Hindu Music: A Look At The Three Genres - Part 1 Thumri

Presents the origins and defining characteristics of one of India's three musical traditions.

Peter Manuel leads us through the world of the modern Indian thumri by tracing its historical origins, analyzing its form and structure, covering its ties with courtesan culture, and ultimately discussing its role in current Indian musical practices. This presents the reader with a clear and concise layout from which to explore what is perhaps India's newest(1) musical genre.

Manuel is correct in his assertion that thumri's significance has been altered for Indian listeners. In effect, the rise of the popularity of thumri as a "respectable" form of musical expression is systematically destroying that which made it initially so appealing to Indian audiences - tired of the constrained, austere dhrupad of classical court life, listeners sought something more lively and enticing. However, the removal of thumri from Indian courtesan culture and the placing of the genre on stage, has also removed some of the sensuousness and expressive detail that is so important to the genre. The article presents evidence of this in the form of a tempo analysis of several thumri compositions from 1901 to 1960. This chart shows that the tempos of modern thumri are remarkably slower than those of its original form, which subtracts directly from its energetic nature.

Another example of the relegation of thumri to a "proper" classical style comes from the forsaking of "the virtuoso scalar runs and tans"¦ for a more relaxed style of textual-melodic development" (Ethnomusicology 1986: 480). Manuel states that the exposition of the thumri text began to take the same form as the classical khyals and dhrupads of the time - beginning in the lower octave and moving up to the higher register. This change in the expression of the text has the potential to cause thumri to become even more so what it is not. Especially with the consideration that, in modern classical stage performance, parts (or even the whole) of the expressive dance gestures which accompanied the thumri style have been removed, considered inappropriate for a stage setting. So far thumri is the only Indian musical genre in which the text of the piece is of utmost importance, by changing the way in which it is performed one could destroy the very essence of what a thumri is.

Courtesan culture played an extremely important role in the development of thumri in its original form - as a text expressed through the emotive combination of song and dance. This association, of course, gave thumri a somewhat "disrespectful" place in the musical world when political and social climates changed within India and the view of courtesans was altered from their previous respect as the continuation and sustenance of artistic growth to an "improper" facet of Indian culture. Ironically, it is probably this very same improperness which drew in such a large audience in the first place, and is now being subdued by its pursuit as a classical Indian form to resemble the very genre that listeners were trying to escape - the soberness of the dhrupad.

(1)Although khyal was emerging around the same time, it was already accepted as a classical form of Indian music. Not until recently did thumri become something performed on the stage.

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