Nature and Quality of his Voice

Although it was not a naturally gifted mellifluous voice, ‘golden voice’ as they say, my father had, through sheer Riyaz, honed it to such perfection that it would reproduce / listen faithfully to what his maind / imagination dictated. It was an extremely well-rehearsed voice ranging from the Gandhar of lower octave (mandra saptak) to Pancham of tar saptak (higher octave) with the same volume of breath force. What is important here is that he did not have to unnaturally constrict his voice as he reached Gandhar-Pancham in the upper octave. The voice training in both Gwalior and Jaipur Gharanas had seen to it that there was not a trace of voice constriction which results in unnatural voice. It was only in the last five years or so that he could reach the upper Pancham with some difficulty and thus he had to settle to upper Gandhar / be content with the Gandhar, Madhyam of the upper octave. 

Age catching up with him, my father has had to lower his pitch from ‘White Four’ to ‘Black Two’. This helped him conserve enough energy in the later phase of his career. It was around 1984-85 that he lowered the pitch and I remember him doing greater riyaz for nearly a year or so in order to achieve stability in this changed pitch. For more than fifty years he sang in that resonant and sharp white four pitch which requires an immense amount of breath force and energy. I had been suggesting much before 1984-85 that he should lower his pitch because I had seen him expending so much of his energy that he would feel drained out and exhausted after the concerts. But, he wouldn’t agree with me then. Back in the Lodgings after a concert, he would ask me to press his aching legs. He would say that it was owing to general weakness and I would say it was because of the pitch. I had even suggested that, to start with he could sing in the lower pitch at home and keep his usual pitch at the concerts. He wouldn’t listen to me. I talked to some of his close friends who in turn advised him to see if he could lower his pitch. Tradition seems to have governed him too much in this regard that all good vocalists generally sing in white four pitch. It took persuasion of many of us to make him lower his pitch and when he did so, in a matter of three to four months, he began to experience greater ease in black two. He was able to achieve same sonority, sharpness and stability. And so he was able to continue to perform until his last days. 

Regarding the manner and method of employing swaras in singing, my father would often stress one particular point. “It must be not only natural, but seem to be natural also. You should employ the swaras as naturally as you speak in a normal way (sahajpan). Excepting gamaks and tans, where some ‘unnatural force (his words) will have to be used, the swaras must be voiced with the least effort and with great ease. Manji Khan Saheb would however never used unnatural force even in gamaks and tans! The so-called open, broad swaras mistakenly associated with our gharana as hall mark, lack the dimension of Rasa and Rasa is one of the most important dimensions of effectiveness of swaras”. He often used to tell us that singing should be like normal talk. The “Maharaja” of Pune with whom my father was close would never tire of saying, “Your father’s voice is great because it is effective music”.

It has been sometimes said that my father’s singing voice was nasal, hence, the swaras were nasal in quality. There seems to be a wrong perception among musicians and music critics that the vocalist’s voice must be necessarily be issuing only through the mouth cavity and never through nasal cavity. This, they say, gives a clear, broad, open voice which is generally associated with Jaipur Gharana. This would mean that the soft palate must always be raised so as to stop the air stream from issuing through the nasal cavity. However, it is often forgotten that by doing so, an important chamber of resonance, the nasal cavity, is not put to any use. The resultant swara would naturally be dry and emotionless. It is pointed out that one of the distinctive features of Jaipur Gharana is the voice which does not make use of the nasal resonator and that this was the characteristic way in which Alladiya Khan Saheb sang. Hence, this is or should be the way in which the rest of the Gharana people should do. Taken to the extreme, this view is untenable because it would mean, you cannot voice the nasal consonant of the cheez! My father did not subscribe to this view at all. In fact, he strongly justified the simultaneous use of nasal resonator in the production of swaras. He also mentioned the fact that his guru Manji Khan Saheb would often use this additional resonator to give to the swaras, the new dimension of emotions and feelings or rasa and hence his music was effective and impressive. If one listens analytically to my father’s voice, one is struck by a judicious mixture of the purely oral and nasal swaras which makes way for beauty and effect. Surely, his swaras were not nasal in quality all the time. They were sometimes nasalized or had the tinge / twang of the nasal sound which resulted in leaving a pleasant impression on the listener’s ears. And, if my father’s way of employing the swaras in the nasal manner, hence, a wrong manner, surely Manji Khan Saheb would have corrected it! Or, Burju Khan Saheb would have cautioned him. They never did. And on being advised so, my father would be the first person to correct himself because he had unswerving faith in his gurus.