PRODUCING VOICE: a Workshop of Indian Classical Singers with Chinese Kunqu Artists
(Collateral Events of 11th Shanghai Biennale )
Time: 10.00 am - 12.00 n.n, Nov 19th
Venue: Huixin Building, Mingfu Library (No. 235, South Shanxi Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai)
Moderators: Tejaswini Niranjana, Gwendoline Cho-ning Kam
Guest Performers (Indian): Lalith Rao, Omkarnath Havaldar, Rutuja Lad
Guest Performers (Chinese): An Li, Feng Lin, Yin Qian
Hosted by West Heavens (Inter-Asia School)
Supported by Moonchu Foundation and Lingnan University, Hong Kong
The dialogue will foreground the voice production techniques and musical features of kunqu and classical Indian music, and the performers will demonstrate these. Our discussion will also cover the status of these music genres in the historical as well as contemporary contexts, and explore the dilemmas of traditional music in dealing with preservation, conservation and/or innovation.
Note on Classical Indian Music
There are two major strands of classical music in India – North Indian or Hindustani, and South Indian or Carnatic. The West Heavens events in Shanghai and Suzhou will feature three well-known exponents of the North Indian tradition.
The tradition goes back to the 12th century CE in the South Asian sub-continent, including the countries known today as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. By the 16th century, North Indian music consolidated itself in the courts of the Mughal Empire, where different styles of singing, instrumentation and dancing developed. With the courtly culture being destroyed by British domination after the 1860s, the performers dispersed to the small princely states and to major commercial centres like Bombay/Mumbai. By the late 19th century, music schools were set up, and notation systems devised for what was largely an oral tradition of learning. Thousands of people started learning music in the schools as well as with individual teachers, and this is something that continues to this day. Contemporary technological developments like recording, digital app-based percussion and accompaniment and online classes help retain the popularity of classical music.
North Indian music is called raaga music. A raag or raga is a melodic mode sung to a rhythmic cycle which is called taal. The raag has a specific pattern of ascent and descent, and certain catchphrases that are specific to each raag. Although there is a composition (bandish) at the heart of each performance, the musician’s skill is demonstrated through his or her ability to elaborate the raag through improvisation. So there is no following of an existing score like in Western music. The Indian musician simply internalizes the features of a particular raag and elaborates that raag, using a variety of techniques – sometimes singing the words of the composition at a faster speed (bol taan), or singing the notes (sargam taan), or singing just the ‘aaa’ vowel of the notes (aakaar taan). Apart from natural notes, Indian music also has flat (komal) notes and sharp (teevra) notes. The music is vocal-centric, and instruments are valued for how closely they approximate the human voice. Usually, the compositions are in the Hindi language or its dialects such as Brajbhasha.
Note on Kunqu
Proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 2001, kunqu is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese theatre. As the most influential theatrical tradition in China, legacies of kunqu theatre can be dated back to the Ming and Qing dynasty (1644-1911) from which kunqu librettos and music were found in the Wu cultural area.
An unabridged kunqu play normally consists of more than 24 acts. With a complex plot and subplots involving human and/or supernatural elements, a traditional kunqu performance features actors who employ gestures, pantomime, mock combat and acrobatics, as well as stylized dancing and singing. With a leading Chinese flute and drum, all these singing and stage actions are accompanied by a small ensemble of wind, string and percussion instruments.
Over the years, kunqu has come under the spotlight both on stage and in academic discourse. This 600-year old Chinese theatrical genre will be perpetuated with its enduring aesthetics and generations of kunqu performers who transmit and bring it to life on stage.
Guest Performers (Indian)
Lalith Rao is the doyenne of the illustrious Agra-Atrauli Gharana. Leaving behind a lucrative engineering career, she took to Hindustani classical music as a full-time pursuit and became one of its ace performers. She was groomed by Ustad Khadim Husain Khan, the acknowledged doyen of the Agra-Atrauli Gharana and one of the finest teachers of the last century. She has been a regular concert artiste for over three decades and has performed in important musical events all over India and undertaken several concert tours of the US, Canada, UK and Continental Europe. She is a top grade artiste of the All India Radio and has regularly performed on radio and television for many years. She rendered several hundred traditional Ragas and compositions of the Agra-Atrauli Gharana in a unique Archival Project for the Ethno-Musicology Department of the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. She was the first Chief Co-ordinator for a Ford Foundation Archival Project of the Sangeet Research Academy of Calcutta for two years. She has to her credit over a dozen very popular commercial albums brought out in India by HMV, Magnasound, Sony Music, etc. and two abroad by Navras Records of London and Ocora Radio France of Paris. Recently she choreographed, along with her disciples, ‘Agra Gharana – Ek Vatavriksh’ which traced the history and evolution of the Agra Gharana, and which was hailed by the cognoscenti as one of the best presentations ever on a Gharana. Although she has stopped giving public concerts because of a voice problem, she regularly gives erudite Lecture-Demonstrations on various aspects of Hindustani classical music. She has been honoured with lifetime achievement awards from prestigious music organizations.
Omkarnath Havaldar was born into a family of musicians, and was initiated into Hindustani classical music by his father Dr. Nagarajrao Havaldar, a well-known Hindustani classical vocalist. He was trained under masters like Pandit Madhava Gudi of Kirana Gharana and Pandit Panchakshari Swami Mattigatti of Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, and is fortunate to inherit the finest nuances of both the Gharanas. He is now pursuing his training in Dhrupad and Khayal from Pandit Indudhar Nirody. He is a graduate in Psychology from Bangalore University and completed his master’s degree in music from KSGH University of Music and Performing Arts, Mysore. He is a recipient of the Kishora Pratibha Puraskar instituted by the Kannada & Culture department, Government of Karnataka (2000), and has performed at Yale University and the Chicago Center of Music. He also taught underprivileged children at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in 2009. He is also on the elite panel of Artists at the Department of Kannada & Culture Govt. of Karnataka since 2000 and an approved graded artist for All India Radio and national television. QPTV New York has recorded his music and he does regular telecasts in the US.
Rutuja Lad was initiated into music by her parents Tanuja Lad and Umesh Lad right from the age of 5 years. Later She started learning from Gaanyogini Dhondutai Kulkarni, a torch bearer of Jaipur Atrauli Gharana and was under her tutelage until she passed away in 2014. She also learns harmonium from Shri Sudhir Nayak, and is now studying under the able guidance of Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. She has won several prizes in the intercollegiate state level classical and semi classical music competitions, and has also participated in the music reality show Marathi Idea SRGMP (Season 7) and reached till the top 6 level. She has performed at prestigious events organized by the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, Bhavans Cultural Centre, Hridayesh Arts, INT Aditya Birla Centre of Performing Arts, Suburban Music Circle, Gaanyogini Mahotsav, etc. She has completed her M.A in music and stood first in S.N.D.T University music department. She is presently a visiting faculty member of the Post- Graduate Music department of S.N.D.T University.
Guest Performers (Chinese)
An Li is a national first-class kunqu performer of Shanghai kunqu Opera Troupe. Trained as a young male role, Li received professional training from kunqu maestro Zheng-ren Cai, Mei-ti Yue and Zhi-gang Zhou, etc. Li was a leading role in large-scale productions such as The Peony Pavilion, The Palace of Eternal Life, The Legend of the White Snake, The Jade Hairpin and The Last Bell of the Ming Dynasty. Over the years, Li has gained multiple awards on various national occasions. In 2013, he attained the Plum Performance Prize, the highest recognition for Chinese Opera performers. Li is also the winner of the 15th Shanghai Magnolia Drama Award. He came first in winning the title of “Remarkable Actor” on the 5th Kunqu Opera Art Festival.
Feng Lin specializes in clapper and drum, and he is currently a national-first class kunqu percussionist and the orchestra leader of Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe (SKOT). He received professional training from maestros Yu-pu Wang, Xin-hai Zhang, Lei Zhu, Xiao-ping Li and Geng-qi Wang. Lin has demonstrated his professional excellence in various full-scale productions and well-known kunqu excerpts performance, for which he was the leading percussionist and percussion design. These works include The Peony Pavilion, The Palace of Eternal Life, The Fifteen Strings of Cash, The Lanke Mountain, The Poem of the Luo Stream, and The Yandang Mountain. Lin’s devotion and enthusiasm in kunqu music has won him wide acclaim at home and abroad. The unprecedented kunqu music concert that he designed for SKOT has been well-received. Lin won the title of “Outstanding Kunqu Percussionist” at the 5th Kunqu Opera Art Festival in 2012 and critics regard him “a modest musician who shines without deliberately showing off his talent”.
Yin Qian is a national-first class kunqu flautist of Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe. He was trained professionally under maestro Xun-fa Yu and Zhao-qi Gu. As the principal bamboo flautist, Qian has performed for various full-scale productions such as The Peony Pavilion, The Palace of Eternal Life, Lady Banzhao, The White Pagoda, The Lanke Mountain, The Jade Hairpin , The Peach Blossom Fan, The Peddler and the Beauty and The Horse Trader. With his outstanding contribution to kunqu, Qian won the title of “Outstanding Kunqu Flautist” on the 5th Kunqu Opera Art Festival in 2012. He is also a committee of Shanghai Dramatists Association and Shanghai Musician Association.
Tejaswini Niranjana is Professor and Head of the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. She has an MA in English and Aesthetics (1981) from the University of Bombay, an MPhil in Linguistics (1982) from the University of Pune, and a PhD (1988) from the University of California at Los Angeles. She taught for ten years in the English Department of the University of Hyderabad before moving to Bangalore to help set up the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSCS) in 1998 which until 2014 offered an innovative PhD in Cultural Studies, the first of its kind in India. For her research work, Tejaswini has been awarded the Homi Bhabha Fellowship, the Sephis Fellowship, the Prince Claus Fund award (twice), the Rockefeller Fellowship, and the Sawyer Fellowship. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2007), the Institute for Advanced Studies in Nantes, France (2011), and the Asia Research Institute-Singapore (2016). Her publications include Mobilizing India: Women, Music and Migration between India and Trinidad (Durham, 2006) and Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context (Berkeley, 1992). She has co-edited Interrogating Modernity: Culture and Colonialism in India (Kolkata, 1993) and Genealogies of the Asian Present: Situating Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Delhi, 2015). She has co-produced, with Surabhi Sharma, the films Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean, and a new documentary on Hindustani music in Mumbai. In 2015, she curated an exhibition in Mumbai titled Making Music-Making Space. At the 11th Shanghai Biennale, she and Surabhi Sharma are showing a video installation titled ‘Riyaaz’ (Practice).
Gwendoline Cho-ning Kam received her Bachelor of Arts in music from The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2010, majoring in piano performance. Later that same year, she obtained the Licentiate of Trinity College of Music London with distinction. Aside from performing solo piano works, Kam also enjoys taking part in two-piano performances. In 2015, she established Le Duo with Dr Chris Guan-qing Wu, planning to have piano duo concert tour round China in 2017. Despite learning western music since young, Kam is also an enthusiast of Chinese Opera, especially kunqu. She has presented papers on kunqu music at various academic conferences at home and abroad. For three years since 2010, she has been the chief symposium organizer and copy editor of symposium anthology for Chinese Opera Festival held by Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong SAR. She has also translated the Cantonese Opera Peony Pavilion for Cantonese Opera Development Foundation. Since 2014, Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe has invited her to be the official script translator. With kunqu as her study focus, Kam is currently a graduate student of University of Hawai’i at Manoā majoring in Ethnomusicology.