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It was a random morning, about ten years ago. We had moved to a new place within the United States, an unknown town, with no past there, or friends. But music, my soul companion assured to keep loneliness and boredom at bay.I sat for my morning riyaz (music practice) one day, and what followed was life-changing. A most vivid, distinctive experience!   

 

I was practicing raag Ahir Bhairav, a morning melody. Voice felt particularly lucid and nimble that day and after the warm-up in the base note Sa and traversing the kharj (lower octave) some, it felt as though the raag was improvising itself into the ascending notes of the middle octave, the madhya saptak. Notes and phrases unfolding in different tones and timings, sequences and successions so naturally and effortlessly! My ascent rose to the higher Sa, to which I felt a pull, a calling. I also felt as if someone was remotely guiding my journey through a fascinating field of musical vibrations. I mostly sang with eyes closed, and soon something even more special happened. Once when I did open the eyes glancing outside the large glass panes, it felt as though I had merged in the incredible exterior where Mother Nature drenched the forests in the most beautiful shades of autumn, with the Blue Mountains making a mystical backdrop. A bird flew with lyrical grace, tilting, turning, giving a sound to the landscape…. The distinction between inside and outside had virtually melted, and I felt uplifted in my musical space, light and bright, feeling one with nature as I sang to the flourish of the raag. How extraordinary!  

 

This elation would repeatedly occur, albeit in varying degrees, in the weeks that followed, prompting me to look deeper into the subject. Where was the trance coming from? Alongside the musician I soon became an observer  noticing that all forms of music – be it folk, devotional, Classical, modern or contemporary – the Gospel music, the cotton fields, Sufi derveshas dancing to the rhythm, saints like Sur Das and Meera Bai singing-dancing to invoke the divine grace, dargas (Islamic places of worship) with devout qawals (singers) soulfully seeking benediction of Allah and the charged musical outpour at the hallowed Golden Temple in India, are all but a sort of meditation, with we all simply seeking grace, through peace and joy.   

 

Sharing my experience became a compelling instinct thereafter. I was fortunate to have received long musical training. What would it take for a layperson, an uninitiated common man to connect to music at a deeper sensory level? We are traditionally conditioned to listen to music at body level. The impact of music can be much deeper and more lasting with knowledge, and awareness. I was realizing that music is not elitist or esoteric. It is not distant or sacrosanct. It belongs to all and exists for everybody, you and me alike, young and old alike, white and black alike, novices and connoisseurs alike. It is the magic of the time-apt notes that softly transports one into a harmony – Harmony with nature. My understanding and conviction was the birth of Gandhaar, the music appreciation workshop.

 

Gandhaar explores the beauty and meditation in (North) Indian Classical music. To teach to ‘look for beauty’ or to ‘find meditation’ are subjective, abstract concepts! Established theoretical information and a grasp of a new emotional discovery alternate throughout this workshop as we lay down the octaves, the flat/sharp notes and the raag structures for the participants. And it gets quite fascinating to watch and feel the creation of rasa, the central emotion of a raag! Topics are explained through live or recorded illustrations, and we also make it participative for the attendees to allow them to feel the sound, the waves. 
Music is a greatest therapy, a wonderful feel-good. With raag improvisations, laya and taal (tempo and rhythm) we also explain musical Omkar and breathing exercises – an outstanding remedy to combat, control and manage stress, improve focus and invoke creativity. Knowledge is power, and Gandhaar makes a major avenue towards Renu’s Audience Development mission. The program has been prolifically at work with music students, Yoga students, architecture students, senior citizens and open communities. Conducting Gandhaar under the umbrella of state art grants has been particularly rewarding owing to their help with our outreach effort, venues and publicity. Musical training or initiation is not a pre-requisite. Gandhaar is meant for all ages and ethnicities. Contact us on renufoundationforarts@gmail.com.