Indian music is one of the world’s oldest and richest musical traditions. Its origins lie in the Vedic chants heard throughout the Indus Valley over 3000 years ago. The inﬂux of Islamic culture in the ninth through twelfth centuries gave rise to two Indian musical traditions, Hindustani in the North and Carnatic in the South. It was during the reign of Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) that Hindustani music came into full ﬂower, and Mian Tansen was its main exponent. Even today many gharanas (schools) and a few musical families proudly trace their lineage to this great musician.
Since the time of Tansen a number of musicians have deeply inﬂuenced the evolution of this musical tradition. Ustad Allauddin Khan (ca. 1862-1972) was such an artist. Until the early twentieth century classical music was limited to the courts and the privileged elite, and each vocal and instrumental ghamna had its own specialities of style and composition.
Ustad Allauddin Khan worked tirelessly to preserve each of these different musical styles and helped to bring classical music into the public realm. He revolutionized the instrumental style of playing and greatly broadened its range of expression. He trained such world famous artists as Nikhil Banerjee, Ravi Shankar and his son Ali Akbar Khan, a musician of legendary proportions.
Called an “absolute genius…the greatest musician in the world” by Yehudi Menuhin, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan performed extensively throughout the world until his death in 2009. He carried on his father’s dedication to teaching by founding the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta in 1956, and in 1968, the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California, where he taught until his death in 2009.
Indian music is based on raga (melody) and tala (rhythm). A raga can be described as having a particular ascending and descending scale, certain emphasized notes and phrases, and specific treatment of individual notes, i.e. meend (slides), and srutis (microtones). But beyond that, a raga is considered to be a musical entity, which in the hands of the musician, comes to life. Through compositions and improvisation the artist evokes the raga and demonstrates his knowledge and imagination within the traditional form.
The raga is slowly revealed during the solo alap and is further developed in the gat with the accompaniment of the tabla.
Tala is the rhythmic framework of Indian music. There are over 25 commonly used rhythm cycles of varying length in usage today and many more that are heard on rare occasions.
Although the exact origin of the sarod is today the subject of vigorous debate, it is generally accepted that it has descended from the Kabul rebab of Afghanistan, a folk instrument brought to India by Persian traders. In the late eighteenth century its evolution was inﬂuenced by the development of the sursringar from the seni (Moghul court) rebab, a related member of the lute family. But it was not until the middle nineteenth century that the sarod was fitted with a steel fingerboard and steel and bronze strings.
In the mid 1920s, in the hands of Ustad Allauddin Khan and his brother Aiyat Ali Khan, it further evolved into the structural form used by virtually every sarodist in India today.
The sarod is carved from tun or teak wood. The belly is covered with tightly stretched goatskin and the fretless finger-board is made of steel. Of its 25 strings, seven are played with a plectrum made of coconut shell. Four of
these carry the melody and three are drone strings, strummed to maintain the tonic and to create rhythmic patterns. The remaining 18 strings are sympathetic resonators tuned to the scale of the raga. A brass resonator further enhances the tone of the instrument.
The ﬁngernails of the player serve as sliding frets, allowing or the distinctive gamak (controlled vibrato) and mir (glissandi) that are characteristic of Indian music.
The tabla is the most popular percussion instrument in North India today.
The skin heads of each of the two drums have placed in the center the unique gab, an application of rice paste and iron filings that gives the tabla its rich tonal resonance. The right hand drum, the tabla, is tuned to the tonic note, and the left hand bass drum, the baya is modulated by pressure from the heel of the hand. The playing of the tabla is a tradition unto itself, and each tabla gharanas has its own highly developed style and traditional compositions.
The tanpura is a four or five stringed instrument that provrdes the essential drone background in Indian classical music.