[This is a Screen Shot -Visit http://shruti.hejje.com for Yakshashruti]
I have created a small application that allows us to use the real/authentic Yakshagana Bayalata Shruti (Visit http://shruti.hejje.com for cell phone and PC versions). There are plethora of Shruti applications over the Internet, yet there was none for Yakshagana style of music. In this post I will explain why Yakshagana Shruti application is needed and why it is different from Tanpura based Shruti used in other schools of Indian music.
In summary the reasons why Yakshagana Bayalata singers should not use Tanpura and should use Harmonium are:
- Tanpura is not a reed device – human vocal cords are reed like. Harmonium is a reed device.
- Tanpura produces notes in completely different timbre.
- Tanpura produces pure and harmonic notes. Thus voice modulation becomes unnatural to Bayalata style.
- Tanpura does not suit Chande sound quality well. This is because Tanpura has pure notes while Chande produces slightly off overtones (inhormonic).
- Tanpura and electronics versions use Pa, Ma and Ni notes by default forcing uninformed singers to use them.
- Tanpura note volumes do not suit Bayalata singing. The higher Sa should have higher volume as in Harmonium and Pungi.
Yakshagana Bayalata singers use Harmonium for drone or Shruti. It is obvious that Tanpura/Tamboori and Harmonium are different types of instruments: one is stringed other is reed based. However, increasingly many Yakshagana singers have started using Tanpura or Tanpura based electronic Shruti boxes instead of Harmonium. This in my opinion is digression. Yakshagana Bayalata singers should not use Tanpura based Shruti boxes. This is because Yakshagana Bayalata music is different from other forms of Indian music and I think there is a scientific basis as to why Hormonium is used in Bayalata instead of stringed instruments.
Human voice is a result of vibrating vocal cords. You may watch a video here on how vocal cords vibrate. In other words human vocal cords are a type of reed or vibrating membranes producing sound**. Therefore a reed based instrument such as Harmonium is more likely to produce sound closer to human voice (timbre) than, for example, a stringed instrument. This may be the reason why ages ago, Bayalata singers used Pungi (Snake Charmer’s pipe) for drone. Pungi is a Bamboo reed based instrument. Thus Harmonium appears to be a logical replacement for Bayalata Shruti. I have recorded and analysed Pungi, Electronic Tanpura, Harmonium and human voice. I will present its analysis in another post. But for now, in summary, the spectral envelope of Tanpura is much different from that of Harmonium. Which is expected because any different sounding instrument has different envelope; spectral envelope is one of the main factors in determining timbre (nature of sound). Spectral envelope of Pungi and Harmonium are similar and bear similarity to human voice. This indicates Harmonium may be a better drone device for Yakshagana.
This brings us to oft repeated argument that Tanpura is a better drone/Shruti device and is used in more “refined” classical music therefore Bayalata singers should also use it. There is no doubt Karnataki and Hindutani are more nuanced and much explored forms of music. Yakshagana Bayalata is also “classical” in the sense that development of Bayalata peaked in classical Kannada period. Also Bayalata is not a dedicated musical exercise but part of a theatre art. Any comparison of Bayalata singing to Karnataki or Hindustani is like comparing apple to oranges (There is a clearly supported argument that division of music into classical or otherwise is incorrect). Let us leave that for now and move on to counter why Tanpura may not be best for Bayalata singing. It is obvious even to a casual viewer Tanpura sounds different and is a stringed instrument. But, Tanpura produces pure notes where its overtones are perfect harmonics (which is great for other forms of music). In layman’s terms Tanpura produces only pitch closer or right on the desired musical note and other notes are feeble. Where as natural human voice, when producing a musical note, also produces other pitches consonant to note being sung. Tanpura producing only pure note is one of the reasons why it sounds different from natural human voice. This forces singers go nasal as in Karnatik music. The singers may disregard timbre to some extent as in Hindusthani music to get around this issue. In Bayalata, we do not want this to happen. One of the beauties of Bayalata singing is that singers voice resonates along with drone. In doing so singers focus on sounding deep and unnatural in a different way compared to Hindustani and Karnataki (Most singing are unnatural – remember operatic western songs). Therefore to maintain this characteristic Yakshagana style of resonating with reed devices, singers should use a free-reed based Shruti and not a string based Shruti like Tanpura. That is not all, there is more!
Have you heard Chande drum? Chande drum is one hell of an amazing Bayalata drum. Its overtones are not at all harmonic (notes are not multiples – one stroke produces several different frequencies that are not very well related)! When you use Tanpura producing pure harmonic notes without any (less) in-harmonic frequency, Chande will sound less rich as well as slightly off. This is because in-harmonic drums always produce overtones slightly off of what they are tuned to unlike Tabla and Mrudanga. Tabla is almost perfect harmonic percussion instrument as demonstrated by CV Raman in his famous research paper on Tabla. There is a bit of intentional wrable in Mrudanga. Nevertheless, Professor Rama Bhat of Concordia University has mentioned that he had experimented and found Mrudanga to be a perfect harmonic instrument. This shows using Tanpura is great for Karnataki but in Yakshagana we have in-harmonic drum Chande. Let us not mistake that Harmonium is in-harmonic. As the name suggests it is harmonic! However, in the note produced by Harmonium other pitches are not suppressed as much in Tanpura. I think the presence of other pitches makes Chande appear in harmony with other instruments even when it actually is slightly off. Therefore we should continue to use Harmonium in Yakshagana.
Oh boy do you think I am done? Nope, I have one last thing before I end. What about volumes of each notes? Yakshagana Bayalata singing is high pitched. Heavy use of 3rd octave is a distinguishing feature of Bayalata singing. How can one do that when the 2nd octave notes in Shruti have higher volume than 3rd octave note? Harmonium’s 3rd octave sounds a lot louder than 2nd octave by default which is perfect for Bayalata singing. On electronic Tanpura however the lower Sa has equal or louder volume. Moreover, Yakshagana singers only use sa and Sa and no Pa, Ma or Ni in Shruti. Using Tanpura is not desirable because it will force more use of 2nd octave instead of 3rd octave required in Yakshagana style.
One more appalling thing is that some electronic Shrutibox makers have started selling things that sound like old electric transformers, as Vinayak Hegde – one of my singer friends likes to put it! They are an insult to music not just to Yakshagana. Please do not use them. The application I have created helps to make the authentic Yakshagana style Shruti easily accessible to all those who have the Internet access. I hope you will like it and use it while you practice singing. Thank you: http://shruti.hejje.com
PS: PC/Mobile downloadable versions are ready. Visit http://shruti.hejje.com/
Ragu Kattinakere, Yakshamitra Toronto
** Strictly speaking vocal cords are neither strings nor reeds. However, vocal sound is closer to reed sound than sound generated by strings and physical appearance of vocal cords is closer to that of reeds as well.