Thursday, 28 April 2011

Use of Harmonium

It is a custom in a Bengali family to procure a Harmonium and start coaching a little girl with Rabindra Sangeet. The first mistake is done. The music that is based on the traditional Hindustani Classical music ought not to be handled by a simple instrument. The instrument is western in origin and it is worth observing that people of the West have disapproved the idea of using Harmonium as a tonal guide for children.

In Hindustani Classical slides (Mid) and short slides (Gamaka) are of immense importance. From days unknown singers have been using instruments that support the music with a standing note (or notes) or that can reproduce the effects of slides and short slides. Tanpura, Sarod. Sitar, Flute etc are used as comfortable accompanying instruments. Harmonium in contrast can provide standing notes but as following instrument it has been a failure, at least for a person who is young enough to master the Touch Notes that are responsible for reproduction of a certain Raaga. Although it has been observed that after acquiring the delicate idea about the construction of raaga one may be able to punch in - that too I think with the help of some Chords and combination of notes.

Rabindranath was exposed to a rich treasure of Dhrupadi Classical music from his very childhood. Dhrupad is considered as the forms that existed prior to the modern form of Classical music. Unlike the modern form Dhrupad does not recommend anything except the Veena and Mridangam for accompaniment. Many songs among those composed by Rabindranath are considered as "Dhrupad -bhanga gaan" (derivatives of Dhrupad).

Bonafide Rabindra Sangeet singers who have educated themselves in Shantiniketan in presence of Gurudev himself have never dared to use an instrument other that the Esraj and the Tanpura. The inclusion of harmonium crept in after his demise. Sri Shantidev Ghosh was found to advocate in support of using the instrument as an accompaniment. Although he never asked a beginner to start with a harmonium. He indicated the use of it only by them who have a mature education behind their musical skills.

None other than the people of Bengal in India does ever think of a harmonium for a child being exposed to system of serious music. So why should we? Let me make it a bit clearer, I am not in favor of 'following a Rabindra Sangeet with a harmonium, if it is used to create an ambiance that is a different question altogether.

A harmonium is a much costlier than a Tanpura. A good harmonium in Kolkata is priced at not less than Rs 20,000, while a Tanpura is obtained at Rs 6,000 to Rs 7.000. So, why go for the costlier proposition?