supports the elephant-shaped bridge. The bridge in turn supports the huge pressure of approximately 40 strings.

Three of the strings – the comparatively thick, tight and short ones – are bowed with a heavy horsehair bow and "stopped" not with the finger-tips but with the nails, cuticles and surrounding flesh (talcum powder is applied to the fingers as a lubricant). The remaining strings are resonance strings or tarabs (see: sympathetic strings), numbering up to around 35, divided into 4 different "choirs". On the lowest level are a diatonic row of 9 tarabs and a chromatic row of 15 tarabs, each encompassing a full octave plus 1–3 extra notes above or below. Between these lower tarabs and the main playing strings lie two more sets of longer tarabs, which pass over a small flat ivory bridge at the top of the instrument. These are tuned to the important tones (svaras) of the raga. A properly tuned sarangi will hum and buzz like a bee-hive, with tones played on any of the main strings eliciting echo-like resonances.


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