Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

"Riyaz is not performance"

By Shuchita Rao

Veteran sarod maestro Buddhadev Das Gupta has the unique distinction of balancing a successful career in engineering along with Hindustani classical music. A recipient of the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India in 2012, he is one of the artists featured in The Raga Guide CD collection (Nimbus Records), an important learning resource for students of  Hindustani music.

Well into his mid-eighties, the maestro, aided by his son and disciple Anirban Das Gupta, conducted a three-day workshop on Hindustani music for students at the LearnQuest Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts on 19, 22 and 24 July.  He guided students of vocal music, sarod, sitar and electronic guitar on aspects of riyaz (regular music practice), the correct method of holding the instrument and spacing fingers while playing musical notes, and techniques for creating taans (quick melodic passages) in several ragas such as Jaijaivanti, Kedar, Malkauns, Chhaya Nat and Khamaj.

In the workshop sessions, Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta stressed on the importance of  learning the key phrases that define Indian ragas and bring out their essence.
“Riyaaz is not performance. Isolate yourself to a quiet spot and practice few phrases relentlessly until you feel happy with the results. Play what you have practiced in front of someone who understands music and has got it right. Aim to deliver musical phrases well, without any mistakes. Devote a small portion of each day for riyaz – continuity is important,” he advised students. His sincere love for classical music (particularly the sarod), his willingness to share his knowledge, and his sense of humour touched the hearts of the workshop attendees.

Buddhadev Das Gupta in conversation with Shuchita Rao

Is the sarod a demanding instrument to play? Why did you not learn to play an easier instrument?

It is a very demanding instrument indeed. First, the tonal sound of the sarod drew me to it. Then, the appearance of the man playing the instrument – my Guru Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra (aka Radhu Babu). He was a prince. It was rare to see a male who was so handsome.

Was Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra your only guru? Were there other musicians too who influenced your music?

Radhu Babu was my Guru (A to Z). At times he asked one of  his senior disciples, Anil Rai Chowdhury to supervise my riyaz. I was also influenced by the music of vocalists such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan and Kesarbai. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had a heavenly voice. His delivery of phrases dug into my heart and mind. He was an unparalleled gavaiyya.

Classical musicians have traditionally found it hard to secure a living by depending solely on art. Was that the reason why you did not pursue being a full-time sarodiya?

My father, a civil servant by profession, was afraid that being financially successful as a full-time musician was perhaps a possibility –  but there were no guarantees. He forced me to study science and pursue mechanical engineering. I did not like it but it provided me my daily bread and for that I am grateful. Had I been playing sarod the way I play it now, I may have survived being a full-time sarodiya.

You approach music from a scientific point of view and encourage students to ask questions about music. Do you attribute it to your educational background? Was your guru open to answering your questions about music?

I do believe that my educational background has helped me understand music better. I encourage my students to ask questions about music. My guru was open to questions and his answers were right to the point and very convincing.

How does a student learn to construct aesthetically pleasing musical phrases? How does one breathe life into them and make them luminous?

Playing phrases with a touch of sruti (the appropriate approach notes) is the key to constructing beautiful sounding Indian classical music.

How do you feel about electronic music taking over the market?  The sitar and sarod sounds are easily available on electronic instruments!

Our traditional instruments lose their identity when reproduced by electronics. The excellence of natural sounds is somehow lost.

What is your view on the value of free music-sharing through internet today? Does its abundance and easy access help listeners in any manner?

It is good that music is freely available on internet sites but it is important to listen to the right kind of music.

Fusion music projects are now popular. Tell us about your collaboration with the pianist Pandit V. Balsara for Compact Disc recordings. How do you define traditional boundaries when you collaborate with other musicians on a fusion music project?

Pandit Balsara was a wonderful player. He had tremendous grasp of the sentiments contained in the music he played. There are certainly some boundaries to be respected when playing classical music for any fusion musical project. Everything needs a boundary. The collaborating players in a fusion project must be of comparable calibre.

Can classical music be made to reach a wider audience?

It can be done by educating people about classical music and explaining it to them. I have been doing it for many years now.

What is your advice to aspiring classical musicians?

My advice would be – Choose the right medium, practice assiduously, and do not expect to jump over everyone’s head to make it onto the stage in a very short time. <>

1 comment:

  1. It is good that music is freely available on internet sites but it is important to listen to the right kind of music.