Five years ago we met for kirtan in Albuquerque. One day we were singing an exercise we had learned. From upstairs, Bhai Baldeep Singh called out “what are you singing?” “Rāga todi,” we replied. “I don’t hear rāga todi,” said the teacher. “But this is your composition,” we replied. “It’s not rāga todi,” said the teacher.
We thought we had the notes, m’ g m’ p d p. We needed the teacher to set us straight. What do you do without a teacher? How will you know if you got it right? I was remembering this story this week, preparing once again to meet up with our little group in Albuquerque, and coming upon this shabd in rāga todi. “Māi māiā chhal,” Mother, māyā is a fraud. In the asthāi the notes come m’ g m’ p d p. I immediately recognized the pattern and the shabd opened up.
It is just a little story and it was just a little moment, like many others that have come before, realizing the gift of having been taught. It is one thing to read, to figure things out on your own. It is something else altogether to sit with a teacher, to receive, to learn, to clean up another mess. I look forward to that gift these next two weeks. Now I must go pack for the trip tomorrow.
On Tuesday May 29, 2012, I sang at the Bhog Ceremony of Dolly Grewal, who passed away after a battling with cancer – she was so dignified throughout – I just loved her joy when her son wed last year – so well she had danced with her mom..!
To accompany with me, I had a young Namdhari musician enthusiast playing along the taar-shehnai with me. His frets, as I pointed out later, were tuned as per the harmonium scale while like the rikhab of raga-s sri, marwa, puriya, bhairao or the dhaivat-s of darbari, asavari, bhairao or the gandhar-s of miyan malhar, kanra-s, jaijavanti or all notes of malkauns and so on and so on are not just present on the harmonium while on its standard tuning mode. The reason why instruments either without frets or with moving frets were utilized in various traditional streams within the Indian classical music. To hear the young man, following my alapa, on the frets of his instruments was troublesome – how I thought he would already know it.
Sometimes we do take things for granted – being taught by maestros so wondrous in the confines of their respective abodes, I come out but it is another sun.
Years ago, the famous harmonium player, Ustad Mehmood Dholpuri, had asked me as we recorded for a film project of Dr. Madan Gopal Singh (I sang a bit of Anand Saheb, if I can remember correctly), “Bhai Ji, when will also give me the opportunity to accompany you?” I remember telling him, ‘the day your instrument is able to emulate the notes that I have been taught to sing..!”