A masterclass on music and musicians: Pt Satyasheel Deshpande dons researcher’s mantle

New Delhi, Dec 16: Most classical music lovers know Pandit Satyasheel Deshpande for his mesmerising khayal gayaki; many may remember his rare but unforgettable Bollywood forays, like his duets with Asha Bhonsle — Man Anand Anand Chaayo (Vijeta) and Joothe Naina Bole (Lekin)— but few get a chance to see up close his lesser known avatar: that of a researcher and documenter extraordinaire.


The Raza Foundation presented such an opportunity on Thursday evening for a keen audience treated to an hour-long discourse by Pt Deshpande on the comparative styles of various north Indian gharanas, complete with demonstrations, and witty anecdotes revealing his lifelong association with the legends of Hindustani classical music.


The 51st edition of Raza Foundation’s Art Matters cultural series was on “Music and Musicians” and Pt.Deshpande began by explaining his interest in exploring the different aesthetics, styles, traditions and “voice cultures” that lend the immense variety to Hindustani classical music.


“The science of music is the same, but the theories that different culture have deciphered, based on this basic science, differ,” said Pt Deshpande. “Which is why, you can only understand the music of a culture, by immersing yourself in that culture.”


“This is what I did when I undertook the archiving and documentation project. We used to spend up to three months in each of these gharanas, documenting their traditions, learning their styles and recording their great artists. It was then I began to understand why certain kinds of music appeals to certain societies and communities,” he added.


The fruits of Pt Deshpande’s labour manifest in Samvaad, a project that has archived over 8,000 hours of recordings of Hindustani Classical vocal music and over 3,000 annotated, unpublished compositions.


He recalled that as a youngster in Mumbai has own house was a veritable haunt of classical greats who made stopovers to confer with his father, the eminent musicologist and critic Pt. Vamanrao Deshpande.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was a frequent guest and so were Smt. Mogubai Kurdikar, Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande and Pandit Kumar Gandharva , who was later to become his chief guru and mentor.


Pt Deshpande, a winner of the Raza Award instituted by the Foundation, spoke of the heavy influence of the Kirana Gharana and their greats on his own singing, in their “structural simplicity that was quite predictable for the average listener; but the love of the swaras manifesting itself everytime.”


He recounted, with a liberal sprinking of his Maharashtrian humour, Pr. Bhimsen Joshi’s wonderfully gentle treatment of hard consonants, his immersion in swaras that nearly caused his forehead to touch the stage as he sang, and Joshiji’s habit and that of his guru Pt Sawai Gandharva before him to “pick out one member of the audience and sing for them”; of Ustad Amir Khan’s lengthy explorations of swaras that moved audiences to tears and the musical innovations of his own guru Kumar Gandharva.


He demonstrated the differing treatment of layas and ragas, the infusion of “melodrama” into singing, the distinct philosophy, aesthetics and creativity of Bhendi Bazar, Agra, Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas, among others.


The Raza Foundation’s Art Matters programme, hosted by the India International Centre in Lodhi Estate, has been a running series for the past five years. It has witnessed conversations with eminent personalities and expert practitioners drawn from the world of ideas, literature, visual arts, performing arts, among other disciplines and traditions.









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