Ranju Ganesan
Jun 8, 2017 · 10 min read

We recently had the privilege of meeting Gauri Pathare, a rising and prominent star in the world of Hindustani classical music. Gifted with a voice reminiscent of Veena Sahasrabuddhe, she imbues her music with versatility, precision & heart.

Apart from taking us on her musical journey, she elaborated on voice culture, a topic that is rarely discussed, but of great importance to music students.

“Close your eyes and become one with the note”

Take us to the beginning of your musical journey. How did it all start?

My musical journey began with Pimpalkhare Guruji when I was 11. He poured his heart and soul into teaching. The way he used to tune the tanpura was fabulous. He made us practice relentlessly until he extracted the swara to his satisfaction. He would urge us to “close our eyes and become one with the note”. Perfect swara placement is a key foundational skill; it is difficult to get it right later. Guruji inculcated the discipline to examine each and every note, which gave me a great foundation.

“He who follows the rules is a soldier, he who breaks the rules is a fool; he who bends the rules becomes an artist.”

You are a prominent disciple of Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki and Pta. Padma Talwalkar. How did they shape your musical identity?

I was an eager and unschooled teenager when I began learning from Abhisheki Buwa. I was tremendously attracted to his style of singing without really knowing why. I intuitively understood that the emotional and intellectual components were interwoven to narrate a beautiful musical story. The pronunciation of the words added poetry to the story. I began to understand that having a tuneful voice is not enough. A musician needs to find their expression, for which you need a form, a style.

Gauri singing a bandish followed by natyageet in Raga Saraswati composed by Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki

Buwa was a genius; a master of Bol-ang which is a hallmark of the Agra style, and I was deeply influenced by his creativity. From him, I learned that “kehen” is not just about infusing sweetness in every note. The essence of “kehen” is embossing dynamics, inflection and emotion on the lyric so that it becomes infused with the appropriate aesthetics (rasa) to leave an indelible impact on the listener.

I was constantly badgering my Buwa with questions! “She talks big”, he would remark to my parents with amusement. I was fiercely devoted to Shuddha ragas — the other students used to tease me about it. I once asked him, what is the need to create a jod-raga (combined ragas)? Is it even possible to immerse oneself completely in anything but a Shuddha raga? To which he said, “Exploring a Shuddha raga affords supreme bliss. But jod-ragas offer an intellectual exercise that sharpens your creativity. As your voice ages, singing jod-ragas offers a practical way to keep audiences engaged.”

Gauri Pathare singing Raga Gavati, which she learnt from Pt Jitendra Abhisheki

For a long time, I was completely mesmerized by Abhisheki Buwa’s style and simply basked in his music. I was swept away by it and I was just trying to absorb it, as best as I could. However, there was an emotional and spiritual chasm between what my ears took in and what I was able to reproduce. It just did not have the same impact. As a student, your listening skills have to be much sharper than your voice! It took me 8–10 years of rigorous riyaaz and contemplation to finally get that Aha!, that glimmer of insight into what I was taught. That moment is completely solitary; it is only for you to witness it.

He used to say, “If you follow the rules, you are a soldier. If you break the rules, you are a fool. But if you bend the rules, you become an artist.” A grammatically correct risk taken at the right time and in the right place creates art. It’s about finding the freedom of expression within the boundaries of the raga.

It was Buwa who recommended me to Padma Tai. He felt that I was ready to be moulded by a female musician who would teach me in my pitch, and teach me dynamics, scale and presentation skills. I was disconsolate to part from him, but he gently and firmly pushed me out of the nest.

“Perfect enunciation and vocal resonance is a prerequisite to communicating emotion (bhava)”

If Buwa taught me how to think, it was Padma Tai who taught me the principles of execution, or how to interact and converse with the raga.

My initial training with her was full of pitfalls. “Stop over-analyzing — you are running too fast! Slow down — your brain won’t rust. Increase your concentration on the swara.”

Further, “You will not be able to communicate emotion (bhava) unless you perfect your enunciation.”

She also would urge me to make my voice originate from my stomach rather than my throat: “You have been given a three-dimensional canvas with your voice, but you are only using one side of it — that is why your raga presentation is flat.”

This concept of making sound originate from the stomach was incomprehensible to me. There is a difference between experiencing vocal resonance and explaining it to a student, especially someone as analytical as me! I needed some practical advice and I was not able to understand what was expected of me.

I am so blessed to have had the guidance and love of my Gurus! On Buwa & Padma Tai’s advice, I approached Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar to learn the fundamentals of voice culture, for a year, before resuming my lessons with Padma Tai.

Dhrupad: The art and science of generating flawless sound

Voice culture is not a widely discussed topic in Hindustani classical music, could you elaborate?

I learned about the mechanism of voice production from Dagarji, which helped me understand Padma Tai’s approach.

Our vocal chords are thin ligaments that are made of tissue. When air passes through them, it causes vibration and creates sound.

A head voice or a falsetto will not give your sound depth and power. You have to work your stomach muscles to force the air that passes up through the vocal chords. When you regulate the air pressure that is passing through the vocal chords by using your stomach muscles, a three-dimensional sound effect, or vocal resonance is produced. Your posture influences breath control as well: the entire body is utilized to support voice production.

From an articulation perspective, your vowels should be clean. Your speech and musical language needs to be clear and free of any impurities, such as a nasal tone, or slipping and sliding through harkats. Practicing “Aa”(aakar) “Ee”(eekar) and “Oo” (ookar) helps achieve clarity of enunciation.

Rigorous riyaz done this way will enable your voice to have texture, beauty of tone and the dynamics needed to paint the raga with emotional depth.

Overuse of vocal chords can cause nodules and harm your voice (these are also called singer’s or teacher’s nodules). Dagarji used to say that when you sing using the correct techniques, your vocal chords will not be strained even after many hours of use. Rather, using your stomach muscles will result in a pleasant tiredness.

All of us begin learning by imitating our Gurus. Learning the fundamentals of voice culture helped me to understand the assets and limitations of my own voice. It set me on the path to find my unique voice.

“When the artiste approaches the art with a feeling of total surrender and achieves an egoless state, the music happens of its own, as if it is flowing from some divine source”

Q. How do your gurus influence that process of unfolding a raga during a performance?

Gauri with her beloved Guru Padma Talwalkar

Our Gurus are always with us, in our hearts.

When I’m performing Nand, I don’t consciously remember Padma Tai. As I am in the process of becoming one with the raga, the image of PadmaTai in her simple cotton sari, with her tanpura, in that music room downstairs in her Goregaon home floats into my mind. I am singing with her .. I can see the next avartan, and I sing it exactly as I did, all those years ago. I am in front of the audience, yet I can sense her presence next to me, urging me to remember the sequence of avartans that we had sung together.

Q. What does it mean to become one with the raga?

There is a divinity that pervades Tai’s music. She looks at each musical phrase from all angles with mindfulness and joy. Over time, I have observed that her musical needs have reduced: phrases, harkats, bandishes have become needless clutter in her pursuit of the sublime swara. A single musical phrase contains a world within, that she explores in depth. There is a different rasa, a new subtlety that she uncovers in each iteration. She is able to communicate a lofty vision with just a few phrases.

Sadhakas do not need acrobatics or more content. They have reduced their musical needs to the point where they are able to become one with the raga with far less than the rest of us. It is like that with PadmaTai.

What does it mean to become one with the raga? When I’m singing Yaman at a baithak, the subject of the baithak is not you, the listener, or me, the singer. I am simply the interface through which Yaman is reaching out and touching you. This does not happen often, but when it does, it is a sublime experience.

I remember a performance at the beautiful Mangueshi temple in Goa. It was during that magical time when Goa was drenched in the first monsoon rains. That day, my singing was effortless and perfectly synchronized with my thoughts — there was no lag. Even after I sang for 3 hours, I was not tired, hungry or thirsty. I cannot explain what was happening and why, but I was perfectly content. After the performance, I stood in front of the deity, my eyes filled with tears. One lives for such experiences.

“I feel like I was taken out to the Arabian sea, thinking that I will be taught how to swim, and now I am left alone to fend for myself.”

Q. We read in an article that you took a break from performing for some time. How did you stay connected with your music at that time?

I was now married and had a child. Tai had moved to Pune, Buwa had passed away. Without my beloved Gurus, I was adrift, orphaned. I remember telling Tai, “I feel like I was taken out to the Arabian sea, with the assurance that I will be taught how to swim, and now I am left alone to fend for myself.” It was a time of uncertainty and my self-esteem was at an all-time low.

Necessity propels you to search for answers. Shraddha (devotion) and Saburi (patience) were essential for a person of my rebellious temperament. I kept at my riyaz and looked for opportunities to perform. I ruthlessly analyzed my performances, and slowly, my own unique voice began to emerge.

Every artist goes through this process and has their moment of awakening. It could be a deliberate process, or a momentous occurrence.

The path to Jaipur Gharana

Q. You have been receiving training under Pt. Arun Dravid. How did that happen?

Gauri with Pt. Arun Dravid

My self-reflection led me to realize that what I was missing in my music was a certain pace. I had assembled the elements of style, voice technique from my Gurus. I had amassed musical content but I was not able to create the impact I wanted.

When you listen to Kishori-Tai’s music, you feel you are swaying gently in a boat on the ocean. The horizon is endless. There is no observable ascent of pace, but excitement is generated as you delve deeper into this ocean of music. In the Jaipur style, the laya (tempo) doesn’t increase — what happens is that the singer does their intricate filigree work within the same laya. In the Gwalior or Agra style, there is a distinct increase in pace.

My search for pace development led me to Pt. Arun Dravid, who tutored me in the nuances of Jaipur gayaki. His analytical approach and guidance have been invaluable to my development as a musician.

Vasantotsav — Spring Music Festival

Q. Tell us about Parle Vasantostav, the music festival that you organize.

With the help of friends and well-wishers, I have been hosting an annual 2-day open-air music festival in Vile Parle since 2011. I feel gratified that my labor of love has found broad acceptance.

I was thrilled to receive PadmaTai’s blessings. She was so happy and proud of my progress. Teachers always have a soft spot for their rebellious students and I am no exception! I am so grateful to her and all my Gurus for the effort they have poured into moulding me as a musician.

Q. What is the next step in your musical journey?

The true musician is one whose soul has an innate desire to sing, has found their unique expression and is blissfully immersed in the sublime ocean of swara.

Finally, every sadhaka has the same ultimate goal — to find peace and truth through music. There are many paths to it, but the destination is the same.

We hope you found this interview as illuminating as we did! We conclude with this clip in Lalita Gauri — a tribute by Gauri to her Guru Pta Padma Talwalkar.

Gauri Pathare singing Lalita-Gauri

Learn more about the authors

In the Company of a Musician

We’re music lovers seeking to uncover a musician’s inner world through a series of interviews.

Ranju Ganesan

Written by

A lifelong student of Hindustani Classical Music

In the Company of a Musician

We’re music lovers seeking to uncover a musician’s inner world through a series of interviews.

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