Academic journal article Notes

Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music

Academic journal article Notes

Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music

Article excerpt

Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music. By Ritwak Sanyal and Richard Widdess. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. (SOAS Musicology Series.) [xxii, 395 p. ISBN 0-7546-0379-2. $114.95.] Music examples, bibliography, index, compact disc.

There is much about Indian classical music traditions that remains unknown. This is due, in part, to the difficulties of reconstituting genres from ancient treatises and deducing musical styles from current practice and musical memories rooted in oral transmission. Studies of Indian classical genres can also easily become mired in technical terminology or fall into pedantic and unenlightened theoretical discourses disconnected from performance practice. Dhrupad: Tradition and Performance in Indian Music seems to avoid such pitfalls effortlessly, and despite several technical chapters, the authors more than successfully present what could be rather dry, historical material in an engaging and fluid narrative informed by their extensive musical experience.

Dhrupad is one of the oldest, continuous living forms of music, and any exploration of this ancient genre is destined to reveal a wealth of information on Indian culture and its musical traditions, be they vocal or instrumental. In their book, Sanyal and Widdess address this by positing that this fifteenth-century North Indian form acts geographically and chronologically as a musical gateway to understanding all South Asian music. Rather than focusing on dhrupad as merely a wellspring for subsequent musical forms, however, the authors argue the existence of a generic musical archetype, and subsequently situate dhrupad, and all other North and South Indian classical forms, within its purview.

The authors approach dhrupad's origin holistically, not only in terms of its culture and history, but also as it relates structurally and stylistically to other genres, particularly to khyal, in which analytic detail and genre deconstruction simultaneously enlightens the reader regarding the nuances of dhrupad as well as intricate aspects of khyal. Pedagogically, this connection is particularly helpful as the vocal khyal genre is more accessible and familiar to Indian music listeners. Underlying differences can be seen, for example, in dhrupad's signatory ragas and talas, whereas drupad 's similarities to khyal occur in the use of texts. Other vocal genres less related to dhrupad are also covered briefly.

The book begins with a historical and stylistic overview of the genre. Refreshingly, the authors draw the reader into the material through an absorbing and insightful description of a dhrupad performance at the Benaras Dhrupad Mela. Written from the perspective of both performers and listeners, this section foreshadows the significant treatment of performance throughout the remainder of the book.

Chapter 3 is concerned with the four banis (styles) of dhrupad, in which the authors discuss stylistic correlations and possible classificatory relationships between the bams and five earlier theoretical gltis (raga classification system) from a ninth-century text. The material on the four styles in this chapter is certainly the most challenging, primarily due to the historical subject matter and the difficulty in finding traces of these styles in current practices. While direct stylistic influences are tenuous at best, the authors indicate, through the reconstruction of performances, intriguing possibilities of a musical-conceptual continuity among them.

Chapter 4 explores one lineage in particular, that of the Dagar heritage. Although at the outset the authors acknowledge the limitations to include only one heritage, the dearth of dhrupad musicians in other traditions make any other approach unviable. The authors' depth of discussion regarding this tradition deepens the reader's understanding of the genre by exploring musical insights from this most familiar of dhrupad sources.

Chapters 5-8 contain the book's central work-analyses of dhrupad's formfocusing on one performance in particular, by Ritwak Sanyal himself, taped in 1987 for subsequent analysis. …

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