Bach, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and improvisation on Ardha Shikhar Taal

This week I had the privilege of playing some of my music for Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the legendary player of the bansuri (the North Indian bamboo flute), whom I respect and admire as one of the greatest living masters of any music tradition. I also attended to a lesson of his on Indian classical music for students of Codarts, Rotterdam. This was a fine example of oral tradition, with the master playing endlessly varied phrases and the students doing their best to imitate them. I had attended to such a lesson once before in Hariprasad Chaurasia's music centre Vrindaban Gurukul in Mumbai and again I was impressed by the fluency and efficiency of the movements of his fingers and joints. This time, it reminded me of comments made by contemporaries of J. S. Bach on his organ playing, which by all means must have been extremely rich in expression, with the use of very small movements of his fingers and feet only. The parallel between Hariprasad Chaurasia and J.S. Bach gave me a great joy and I felt that contemporary organists might learn from the subtle art of playing the bansuri. If only the organ pipes could sing and speak with the same sensitivity, elegance and natural breathing! These small movements of fingers and joints, also including the phalanges, show a good balance between relaxation and concentration and allow for refinement and variety of articulation and phrasing. After the meeting with Hariji, I intended to perform Bach's well-known choral prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme in the same spirit, as shown in the following video. It should be remembered that the clavichord, the instrument which Bach used to play at home, is like the bansuri a very delicate and sensitive instrument. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, the instrument with the digitalized sound of the organ in Tholen on which I play in the video matches this kind of refinement.

In the improvisation which I played for Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, I used many chromatic intervals, like tritones, major sevenths and minor ninths, in the line of contemporary Western music. Hariji commented on this by reminding me of the fact that in Indian classical music one has to stick to the pitch organization of the raga. Reflecting on this, I recorded the following improvisation at home, avoiding chromaticism and restricting myself to an ancient mode for Gregorian chant, the source for many beautiful melodies in the Middle Ages, which I got to know at a young age by playing the organ in churches. At the basis of this improvisation is the Indian rhythmic cycle Ardha Shikhar Taal (8.5 beats).


Bach and Indian rhythms during holidays in the Provence

Lightweight MIDI-keyboards provide excellent opportunities for practising during holidays. Playing without sound is -besides a healthy exercise in solfege which I recommend to every student- better than playing with bad sound and can be almost as great a joy as playing with good sound. Amazing that on this 49-keys instrument the manual part of every organ work by Bach can be practised! Questions to the informed reader: which piece by Bach do I play and which Indian rhythmic cycle sounds through the iPad?