A Program Note on Dhrupad

The classical music of Indian subcontinent is divided in to two main traditions : the northern , known generally as Hindustani, and southern , known generally as Karnataka. The Hindustani prevails not only in northern and central India, but in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. The vocal Music is the heart of the Indian classical tradition.

The Gundecha Brothers present vocal music known as Dhrupad, the oldest and most profound form of classical Hindustani vocal music. Dhrupad developed in India in medieval times, and we have examples of distinct compositions attributed to the legendary Tan Sen (or Tansen) , who both as a player of BEEN and a vocalist was one of the nine jewels of the royal court of the great mughal emperor Akbar. Dhrupad was a dominant form of vocal music in northern India until the eighteenth century, when it was gradually overtaken by the lighter ,more florid vocal style as KHAYAL (literally, imagination).

A customary full performance of Dhrupad is in two parts- the Alap , an extended melodic improvisation that explores the mood of Raga, and the Dhrupad or Dhamar – a composition set to distinct poetic text with Pakhawaj accompaniment.

The Alap itself goes through three states known as Vilambit, Madhya and Drut. The Vilambit Alap explores the distinctive melodic features of the Raga without recourse to rhythm. The customary vocal range of Dhrupad is two to two -and -a -half octaves, and the alap begins with tonic (do or C in western term) of the middle octave as its center. The vocalists sing in extended , improvised passages and generally begin by moving downward ,note by note, exploring the lowest octave, sometimes finally reaching a distinctly dramatic point by touching the deep tonic of that octave. Although there no lyrics to this singing , certain syllables- ri, na,,ra num, te,ta,ra,na – are used to articulate the melody. After exploring the lowest octave .the singers move up into the middle octave- again singing in alternate improvisations that set new progressively higher watermarks – ultimate reaching another dramatic stage by ascending to the tonic of the highest octave. This gradual, progressive ascent is what is most dramatic about the Dhrupad alap, and the longer the vocalist can sustain their creativity in keeping the listeners engaged, the more liberating the resolution in reaching the highest octave.

Next come the Madhya(Literally Middle) Alap in which there is the introduction of slow, regular pulse. This section is the vocal counterpart to the Jor in instrumental music. Using the same syllables in singing the notes of the Raga, the brothers alternates in their improvisation by traversing- now with a rhythmic component- some what the same range covered earlier , though usually concentrating on the central octave. The notes come frequently added with the power of gradually accelerating rhythm.

At some point in Madhya Alap , the double pulse burst into a quadruple pattern, and Drut Alap begins,this section is the vocal equivalent of Jhala in Instrumental Music. Here, the rhythmic element comes to dominate the melody with increasingly complex phrases,ornamentation (including distinctive ,heavy oscillations called Gamakas), and rhythmic patterns that contrast with the elegant calm and simplicity of beginning Alap. The conclusion of DRUT Alap is usually marked by a gliding , downward slide through the entire middle octave, and ends on the same tonic around which the improvisation began.

Throughout the development of Alap , a periodic punctuation device, the Mohra, separates the improvisatory phrases. In the simple Alap , such a device anticipates the coming rhythm where as in the Madhya and Drut it serves as a kind of brake, occasionally slowing the increasing rhythmic momentum.

The Performance of the Raga concludes with the song, set with Pakhawaj accompaniment to one of the distinctive Dhrupad Talas; a song in a ten-or twelve- beat called dhrupad , while the song in the fourteen beats Dhamar Tala is known eponymousely as a Dhamar. The performers consists of a straight forward statement of the fixed song composition , which is traditional and may sometimes extremely old dating to the time of Tansen. The song itself consists two to four parts based on the poetic text , and once this parts have been stated in their fixed form , the singers engage in a improvisatory process known as a BOL-BAANT, in which the word are used in increasingly complex and richly syncopated rhythmic patterns (which play against the powerful cross-rhythms of the Pakhawaj) to conclude the performance of the Raga.

By Brian Silver