Comic Verse About Indian Music, part 2

“Oral Tradition: Some Hidden Aspects — or, The Ustad’s Advice.”

When I was in my early days,
I fell in love with raags,
Though my mother said the singers
Sounded more like frogs.

I learned to sing the alap,
I learned to sing the cheez,
My taan became proficient,
But still it failed to please.

I asked an ancient ustad,
how to make a lovely note.
“My son,” he said, “it just requires
a clearing of the throat.”

“You start down in the glottis,
and gargle up some phlegm,
then bring it through your larynx
for a truly great ACC-HEM!”

“My son,” he then continued,
“Your music won’t be great, ’till
You can made a wad of mucus,
Stained red from years of betel.”

I listened to the records
Of the pandits and ustads;
’twas true, I found: the greatest singers
Made the biggest wads.

When Bade Ghulam Ali
Throws all his weight around,
His taans, alaps, and gamaks
Produce a stirring sound.

But he’s got something else, my friends,
Which modern singers lack:
A wonderfully resonating way
of going “Aaaaaaak!”

I heard the maestro Faiyaaz Khan,
who sang in days of yore:
He’d scrape his learned larynx,
and bring up more…and more.

Paluskar’s hack was beautiful,
And likewise Amir Khan…
But now this great tradition,
it seems cannot go on.

The modern crowd of singers
Will stay forever small,
For though they may sing sweetly,
They cannot cough at all.

An Obscure Genre: Comic Verse About Indian Classical Music, part 1.

“Intonational Variation in Oral Tradition — or, Tutti Shruti”

In bygone days in India, the emperor Akbar
Had in his court a singer who was known both near and far.

He had a wondrous repertoire, there was no doubt of that —
But every note in every raga came out slightly flat.

Because his voice was out of tune, they called him Besur Khan,
He founded a tradition, so his gayaki lives on.

For he had some disciples, and they disciples too —
And all of them sing ragas in a loud, discordant moo.

And if you ask them nowadays, “why do you sing so flat?”
They’ll say, “it’s our gharana.”
That’s all there is to that.

Making It Happen!

The Beauty of Khyal — A Recital of Night Ragas

I’m as happy with this recording as I’ve ever been. The recording session we did on August 16 of this year was wonderfully productive, and this CD represents the first installment of the raga performances Milind Pote, Chaitanya Kunte, and I laid down that night.

Please pitch in. You’ll love this music.

Bandra Concert, August 21, 2013

The music this evening was just gorgeous. Mukta Raste’s beautiful theka was inspiring and supportive, and Ravindra Lomate played excellent sangat on harmonium. The Bandra Base is a once-in-a-lifetime room: small, sympathetic, filled with excellent resonance and history. Dee Wood, proprietor of the Base, made the farmaish for Malkauns. I’m glad he did; this performance came out with lots of bhaav.

Mora bolere – vilambit teentaal
Banwari mori manata nahin – drut teentaal
Tarana – drut teentaal

Warren Senders – voice
Mukta Raste – tabla
Ravindra Lomate – harmonium

August 21, 2013
The Bandra Base, Bandra, Mumbai, India

Peer na jaanire – vilambit ektaal
Man man ab to man – drut ektaal
tarana – drut teentaal

Warren Senders – voice
Mukta Raste – tabla
Ravindra Lomate – harmonium

August 21, 2013
The Bandra Base, Bandra, Mumbai, India

Yes, No, Maybe? (Trombone Duet)

This trombone duet was composed out of a need to write more music for trombone, because trombones are awesome. I was very fortunate to have Bob Pilkington and Jim Messbauer doing this version of the piece. There’s another performance from a JCA concert with Pilkington and David Harris; I’m going to try and find that and upload it too, to facilitate side-by-side comparisons for all you trombone geeks out there.

Horn Gamelan (1990)

Back in my college days, I began working on a piece which would employ my very rudimentary understanding of gamelan structure to a brass ensemble. I worked on “Horn Gamelan” for a long time, filling in hundreds of teeny-tiny notes on a big folder of score paper, then copying out all the parts by hand. There were five sections, all timbrally more or less identical. The piece was performed in 1981 at a concert I produced at Boston’s Studio Red Top, a performance space run by Cathy Lee. That evening was a sort of “graduation recital” for my final year at Campus-Free-College (Beacon College).

For a long time after that the score lay dormant. In 1990 I was awarded a little grant from Meet The Composer, and part of it allowed me to resurrect Horn Gamelan. I picked the two best movements, wrote a fanfare/introduction (which included a sitar improvisation by my wife Vijaya) and an interlude which evoked some of the timbres of Sundanese music, and had a nice performance that evening. Somewhere I have a videotape of it…wish I could find it!

Here is the recording of my revised “Horn Gamelan” from its 1990 performance. Hope you enjoy it!

Interstices – String Quartet (composed 1984, performed 1993)

“Interstices” had its origin in a chart I wrote for the first incarnation of Antigravity, which included all the basic ingredients: a seven-beat vamp, a twisted melody in a Phrygian Maj7 scale, and the superimposition of 6-beat groups on the 7-beat structure to create a 42-beat cross-rhythm. But I feel that the full realization of these ideas was only made possible by the quartet format.

I composed the string quartet score of “Interstices” in 1984 on a visit to New Paltz, NY. The project was originally undertaken as a project for Mimi Rabson’s R.E.S.Q. (Really Eclectic String Quartet), which played it in a recording session before I left for India the first time in 1985.

The version for RESQ was through-composed for their unusual orchestration of 3 violins and bass. Their version sounded great and was the only recorded rendition for many years. In 1990 I assembled a “New Ensemble Music” concert and prepared the piece for performance by 2 violins, viola, and bass — but the woman who was to play 2nd violin disappeared 10 days before the concert and never returned, and it wound up being performed as a trio.

In 1993 I put together another “New Ensemble Music” concert, and this time I got lucky. John Styklunas was playing bass, and he brought his colleague Steve Garrett in on ‘cello; I rewrote the viola part for ‘cello, and I think it sounds great that way. Teresa Marrin and Tomoko Iwamoto did a great job on both violins. There is no distinction between first and second fiddles in terms of the complexity or ranking of the parts.

The Web of Departure – Trombone, 2 Violins, ‘Cello, and Contrabass

The Web of Departure is a feature for the trombone artistry of Bob Pilkington, accompanied by the same string quartet that performs Interstices.

While the piece is built around a simple pentatonic structure with some modulations of tonic, it evokes a series of very pleasant moods, and Bob’s playing is exceptional.

Hope you enjoy this:

Native Places — A Trio for Flute, ‘cello, and piano

I began composing this trio in Pune in 1988, and worked on it more or less steadily for about eleven months, with time taken out to work on a piano solo piece which has never yet been performed. “Native Places” references many raga motions and uses different governing structures in each movement. The score was dedicated to my composition teacher Karl Boyle.

“Native Places” refers to a commonly heard phrase in Indian English. One’s “Native Place” is the ancestral home — most probably not where one is living now, but the spot from which one’s history grows. My friends and colleagues often said things like, “I am going to my native place,” or “My native place is not Pune, but a small village close to Nagpur.”

This phrase evoked in me the notion of multiple points of “home,” which led to scale shifting, tonic modulations, and other ways of ambiguating the influence of the drone.

The piece has been performed only once, on December 3, 1993, at Cambridge’s First Congregational Church, in a concert of “New Ensemble Music,” with Matt Samolis on flute, Caroline Dillon on ‘cello, and Jin Ohtsubo on piano.

The first movement begins with a Bairagi-type “alap” which gradually introduces tones outside the raag, eventually shifting to a Saraswati-type lydian framework, then modulating up a tritone. Bla bla bla.

more »

The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

My composition/re-arrangement of several pieces & textures associated with Jimi Hendrix, reconceived as a solo vehicle for Melanie Howell Brooks’ bass clarinet virtuosity.

Bob Pilkington’s arrangement of “If Six Was Nine” features me singing & vocalizing as a sort of long coda.