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SONGS SUNG TRUE

Enlightening the Listener: Contemporary North Indian Classical Vocal Music Performance By Prabha Atre, Munshiram Manoharlal, Rs 325

If written words could create music, this is perhaps how it would sound. For the author is none other than the nightingale of Hindustani classical music — Prabha Atre. Her maiden long-playing disc, bearing the infinitely poignant rendition of the ragas Maru Bihag, Kalavati and the supremely evocative thumri, “Kaun gali gayo Shyam”, has brought up generations of listeners and rasikas since it was first released in 1971.

The book is a compilation of fifteen incisive and thought-provoking essays on various aspects of music-making. The subjects are as diverse as Raag-Ras (Mood) and Raag-Samay (Time), “Studying and Teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA”, and “Ghazal singing in the Twentieth Century”. Enlightening the Listener is written in a simple manner, keeping in mind even the uninitiated. The author’s science and law background has perhaps contributed to her style.

Punctuated liberally with examples, illustrations and charts, the book should be easy read for the western and south Indian reader too. They will find the ready parallels with their own music and use of the Roman script for technical inscriptions and notations quite helpful.

The book also carries two rare features — English translations of poems depicting sentiments on music written originally in Marathi by the author and an accompanying audio cassette which has musical illustrations mentioned in the book rendered in the hauntingly beautiful voice of Atre herself. The book bears the unmistakable stamp of the purity of Atre’s Kirana style in that it is simple and direct even while dealing with complex subjects such as the process of developing a (musical) form, tradition, science and technology, music teaching, bandish and music criticism. The introduction of original poetry, song notations, aesthetic drawings and illustrations seem to invest it with a special charm not found in the equally significant, if somewhat heavier, contemporary books such as The Musical Heritage of India by M.R. Gautam and Essays in Indian Ethnomusicology by Ashok D. Ranade.

Atre is not only a front-ranking Hindustani vocalist but is also recognized as a thinking musician, academician, composer and teacher. A former professor and head of the department of music at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, and former assistant producer of All India Radio, she has had vast and varied experience.

She can easily be regarded as a pioneer among educated women musicians who embarked upon the serious business of training and representing a complex tradition of music in the early Thirties. This, together with the purity of her training under Sureshbabu Mane and Hirabai Barodekar, the giants of Kirana gharana, makes Atre’s book reflect the wisdom that is achieved from first-hand experience and not by study alone. It is the wisdom of a lifetime’s experience.

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