I just wish I had three lifetimes. Or six. Or twenty. There is so much great music out there that I want to explore. If I’m lucky I’ll be on this planet for another 50 years or so, but only about 40 of those will I be strong enough to practice and perform. That’s just not enough time!
One of my dreams for over a decade has been to study North Indian Hindustani Dhrupad vocal music with the Gundecha Brothers. Two weeks ago that dream became a reality as I started Skype lessons with Ramakant Gundecha. Skype isn’t ideal, but it actually works pretty well. And I am going over to India to work with him in person later this year. He’s a fabulous teacher. We spent all of the first lesson just working on tone quality. In one hour my singing improved by leaps and bounds. The second lesson we continued to work on tone, but also got into tuning for Raga Yaman, as well as exploring some alap phrases.
For those readers who know my work as a composer and percussionist it might seem a bit capricious that I’m taking singing lessons, but in fact I’ve been taking voice lessons off and on for the last twelve years, both in the Western classical style and in the Hindustani style. (And I conducted a Methodist church choir for three years when I was in graduate school at Eastman.) It took some years for my career to get to a point of enough stability that I could afford the time and money to pursue it with more vigor, but that time has arrived. The only way to find enough time to sing is to cut back on some of my Western percussion practicing, but that isn’t a problem. Musicianship is musicianship, and there’s no better way to develop it than through the voice. My technical mastery of my percussion instruments won’t desert me, and my work as a composer will be enhanced immeasurably. Singing raga on a daily basis is also a profoundly enriching meditation that spreads to all areas of life.
At any rate, I feel very lucky to be working with Ramakantji. The Gundecha Brothers are two of the best singers on the planet. I’m aware that there are tens of thousands of incredible singers all over the globe, but when it comes to a complete picture of depth of feeling, tone quality, intonation, improvisation skills, knowledge of the repertoire, and imagination, the Gundecha Brothers are some of the very best. I just wish I had another lifetime to do nothing but study voice with them. Finally, after all these years of listening to their recordings, I’m able to start learning how they make those incredible sounds.