Born into a famous family of traditional violinists, Sangeeta Shankar began her musical training at the tender age of four. Initiated and trained by her illustrious mother Dr. N. Rajam, she quickly mastered the intricacies of playing the violin and started performing concerts when she was only thirteen. Her career in music has been outstanding, the fruit of several years of long, arduous and dedicated training. Her family boasts some of India's finest violinists, masters of their art in both the North Indian Hindustani and South Indian Carnatic styles of music.
Although both styles share many features there are basic differences in form, structure, approach to improvisation and use of different instruments. For example, the North Indians use tabla for rhythmic accompaniment while the South Indians prefer the barrel-shaped Mdringam. Sangeeta has recorded music from both traditions with her mother, a rare feat for an Indian musician. Her academic distinctions are in keeping with her illustrious professional career, Sangeeta's doctoral thesis from the Benares Hindu University is the culmination of detailed and dedicated research on the contribution of violin and violinists to Indian music.
Sangeeta has performed throughout the world and is a regular attraction at India's most prestigious music festivals, including Saptak, where this performance was captured on 10th January 2003.
Saptak is a twelve day long extravaganza of India's finest classical music held every year in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
The violin was introduced to India in the early 19th Century when Baluswami Dikshitar learned the instrument from the army bandmaster at Fort St.George in Madras, and developed new playing techniques to suit Carnatic music. The violin is played sitting down, the instrument pointing to the ground resting firmly on the ankle. Traditionally fingering is based around the middle finger (which slides up), and the index finger (which slides down), and there is extensive use of the use of micro-tones and grace notes. Open tunings, such as DADA are commonly used in order to incorporate the drones which are such an important part of Indian music.
The violin has become well established in Carnatic music, principally as an accompaniment to the voice, but also sometimes as a solo instrument. It has assumed a similar role alongside the Sarangi in Hindustani music, making it a versatile instrument in modern Indian classical music.
In this recording Sangeeta has chosen to play the popular evening melody Raga Jog. This recently composed raga by Indian standards, and has emerged as a favourite with both artists and listeners over the last fifty years.
Tabla accompaniment is provided by Ramkumar Misra, a disciple of Chhotalal Misra, a legendary figure from the Benares tradition of tabla playing.
The performance begins with the slow, introspective Alap, outlining the main melodic motifs which shape the personality of the raga. The first composition (track 2) is set to a slow twelve beat rhythmic cycle. The tempo is at a rate that each cycle takes approximately one minute to complete. This pace gives the soloist scope to play great varieties of improvised melodic phrases within each cycle in an unhurried manner, while the tabla player is obliged to maintain a steady meter. Through this section the improvisations gradually increase in intensity, demonstrating the depth of the young violinist's virtuosity.
The second composition (track 3) is a more up tempo affair, set to the popular sixteen beat rhythmic cycle. Here the improvisations become playful, and there is more interaction with the accompanist. The rendition of Jog is concluded with a third fast tempo composition (track 4) again in sixteen beats, which highlight Sangeeta's remarkable bowing techniques.
The recital concludes with a delightful melody drawn from the 'lighter classical' music repertoire known as Dadra, based on Raga Khamaj, which captures the essence of romance and devotion which are always a feature of Sangeeta Shankar's music.