>For years, Indian Government has been trying to save the Bengal tiger from
>extinction. This PROJECT TIGER effort should have been more than enough
>inspiration for the folks in Hindustani classical music to seriously think
>and act to save the Sarangi, one of the best accompanying instruments
>especially suited on account of its tonal quality and versatility.
>(Another instrument equally or even more versatile is Violin. I shall
>however deal with Violin in a separate e-mail shortly).
Fine. I have no quarrel with PROJECT SARANGI and wish you well in the
>The scene we see today is indeed tragic. The accompaniment is almost
>exclusively on harmonium. Except for some isolated Sarangiyas, this
>beautiful instrument is nowhere to be found. The impending demise of
>Sarangi may have started by the All India Radio when it lifted the ban on
>harmonium around 1970-71. This has probably led to a phenomenal increase
>of the H-players (most of them Swayambhu or self-taught!!!). Since
>S-players became less and less visible, the vocalists seem have reasoned:
>Its O.K. to use Harmonium. What difference does it make anyway ?? The
>listeners also seem to have accepted this situation with complete
>This indifference is what makes me sad and angry. If people care to listen
>to the quality of Sarangi accompaniment that was provided to such legends
>as Vilayat Hussain Khan, Bade Gulam Ali, Faiyyaz Khan, Krishnarao Pandit,
>Kesarbai Kerkar and so on, they will agree with me that : Yes, this is
>what a true Saath is. Even in those golden years, Harmonium was around
>but I am sure it did not have the stature of a sarangi for the simple
>reason that these eminent artists wanted Sarangiyas AND rightfully so.
This is factually untrue, your last sentence. Almost all of the above names
you have quoted preferred harmonium accompaniment. To this list we may add:
Vazebuwa, Bhaskarbuwa, Amir Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Sawai Gandharwa, Nissar
Hussain Khan, Behrebuwa, Bal Gandharva, Begum Akhtar and on and on.
The AIR ban on the harmonium was a silly, hare-brained idea to begin with.
What was surprising is that it (the ban) had the support of men such
as Rabby Tagore and, of all people, Nehru (if quarks had been discovered
in India the dude would have had an opinion on them too). As it finally
happened, all these attempts at retaining the "purity" of Indian classical
music fell flat and good sense finally prevailed with the lift of the ban.
And phenomenal increase in H-players? There are still only a handful of
really top-notch H-accompanists in the country and not surprisingly they
are in great demand. While it is facile to get started on the instrument
- any johnny can push the bellows and run his fingers over the keys and
claim he "plays" the harmonium - competance and proficiency is hard to
come by, as anyone who has experience with the instrument will tell you.
Furthermore, skillful accompaniment not only demands mastery over instrument
technique but also a keen sense of swara-dnyaan.
>Dont get me wrong. I have nothing against harmonium. I think it is a
>useful, general purpose instrument which can help/initiate someone become
>music-literate. But to use it for accompanying Hindustani vocal music, is
>to pretend that the gayaki ang, Meend, Behelav, intricate gamaks are not
And yet, when you listen to the gayaki of each of the above doodes, your
assertion has no leg to stand on.
>or that these phrases can be reproduced not on the
>instrument but by creating visual effects (meaning use of hand/facial
>gestures !!). Folks, these effects CANNOT be done on harmonium. Period !!
Gee, dude, we are shattered by this revelation.
Yes, musical devices such as meends and gamakas are inherently impossible
to coax out of the harmonium. However, you seem to subscribe to the
viewpoint that the paramount goal of accompaniment is to generate a note-by-
note, microtone-by-microtone, gamaka-by-gamaka replica of the vocal output.
Not everyone agrees. Others feel (and quite sensibly so) that the function
of an accompanying instrument is to complement the main vocal line, _not_ to
cross swords with it. To that end they prefer an instrument that can provide
a pleasing, sustained, non-intrusive tone to form the soft, secondary
melodic line with as little time-delay as possible, use it plug the gaps
betweens vocal pauses via interludes and in general help enhance the musical
ambience of the performance. They do not consider cloning of the vocal
output on the instrument a sine qua non for an accompanying format.
Most of the required boundary conditions are satisfied handsomely by the
harmonium, which is why its rise in popularity is to be seen as a natural
evolution and assimilation into the vocal performance.
A well-tuned, triple-reed array (with, say, a Nar-Kharj-Kharj configuration)
can provide a rich, resonant tone ideal for accompaniment to "mardani"
gayaki (which you have expressed a fondness for), quite in contrast to
the effeminate, whinging, intrusive and distractive tone of the sarangi. The
overall consistancy, strength and superiority of tone of a harmonium is
seen as a good trade-off vis-a-vis its limitations in the production of
meends, gamakas etc.
The charges made against the harmonium in its accompaniment mode fall
broadly along two lines and I shall address them briefly. Note that the
thrust of my defense here is for its utility as an accompanying instrument.
I hold no brief for its inherent limitations that are all-too-familiar.
Charge #1: Cannot produce microtones, gamakas, meends.
Guilty as charged. However, I have indicated above how production of these
devices is not the be-all and end-all of accompaniment protocol. A nimble-
fingered and skilled player of the harmonium can do a functional imitation
of the meend or gamaka to tide over the phrase. In the worst-case scenario,
its volume can be diminished to a point where it doesn't clash with or
mask the vocal curve (which is what is of prime interest anyway).
The inability to capture microtonal variations on the harmonium can be an
acute problem for certain ragas and less so in others. But again in the
accompaniment mode, these problems are relegated to the background. Good
fingerwork and bellow-control can mitigate and even surpass them. I have
yet to hear someone say that Amir Khan's Darbari suffered because the
harmonium fella had no place to go for his ati-komal gandhar. As an aside,
it is chimerical to assume that the sarangiya can abstract out to a high
degree the precise shade and nuance of the swara and play them back within
the very short response time available. It just doesn't work out that way
in practice even though the sarangi is in principle capable of producing
all the microtonal effects. Another point usually missed is the wayward
and unmusical behaviour of the sarangi in the fast passages. The instrument
can be one hell of a screechy joke as it scampers to catch up with the
rapid fire taans and it doesn't even take a trained ear to smoke out this
Charge #2: Ruins intonational integrity of the artist.
Balderdash. If your intonation is bad to begin with, doing away with
harmonium accompaniment isn't goin' to improve matters. You have to dig
at the root of the problem of how you got to be so lousy. Now one way
that could have happened is if you cut your vocal teeth USING the harmonium
as a crutch. No concert performer worth his name has had his intonation
screwed up after using a harmonium for accompaniment. Funnily, even good
harmonium players don't have intonation problems when they demonstrate
a raga by singing it out. Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar
Gandharva, to name a few - all afficionados of harmonium accompaniment
AND masters of intonation - have been using harmo accompaniment all
their lives, with no change in intonational status whatsoever. This charge
is a non-charge really and is often used by musically-challenged
hushpuppies to sound more intelligent on the issue than they really are.
Due to constraints of time, I'll end with the following comments. Listen
to MM's recording (Tulshi Borkar on the harmonium) of Basanti Kedar and the
treatment of the dhaivat. MM intones not the 'standard` komal dhaivat but
an augmented one closer to the 'mean` shuddha dhaivat. TB has no option but
to use the shuddha D key. Nevertheless a fantastic recording and complete
delineation of the Raga characteristics. Fussing over and clamouring for
a sarangi merely to emend this subtle (albeit important) shade of the swara
we shall leave to the purito-pundits who revel in picking the flyshit
out of the pepper.
>Where do we go from here?? can we do anything from USA ??
>YES, We can !! It is high time that we start a PROJECT SARANGI movement.
I wish PROJECT SARANGI a harmonious (hehehehe) start.