Saga of the morning raga

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When the singer touches a high note, the music pierces through the crisp morning air with crystalline clarity. If the concert is an open-air one, in relatively sylvan surroundings, birds of all feathers might flock there to chirp in unison. The audience at such concerts is a motley bunch of connoisseurs and people on their way home from a vigorous morning walk. Bolstered by sturdy shots of coffee and tea, the spectators are in the epitome of wakefulness, and at times are prone to responding a tad too enthusiastically. Welcome to the world of the morning concerts.
In India, music has always been an all-consuming passion. Many a royal history fondly recounts the all-night concerts that lit up kingdoms. Some kings were a trifle too passionate; the legendary singer Alladiya Khan ran away from the court
of Amleta because the
king made him sing all day and night, till he lost his voice. Dusk-to-dawn concerts were a reality a decade ago.
However, they faltered under the onslaught of restrictions on the use of loudspeakers and decibel-level regulations. All-night concerts were then restricted to closed spaces like auditoriums, which lacked the accessibility of an open-air space.
Vocalist Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande explains the shift in trends. She says, “There was a time when morning concerts were not so frequent. Some concerts would start late in the evening and go on all night, ending with a morning raga. That is how the tradition of singing raga Bhairavi at the end of any such concert began. However, concerts that started in the mornings had limited scope. Also, most of them would be scheduled for Sunday mornings. This was in the nineties, when people would be glued to their TV sets on Sundays to watch Ramayana or Mahabharata.”
Currently, morning concerts have gradually emerged from a fast-paced urban scenario and the legal restrictions that reflected the changing cityscape, but their existence is a charmed one. As Shashi Vyas of Pancham Nishad puts it, much of Indian music is time-bound or nature-bound.
A morning concert showcases a selection of rare ragas that are not played or sung often. Also, it reinforces the rich Indian tradition of folk and devotional music, creating a space for them within the classical metaphor. Vyas remarks, “Every home has some kind of devotional music reserved for the mornings. Women of all communities are exposed to singing of some sort. There are songs for occasions like births, deaths and marriages. When Pancham Nishad started organising morning concerts in 2002, our motive was not only to showcase rare classical ragas, but also to allow for the performance of folk or devotional music set in classical ragas, or in some cases, music that has inspired classical ragas. India has an extremely versatile musical footprint; we need to preserve it
and ensure its continuity. Morning concerts are just another way of doing that.”
There are some who feel that only big names can make people wake up and mark their attendance at early morning musical meets. But Vyas hastens
to negate such
notions.
“The audience wants to listen to young artistes too. Some of our events like Pratahswar completely revolve around the youth. At the end of the day, it’s all about good music and age is not always a factor. When artistes like Rahul Deshpande or Jaiteerth Mevundi perform at our events, we have audiences of around a thousand people or more. Even a relatively unknown singer performs to an audience of approximately 350 people.”
The morning concert is another moment snatched from the subsuming embrace of the city. They offer a more introspective musical experience, setting themselves apart from “exhibitionist” evening concerts. Ashwini feels that morning concerts are conducive to better musical reception and more
active audience participation.
“Music is not completely a mode of entertainment. I expect my listeners to contribute in understanding the music. In the morning, the mind is fresh and more receptive. It is good for our kind of music. Just the act of dressing up and reaching the venue on time adds to the preparedness of body and mind and helps reception,” she signs off.

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