Sudeshna Bhattacharya hovedbilde

Introducing Indian music

Guru Sudeshna Battacharya has taken up residence in Norway. Students at the Norwegian Academy of Music can now take courses in classical Indian music to meet the demand for improvisation skills.

The first fifteen students have already started learning melodic and rhythmic patterns and diving into this improvisation technique that belongs to a 5000-year-old musical tradition. Indian classical music is based on a seven step scale, subdivided into 22 microtones, none of which are absolutely defined. You have to learn were to place the pitch from the context, says Sudeshna Battacharya.

From father to daughter

– The Norwegian students all learn this the same way as in India, says Sudeshna. They have to sing. Singing is fundamental to understanding. There is no written music, everything must be memorized. Indian music is an oral tradition, passed on from father to son.

The guru plays sarod, a lute-like instrument with 19 strings and a neck with no frets. She learned from her father, and being a woman, she is one of only three known female sarod-players in the world, according to herself. She has won prizes as India’s best musician and performer.

New interest in improvisation

Morten Halle is Head of the Jazz, Improvised Music and Traditional Nordic Folk Music Department at the Academy. He has seen the interest in Indian music grow steadily, especially among jazz musicians. Earlier, in the sixties, he says, it was the style of improvisation and Indian instruments that had an influence on western music. Lately, Indian methods of learning music, like the polyrhythmic patterns, have gained attention.

The last five to ten years, improvisation has been a trend, also among classically trained musicians. Improvisation has become a way to get to know your instrument, a way to learn to listen and to liberate the music from the paper.

This is one of the reasons why Morten Halle initiated establishing courses in classical Indian music at the Academy. Sudeshna Bhattacharya is glad to carry them out.


Microtonal challenges

– The aim in my course is to learn Indian classical music, a style of music that has influenced a large part of the world, and to learn the style of improvisation typical to Indian music, says Sudeshna.

The students learn melodies and rhythms by singing and clapping. And they use their own instruments, even if it is not possible to play microtones correctly on them. Glissando, a typical trait of Indian music, is also difficult on certain instruments. But we have to adjust the classes, she says, we don’t always play glissandi and microtones.

The students have to learn different ragas: which emotions are associated with them and which time of day and seasons they belong to. And then they improvise over the ragas.

– My father says a raga is like a person. Improvising is like decorating that person, it is an ornamentation of their personality. We must stick to one raga, and we do not combine them.

Last updated: 1. April 2016