This morning I was working on my recording of Raag Bhimpalasi and I had a most interesting experience with sur. When I listened back to a take I felt that one of my madhyams was basically in tune, but perhaps a shade too low. So I isolated the tone on Ableton and bumped it up by 1 cent. Then the placement of the note was better, but it was out of tune! It lost its luminescence, the shimmer and glow that characterizes good Dhrupad singing.
This confirmed what I’ve known for a long time: sur is a deep subject that encompasses not just frequency, but voice culture and timbre and the balance of fundamental and overtones. This is one of the lasting contributions of my great Guru, Pandit Ramakant Gundecha. His obsession with sur pointed us all towards one of the essential elements of Hindustani music (perhaps of all music, but certainly Hindustani music and Dhrupad in particular): the ways in which we can achieve a luminescence with our singing and playing through proper sur, which is essentially a complete absorption into the tanpura, which is really a complete melding with the primordial vibrations of our universe.
In then end I left the note alone. It wasn’t worth re-recording since the phrasing was solid and balanced. It may be perhaps a shade too low in terms of swaar-sthaan, but it is in fact in tune. I hope Guruji would approve of my decision. I miss you, Guruji. We all do.