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Indian Classical Music – Raga by Roop Verma

Indian classical music originated in the ancient Vedic times. The four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) are the Indian sacred books of knowledge from antiquity. Although the knowledge was in written form, it was first transmitted orally to a select few to protect its purity. In earlier times, people chanted hymns of the Vedas in religious ceremonies, rites and rituals and sang about the glory of the gods. These practices were very instrumental in strengthening the religious feelings of the people and arousing their creativity through singing and dancing.

Over the millenniums, Indian classical music underwent many phases of development before it was classified into its present form. It began with one note and gradually expanded to three notes, seven notes, twelve notes, 22 and finally 66 smaller units of sound (microtones), which evolved into the present 72 scale principle. The intervals of tones were based on the natural laws of harmony and were minutely observed for their interactions with other tones and their effects on the human mind. Such observations and research gave rise to a musical system that recognizes and practices music not only as an art form, but also as a psycho-physiological process of transformation.

Ragas

Indian classical music is uniquely equipped with melodic forms called "ragas," through which the artist expresses different moods. Raga means melody. It is the very heart of Indian classical music, the melodic form in which the artist improvises and expresses, in almost infinite ways, different sentiments and moods.

The theme of a raga is expanded through a complex process of micro-tonal coloration, ornamentation of notes and intricate rhythms. Purity of intonation is extremely important to maintain the spiritual and emotional contents of a raga so as to access the inner layers of the listener's mind. What is so fascinating about music based on ragas is that it creates sounds closer to nature. A raga has two important notes in each tetrachord (half octave). These two notes are highlighted in a specific manner to create the essential mood of the raga. Each raga has a specific ascending and descending pattern and characteristic phrase, which help establish the basic structure of its theme before it is improvised upon.

Improvisation

Improvisation plays the most vital role in the elaboration of a raga, always enhancing the mood and then striving to fulfill and resolve it. Improvisation is like composing in front of the audience and is therefore very fresh and lively, just like life. It provides many possibilities for a truly creative artist.

Indian classical music concerts typically consist of small ensembles of musicians including a principle singer or instrumentalist accompanied by tabla (drum) and tamboura (drone instrument) players. The artist improvises within the structure of the raga, starting with a slow introduction and progressing to dynamic and energetic improvisation that develops the mood to a level of great musical ecstasy.

Acharya Roop Verma is an internationally respected sitarist, composer and teacher of Indian classical and sacred music, meditation and Nada Yoga philosophy. He was formally trained in the oral tradition under highly revered teachers of our time: maestros Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati and Swami Shyam of the Himalayas. As director of the East-West School of Music, he regularly teaches and performs at Ananda Ashram, located at. 13 Sapphire Road in Monroe. For more information, call 782-5575 or visit AnandaAshram.org.

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