A Unique Hindustani Experience

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It’s always good when we “break our Bubble.” And recently, a performance by Hindustani musicians Sangeetha Michael and Avirodh Sharma, two of the West Indies’ leading tabla players, provided us with a global perspective that spans way beyond Lewisburg.

The Indian classical music concert in the Rooke Recital Hall on Mar. 20 started off with an introduction from Michael and Sharma to explain the foundation of their music. They explained that the foundation of Indian classical music is the raag, a basic melodic structure that varies from each performance based on swaras (tones), srutis (microtones), and ornamentations. These are all unique to each raag, and different raags can perform different meanings. Michael then went on to introduce their first piece, a performance of Raag Jog. This raag is typically sung in the evening, and different raags are performed at different times of the day. Michael’s rendition of Raag Jog was accompanied by her performance on the tanpura, a long-necked chordophone used as the main drone or pitch of the raag, and Sharma’s performance on the tabla, a medium-sized membranophone percussion instrument.

But the coolest part? “Only about 10% of Indian classical music is composed. The rest is improvised,” Michael said.

Michael and Sharma then embarked on their improvised journey of Raag Jog, a three-part composition divided into three vocal components. The first composition, Bada Khayal Aba Mai Kaise Karoon, featured a slow, 48-beat cycle. With this first part, Michael and Sharma set the tone for the rest of the show: the slow, mesmerizing music and sound of Michael’s voice transported the audience away from Bucknell and into an alternate universe. As Michael and Sharma progressed into the second part of Raag Jog, Chota Khyal Sajana More Ghar Ayo, the tempo picked up to a medium 16-beat cycle as did Sharma’s drumming on the tabla. At this moment, the audience went from watching to feeling and absorbing: we become one with Michael and Sharma’s performance and spirit. The third composition, Tarana Thana Dere Thanana Natha Deem Thanom, featured a fast 16-beat cycle and showcased both Michael’s quick-changing vocal inflections and Sharma’s rapid performance on the tabla. Yet ever so calmly, Raag Jog ended peacefully and slowly, ultimately symbolizing the ups and downs and busyness and peace we experience all in one day.

Michael and Sharma performed three more songs after Raag Jog. The first, “Gazal,” was a pure, slow love song. Michael explained, “It’s a song from a lover insisting her partner not to leave, but to sit next to her.” The last two songs were accompanied by piano music played by Bucknell professor Barry Hannigan. These songs, both by the composer of India’s national anthem Rabindranath Tangore, were “Phoola Phoola,” a peaceful song about the little beauties of nature, and “Eka Chalo Re,” an upbeat song beckoning us to not lose hope even when times get tough. To round out the night, Michael left the audience with this uplifting message from “Eka Chalo Re”: “Don’t lose hope if at times you must find yourself alone. You must at times walk alone to overcome hardships.” At least we know that with music, we are never alone.

Bucknell NewsJen Lassen