Hindustani music festivals usually feature more than one group of artists in a single session, thus providing variety in the programming schedule with the aim of appealing to a wider audience. Typically, vocalists and instrumentalists pursuing different styles are featured in the same session to add diversity. However, featuring a larger number of artists in a single session restricts the duration of the performance for each group. As a result, an ensemble will be given between 60 to 90 minutes to fine tune their instruments, launch into the performance and bring it to a timely conclusion.
The larger the number of groups, the greater the pressure to finish each performance in the scheduled duration. An overzealous performer choosing to play like there’s no tomorrow could prove troublesome for the musicians who follow.
But apart from the practical issue of trying to see that everyone gets their due in terms of time for performance, performers also need to be mindful of the raags that have been presented by those who have performed before them in the same session. Ideally, raags are not to be repeated. Further, musicians are expected to adhere to the Hindustani convention of singing raags pertaining to the prescribed time or season.
This means that performers need to be equipped with a large concert repertoire that will help them tide over such requirements. In recent times, we have the additional problem of the law not permitting outdoor programmes beyond 10 pm. This has hurt the variety in concert repertoire that otherwise enabled musicians to present raags prescribed for late hours in the night or even those for dawn.
Music festivals draw larger crowds of listeners but have also been accompanied by some constraints. Perhaps, concert organisers and event managers need to rethink the idea of music festivals and bring about some changes that would benefit musicians and audiences instead of viewing it as a templatised format.
In the sixth episode of our series on music conferences or festivals held several decades ago, we continue with one of the editions of the annual Swami Haridas Sammelan held in Bombay in 1962. The music and dance segment of the festival was held at the Birla Matushri Sabhagar featuring several well-known artists. We do not have access to the daily schedule of the festival, so the exact sequence of performances is not accessible. However, we will try put together a sequence in every episode over the next few weeks and try to reimagine the music that was played on the occasion.
Last week, we included tracks by vocalists Omkarnath Thakur and Kesarbai Kerkar, both of whom were featured in this festival. We begin today’s episode with a shehnai recital by Bismillah Khan, the best-known exponent of the instrument. This is a recording made for Doordarshan. The maestro plays a madhya laya or medium tempo composition set to the 16-matra Teentaal in the raag Puriya. He follows this with a madhya laya composition in Teentaal set to the raag Marubihag. In both cases, the speed is accelerated towards the end to introduce the jhala section. The performance ends with a dhun in the raag Pahadi set to the six-matra Khemta taal.
We end this episode with a vocal recital by Amir Khan, the pathbreaking vocalist and founder of the Indore gharana. He sings two compositions in the raag Kalavati. The vilambit or slow composition is set to the fourteen-matra Jhumra followed by a madhya laya composition set to Teentaal. This concert was recorded for Akashvani.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.