1. Interview of Roshan Shahani with Kishori Amonkar, Jan 9 1994.

Roshan Shahani: Today there are hardly any singers who use sarangi for accompaniment. The harmonium has found favour instead of this durlabh saaz (rare instrument). What are your comments?

Kishori Amonkar: There may be a whole lot of commercial considerations, specially in concert performances, where the harmonium is preferred because it is a ready-to-use instrument. But the sarangi is the best accompanying instrument because it is most suitable for the human voice. I would wish that the sarangi is used more commonly, only then will classical vocal music acquire a “rang” (colour).

The “meend” (slide) which is an essential part of our singing cannot be rendered by any instrument other than the sarangi. The harmonium can never achieve that kind of tone or subtlety. It is a pity that Sarangi is not commonly used.

RS: But the widespread use of the “peti” (harmonium) has affected the presentation and aesthetics of khayal music.

KA: We do not get “shruti-s” from the harmonium. The aesthetics of music as per classical norms, which emphasise this are not the same now. We have got used to the harmonium and are losing the older values in music. There is a flow to music with the use of the sarangi. We are losing that flow in music. I would like that the sarangi is given an institutional support. I miss the sarangi accompaniment.

RS: In one of those rare concerts of great musicians one has heard you sing with the accompaniment of Sultan Khan on sarangi and Zakir Husain on the tabla. Did you feel a good sense of flow at that event?

KA: Yes, there are great sarangi players like Sultan Khan and Pandit Ram Narayanji but they are not available for us. They are hardly free. Why this is so, I cannot say. It can be because such people find it difficult to survive in this country. So we cant blame them. But whenever they happen to be around or any other good sarangi player accompanies me, I feel transported to the old world of music. In the old days there were “sarangias”, now there are none.

RS: Do you feel that the “sarangiya” who can make a dialogue with you is an ideal accompanist for sangat?

KA: “Yeh hi to baat hai”. I told you about the flow in music – whether it is in the shape of sawal-jawab or it is a “saamvad” or whether it is the fulfilment of the medium itself – The condition of music needs it. The demands of music can be satisfied most appropriately, by the sarangi.

RS: It can happen that in on-going “sangat”, where you are developing the raga, the sarangi player goes ahead of you. For instance you are developing the lower notes of the raga and the sarangi introduces a phrase with a higher note like reaching the pancham before you have even indicated it…

KA: It can happen this way. But a good, knowledgeable sarangi player knows what is a good “sath” – a togetherness in music. However if by chance this does happen, it is not really out of place. We must understand one thing, the sarangi accompanist who goes ahead in playing can only be a musician of a high class. When such an accomplished instrumentalist establishes himself he is an artist of the “patti” – (high calibre)

But this question of superseding the vocalist is not important. Sometimes the sarangi player may want to express something spontaneously. Then we must support him. There are sarangi soloists. Doesn’t it mean that they are artists in their own right?

RS: What do you think should be done to make the sarangi more popular?

KA: The popularity will increase when the “sarangiya-s” get back here to India and perform. You tell me. How many sarangi players are left in India?

I am ready to sing with any good sarangi player. Also, we must realize that they are not our slaves. They are accomplished in their own field. If they are denied recognition and rewards and awards and have to survive by other means then who are we to question their action? We have no right to ask such a question. Some institution can support them. As it is they are paid less. It has become a norm, to treat them shabbily.

I would feel most happy to sing with the sarangi. We have lost the “surila” (tuneful) aspects of music. We sing with the tempered scale. We must create a “sanstha” (institution) for the sarangi.

RS: In Rajasthan the folk sarangi is alive and well. The Langas and Manganiya community of traditional musicians have got recognition and support from government and other sources. But the instrument for classical music accompaniment has a dwindling status. Do you think that institutions like All India Radio or Doordarshan should promote sarangi music?

KA: We have so many avenues of broadcasting music through these mediums. The Bharatiya “parampara” (tradition) of music is hardly heard – it is not even a drop in the ocean of sound and noise we hear. The TV. channels are not doing anything even for traditional music. What should I say about the sarangi? We should create departments of sarangi music in the universities with guru-s placed in positions of teaching. The sarangi players should get government support in this way. But I know what it is to approach the government for help. The delays and complications are too many. I would rather do my “riyaaz” (practice). But yet somebody has to do something for the sarangi. I appreciate the idea of a conference on sarangi. Its closeness to voice/throat is remarkable. I remember how Dattaram Parvatkar used to play sarangi with my mother. I was a young giri then. He sensitized me to “shruti-s” by demonstrating the “swara-s” on his sarangi. He is my guru.

RS: There was a time when vocalist and sarangi players made music together. There is no sarangi player who has reached as high a status as that of a vocalist. A person like Bundu Khan is exemplary. Why weren’t people like this made popular?

KA: We have not allowed it to happen.

RS: If a sarangi student comes to you to learn your gayaki would you teach the young person?

KA: Everything is possible. Look at the example of Hariprasad Chaurasia who considers Annapoorna devi – sitar and surbahar musician as his Guruma. He certainly learnt his music from her. Though each instrument has its own limits and specialities, I would love to teach a sarangi player.

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2. Excerpts from a discussion on RMIC, Jan 10 1996.

Comparing roles of harmonium and sarangi in accompaniment to vocals, Rajan Parrikar wrote:

‘Almost all of the above names you have quoted [Vilayat Hussain Khan, Bade Gulam Ali, Faiyyaz Khan, Krishnarao Pandit, Kesarbai Kerkar] 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 [All India Radio] 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 Rab[indranath] Tagore and, of all people, Nehru… 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[armonium] players? There are still only a handful of really top-notch H[armonium] accompanists in the country and not surprisingly they are in great demand. While it is facile to get started on the instrument… competence 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-dhyaan…

‘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 to plug the gaps between 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 consistency, 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 besuraapan.

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[nium] accompaniment all their lives, with no change in intonational status whatsoever.’

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