Someone asked me for guidance on learning to play Gurmat Sangeet on Esraj or Dilruba.
I am no scholar or historian. My ‘proper’ knowledge on the subject is limited.
I can only share my listening preferences with you by telling you what sounds good to me.
If you like the ideas, feel free to use them.
As far as I’m aware , the Esraj is not directly linked to Sikh history.
It could be called a sitar-saranda hybrid, or a dilruba-saranda hybrid. I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know what came first.
I like it because my Esraj is easier to play than my Dilruba. I get better sound from it. That’s it.
Being able to create a nice meditative atmosphere during Kirtan is slightly more important to me than the historical authenticity of the instruments being played. Unless the particular event is a historical showcase.
Ideally – the instruments played in a program should be historically authentic in terms of their link to Sikh history and played well. But If I have to choose one over the other, I would choose a non authentic instrument that is played well.
The Bani and your state of mind matter most.
The harmonium will slow down your progress as a singer if you get too attached to using it.
As far as I’m aware it has no real place in Sikh History either. It is a european invention that came to India not too long ago.
I like harmoniums that have a heavy bass type sound. They’re nice as support to fill out the lower frequencies.
Ideally, the volume on harmoniums should be low. So the harmonium should b played softly, almost like a drone to help fill out the lower sounds.
Some Ragi Jathas get too excited with their harmoniums and play too loud, all the time.
They have to be sure to project their voice even louder than their harmonium. If they can’t, then their voices get drowned out. Either way, it gets annoying quite quickly.
Instrumentalists and vocalist should take turns, as if the session is a duet so the Sangat can get involved and sing along.
To the audience/Sangat – everything becomes a monotonous drone if it’s repeated the same way too many times.
My dad pointed this out to me – and asked me to listen to different recordings to confirm whether it makes sense or not – I did ; it does.
Variety is a good thing. It keeps people’s attention.
Take breaks, take turns.
Alaaps & Filler Tunes
I think these are great.
If it’s a Kirtan session, I prefer that the vocalist does Parmaans instead of alaaps. I hope I have the correct word. It’s where they recite a few lines from different Shabads that address the same topic as the one they’re singing.
Long “AaaaaaAAAaaaaAAAAAAaaaAaa” type alaaps are distracting, unless it’s a purely musical event. Short ones are ok.
Parmaans are so much better because you get the same contemplative type mood as an alaap, but you have the infinite Substance of Gurbani to back it up.
This is just my Opinon, so there’s no right or wrong here. You’re very welcome to have a different viewpoint.