Listening and Learning: The Educational Significance Of Live Recitals

- Written by : Aarohi Sood

On 7th December 2022, I had the great privilege of attending a recital by the esteemed sarod artist Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and the tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain. Accompanied by a friend, I reached the venue just as the two stalwarts were being welcomed onto stage, and what followed was an engrossing two hours of musical performance and education.

Ut. Amjad Ali Khan began the recital with two compositions in Raga Kamod: a madhya laya and a drut laya. This raga uses the same notes as Raga Nand, which we have been learning in class for a few months. It was thrilling to listen to a Kamod and be able to clearly see the lack of the characteristic phrases that Nand employs!

Next, Amjad ji introduced a raga of his creation, Ganesh Kalyan. He played a dhun and a short khayal in the raga. To my amateur ear, the raga sounded similar to Yaman Kalyan, with phrases containing tivra and shuddha madhyam interspersed beautifully together.

As Amjad ji was tuning his sarod to the notes of the next raga, I thought about how just six months ago, I was lamenting the fact that I would probably never be able to see Zakir Hussain live in concert; and yet, here I was. But before I could even vocalize this to my friend, Amjad ji was introducing the upcoming raga: Darbari. After a leisurely aalap, the Ustads moved to a madhya laya composition with a mesmerising section of sawal-jawab between the sarod and the tabla, closing the raga with a drut laya composition.

After this, Amjad ji introduced a raga called Bihari. Both my friend and I had not heard of this raga before, and Amjad ji explained that this was a lesser-known raga. In fact, it has mostly been preserved by sitar and sarod artists, as it is most well suited to these instruments. Within it, this raga contains shades of many ragas from the Khamaj Thaat. As Amjad ji said, some compositions are created for the very purpose of preserving a raga, and the Ustads treated us to one such instance.

During a short break, Amjad ji broached the topic of unconventional taal cycles, for example a 9.5 beat or 6.5 beat avartan. Explaining that these “strange” taal cycles actually come up fairly organically while composing, Amjad ji first gave a verbal demonstration of the bol, before launching into a beautiful tarana in Tilang, with Zakir ji playing even within the gaps of the standard 9.5 beat cycle to create magic.

Then, they both moved on to a 6.5 beat cycle in Raga Durga, before transitioning to a more standard drut Teentaal to further explore the nuances of Durga. The sawal-jawab continued here with some particularly stand-out portions by Zakir ji, as he created sounds that I previously did not think could be produced by two drums made of goat skin!

As they ended, the crowd was ecstatic, and I realised that a huge smile had grown on my face. I would have been deeply content had the evening ended there, but as it happened, they had one last surprise in store for us – a rendition of the famous and ever-relevant composition by Rabindranath Tagore, Ekla Cholo Re. At the conclusion of the two-hour long performance, Amjad ji and Zakir ji were showered with applause and even given a massive standing ovation.

After exiting the auditorium, I let the evening completely sink in for a few hours, and I began to deeply appreciate everything I had learnt. Knowing about unfamiliar ragas, complex taals, and novel nuances to ragas known to me. Even though I have tried to reproduce everything that the two artists conveyed, language is severely limiting, and it is a much more valuable experience to watch them demonstrate these concepts live. I am so grateful that I could be there, and I do urge the readers to attend as many such concerts and recitals as possible. I definitely will be on the lookout for such events happening in my city, and I'm hoping to see people like you there!


Sangeet Sadhana
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