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Indian Classical Music (3/5) Back
Both Hindustani and Carnatic music have a great variety of vocal, instrumental and dance types. The oldest Hindustani vocal genre still performed today is dhrupad. It is a noble and revered style characterised by a sober and devotional mood. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was gradually superseded by the more popular khyal style, in which the singer is allowed more freedom for vocal display and the mood is more secular and romantic. The names alone give a good indication of the difference: dhrupad means something like ‘fixed composition’, while khyal suggests flights of fancy. Right up to the middle of this century Hindustani music was dominated by great khyal singers, male and female. During the previous century they had become classified according to gharana. This word, from ghar, meaning house, denotes a musical tradition based on a family and place, with unrelated disciples who earn their membership through rigorous training and merit. The gharanas sprang up in the courts and were, to a large extent, expressions of a court’s cultural prestige. For this reason they were secretive and highly competitive. They also developed in instrumental music and dance, and they are still mentioned today, although the demise of the princely courts and the increasingly open communication through public concerts and recordings have completely altered their context and made them largely irrelevant. Yet, so closely is the traditional intensive teaching method from master to pupil known as the “guru- shishya parampara”, associated with the gharanas that their passing seems to threaten the whole fabric of Indian oral tradition. A kind of standardised music where everyone sings or plays in the same way is clearly undesirable, but this does not appear to be happening, despite the universal availability of the most respected or fashionable styles. After all, even if a pupil assiduously learns a particular teacher’s style, an independent successful career can only be built on a balance of tradition and individuality, of imitation and innovation.
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