I have been hesitant to post recordings of myself thus far, because as much as I enjoy the process of practicing and working on this music, I am keenly aware of how little I actually know. But at the same time, I am so excited about what I’ve been learning, and I want to share that process with you, however basic and rough.
I’ve been studying Hindustani vocal music for about month now. At first I couldn’t figure out how to make my voice do those little twists and turns, that are so characteristic of Indian music, but that we can barely conceive of in the west. While I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing it right, and while I definitely don’t have enough control of my voice to be able to produce them consistently, or to prevent them from getting out of control, sometimes they surprise me and show up where they’re supposed to be.
The thing about learning this music, or any music, is: it’s not really a sequential process. Yes, it has to be taught in some kind of sequential way, because it’s impossible to learn without being told things in an order. Though, in the west, we really do have accepted standards of the order in which concepts are taught, I understand how arbitrary that order is: you hear an amazing performance, and it is a singular thing that is both elementary and sophisticated, whose elements can be combined and ordered in so many different ways based on the listener’s relationship to them.
My learning process so far has been the same. For me, it’s not only grappling with the many parameters in this style of music — it’s also using my knowledge and training in western music as a lens to examine what is before me, to see if a valid comparison or perspective even exists. My method of study is simultaneously direct and comparative. I learn both because of my western background and in spite of it. I’m still at the point where everything I’m hearing is new, and I’m not always sure how it connects to everything else I know. I absolutely love the feeling of being in it, but it is impossible to analyze.
In the following little clip, I am singing a small composition in sargam (solfege) in Raag Bhairav, a haunting morning raag. The 2nd and 6th scale degrees are not only flat, but extremely flat – smaller than a half step from the adjacent notes. This is played upon by a characteristic oscillation between 2-1 and 6-5. I will go into much more musical depth about Bhairav in a subsequent post.
Needless to say, this is the Hindustani version of a first year piano student valiantly trying to line up the counterpoint of Minuet in G. It’s by no means polished, but it’s a start!
A note about the recordings on this blog: all my own recordings will be password protected. If you don’t have the password and would like to hear the recordings, please email me or leave me a comment here with a place I can send it.