"Sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" I played.
It was some eight months since I touched the veena. My cousin brought it as he came to visit us and I was glad to have it back.
New relationship and new life but old habits die hard, so I started with the beginner's exercises. The sarali and janta svaras were done, in three tempi. Now on to the lovely jumps, I told myself, as I struck the drone strings to get the beat set.
So, "sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" I played, paying attention to technique, raising the second finger to sound the 'ga', and remembering to strike the drone strings to indicate beat.
What's that, he asked.
I was surprised. It's just baby stuff, honey, I said. I need to get back fluency and I need to develop callouses, so I am doing basic exercises, I explained.
I know that, he said, a trifle impatiently, but what was it you played just now?
Datu svaras, I said, mystified.
It seems that since the musical schools diverged sometime in the thirteenth century, Carnatic music was blessed by composers who thought about the learning process and how best to teach the rudiments of music, and composers who took the trouble to codify lessons. Hindustani music seems to have no set lessons for the beginner.
I am glad there was a Purandara Dasa, though. I rather like the elementary exercises, they are fun. The sarali, janta and the datu exercises teach a student, whether a budding vocalist or an aspiring instrumentalist, a great deal.
It is not just scales. They teach, especially because the mode Mayamalavagowla is symmetrical in both halves of the octave, the relationships between the notes, and the distances. The exercises make the solfege familiar, and make it easier to learn other modes, the different pitches and tones.
The sarali exercises teach the basic scale, and grouping of notes to make phrases. The janta exercises teach twin notes and stresses, ascending and descending through the octave.
Of these exercises, the datu svaras are really enchanting. They teach how to move up the scale, leaping over a few notes, to glide back and forth on four notes before moving higher up in the scale and repeating the frolicking till the end of the octave is reached, and then to descend in symmetrical glides. There are several of these exercises, all variations on the theme of omission and jumps.
But he didn't know these marvels. Play that again, slowly this time, he demanded.
We both played music, he the sarod and I the veena. He was a serious musician, and I, just a student. He understood music, contemplated techniques and thought and studied the art. I was always a student, needing a lesson to master, and a teacher to play the lesson back for. I was teaching myself to learn without a teacher, but before that, I needed to get back to playing with ease.
Surprised that he didn't know the exercises, I played "Sa ri sa ga sa ma ga ri, sa ga ri ga sa ri ga ma" for him. And I played " Sa ga sa ri ga ri ma ga, sa ma ga ri sa ri ga ma," too.
Like me, he was taken by the first exercise I played, though. It had a lovely logic, "sa ma ga ma ri ga sa ri," did. The next day, as he was warming up, he played the exercise and I laughed as he missed the progression. He demanded I write it down for him, and I did.
Being the serious musician he was, he didn't stop at the end of the octave, but carried on up the scale, and I tried that out on the veena, myself. It was odd to hear the Carnatic musical exercises on the sarod, though.
When he took on a student, and taught him the exercise, I smiled a superior smile to myself; we have had the lessons for hundreds of years, after all.
This post is dedicated with affection to the fabulously envious dear girl, who is an enviable poet herself. Thank you for reminding me of music lessons, Neha.