It has become a trend among some Hindustani instrumentalists to sing during their recitals, perhaps to demonstrate the influence of vocal technique and ornamentation on their instrumental renditions. Some also resort to singing probably to showcase specific vocal compositions that they have chosen to adapt for their instrumental recitals.
There have been differing responses to this trend. While some listeners like the added variety to the performance, others believe that vocal renditions are best left to vocalists. These demonstrations of vocal music have also met with resistance from vocalists, but it rarely have they displayed their displeasure openly.
Obviously, contrary to what the orthodox among musicians and connoisseurs would believe, there is no place for right or wrong when it comes to performance practice. Only time decides the efficacy of a particular trend.
Having said that, many would also remember that quite a few music lovers welcomed the vocal interventions made by maestro Vilayat Khan during his sitar recitals. His vocal demonstrations were marked by extreme tunefulness, they were indicative of the manner in which he had internalised the vocal idiom, and his instrumental phrasing that followed was proof enough of his passion to recreate all that vocal music had to offer.
Sadly, many of the vocal demonstrations by instrumentalists today fall short of these aspects, and therefore are probably not received as willingly by a majority of music lovers.
In the fourth episode of the series on raag Kafi (you can read the earlier parts here, here, and here) Vilayat Khan plays an exquisite aalaap or unaccompanied introductory melodic movement that harnesses all ornamentations that are used in vocal music and gives an account of the dexterity with which his fingers bring to life even the subtlest of melodic nuances. Played in the thumri style, Khan’s Kafi rendition fleetingly introduces the komal Dhaivat or flat sixth to engage with phrases from Pilu, a raag closely associated with Kafi.
He breaks into a vocal demonstration that is vibrant and full of colour, matching his instrumental style.
Halfway through this track, Vilayat Khan moves away from Kafi and introduces a raagmala or the stringing together of a number of raags. The concept of the raagmala has been discussed in this column in the past (see here and here). Once again played only as an aalaap, Vilayat Khan announces the name of the raag at times as he moves from one raag to another through single or multiple phrases pertaining to those raags.