Tonic verses in tempos

classical music

Tonic verses in tempos

A  lesser-known side of the traditional guru-shishya parampara is the legacy of the disciples honouring the memory of their revered teacher. This aspect was brought home at the Vasant Thakar Memorial Concert, held in memory of the famed classical music guru, late Pandit Vasant Thakkar.

Known for his jovial and co-operative ways with his disciples, he has left behind a golden heritage of compositions, a subtle understanding of laya and tala alongside the melody, a heritage that has made his disciples not just artistes on music platforms but also astute listeners and promoters who are striving hard to keep alive the purist tradition without making it pedantic and forbidding.

As a part of an initiative by the Sanskriti Foundation and the former disciples of the late guru, an inaugural concert in the late guru’s memory was set in motion by the well-known dhrupad exponent, Pandit Nirmalya Dey.

Choosing a specialityAn exponent of the Dagar Bani style of dhrupad presentation, Pandit Dey had been under the care and tutelage of the late Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar since the late seventies. Hailing from a family of music aficionados, it was his mother  who was instrumental in influencing him in his musical preferences.

At that time, as a resident of Kolkata, Dey had been privy to the concert performances of the late Ustad Aminuddin Dagar. “At the Prayag Sangeet Samiti, I had heard their performances, but I was not over-convinced about the feasibility of pursuing dhrupad seriously .” 

The crystallisation of this nebulous attitude came about when Dey was living in Gujarat. “Ustad Fariduddin Dagar was at that time heading the Dhrupad Institute in Bhopal and accepted me under his wing. As I was not a regular collegiate, I was not a bona fide student but learnt under his guidance at his home,” says Dey.

Once again, the introductory meeting was far from encouraging. Ustadji had agreed upon undertaking the tutelage on the condition that Nirmalya would agree to unburden his entire musical baggage and begin with the first syllable or aakaar.

Mercifully, he had not been deterred by this conditional approach and had volunteered to sing a 10-minute introductory alaap by way of showing off his proficiency. There were even greater surprises in store. “Instead of the well-trodden path of learning, the ‘easier’ ragas such as Yaman and Bhupali, Ustadji had started me off with Bhimpalasi.

I continued with the same raga for the next six months without a change and readily accepted the situation, because once lessons had started in right earnest, I realised the gaps that existed in my learning,” he surmises.

Discovery on the goOver the years, Nirmalya Dey’s musical journey has been a constant path of discovery that his guru had enlightened for him. “He was a highly generous guru, my Ustadji,” he adds reverentially.

“He taught me lessons in a group. He also promoted every singer equally, and when he took any of us on stage to accompany him, he never faltered in showering praise on us in front of the audience. That was a very positive encouragement and endeared us all to his ways. In case we had erred at some stage, he would explain our drawback after the concert and that, I think, is why we learnt to take his critiquing with such intent and grace.”

What, then, were these innate strengths that distinguished his form of Dagar vani presentation? The reason, according to Dey, goes back to the very founder of the gharana, Baba Allah Bande Khan, in whose lineage were both instrumentalists and vocalists.

The ritual of common practice sessions of instrumentalists and vocalists has given this genre a unique style, where complementary aspects of singing and playing have played a dominant role. Also, Dey points out the approach to the key ingredient of dhrupad singing — the layakari. “It was not a mathematical progression, but beautiful melding of laya, tala, swar and the fourth subtle ingredient, bhava (emotion).” 

The bhava-based divisions of the text and development led to a new discovery of the contextual content, aptly coined as the upaj or nurturing.MethodologyA great believer in the wisdom of our ancient musical texts, such as the Sangeet Ratnakar’s musicological content, his revered guru had guided him into the understanding of the core content of Hindustani music through its gayan vidhi (methodology).

Today, this valuable input into his music has helped Dey graduate to a higher level. “The style of presentation and the improvised bhanjani in different tala patterns is just one aspect. Another is the combination of tones, both extempore and pre-tempore,” he states. 

But, these technicalities are heard by a listener through a musical ability that is stylistically unique and intellectually fulfilling.

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