I started Indian singing classes about a month and a half ago, and I am enjoying them immensely. Although I am taking singing more lightly than violin practice, I feel indeed that it is bringing a lot to the violin practice as well, as the teacher is bringing a new light or angle to my Indian classical music training as a whole. In addition, it brings refreshment to my routine, as I am doing something completely new at the same time as learning something useful/relevant for the violin. The teacher is very friendly and slowly becoming a friend. He is the first Indian person I am having regular contact with who is exactly my age, which feels kind of new. As a teacher I feel he is also very open (as opposed to many traditional Indian teachers who would start teaching any student technical exercises for months/years before moving onto something more substantial), and he listens to what I'm looking for and giving me that exactly and more. I go to singing class just once a week, but we are already singing compositions that I would play on the violin, accompanied with tabla. It is also extremely useful for me to get used to the Indian notes (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni), because although I know them well by now, the European notes (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si) are still terribly "anchored" in my brain while I play violin. So having to actually sing the Indian notes are finally helping me to get rid of my lazy brain's habit... I also love the fact that I am learning to feel the music through my body directly as opposed to feeling it through the instrument medium. This will be very beneficial because it will help me feeling the rhythm and the ragas more deeply.
Of course, I do need to work my voice in order to sing all the things I have to sing, and I am very happy to work on my voice. It is actually the first time in my life I am actively working my voice! This reminds me how phobic I used to feel about singing in front of others, how I used to sing in a choir in order not to show my individual voice to others and how much I was scared to even think about taking one-to-one singing classes. But today I sing in front of my teacher, and I use singing to teach violin, and I'm happy to sing! But I feel Indian classical music is a lot more an inward meditation than western music, which seems to me (most of the time anyway) outward performance to impress, and the former suits me and my conception of what music is all about: an Inward journey.
In order to have a more powerful voice, in addition to the raga/scale/rhythm practice I do in the day, I have started doing a Dhrupad practice every morning at 6am. It is total meditation and I love it SO much that it gives me the motivation to wake up that early every day, like no other practice ever did before! Normally one has to practise this at 5am, before sunrise, but I "grade" the work down a bit so I am able to do it. In Dhrupad, one has to work the lower octave of one's voice (i.e. the lowest notes) early morning before sunrise. That does make sense because lowest notes are clearly easier to sing in the morning than they are during the day! So, the practice consists in singing the four descending notes (sa, ni, dha, pa / do, si, la, sol / C, B, A, G) with mouth closed ("hmmm...") for 10 minutes each. So 10 minutes "hmm"/sa, 10 minutes "hmmm"/ni, 10 minutes "hmmm"/dha, 10 minutes "hmmm"/pa. I love it because this combines meditation, pranayama (breathing exercise), and voice work. It is just like an extended version of bhramari (a type of pranayama where during exhalation a soft humming sound like the murmuring of a bee is produced). During the practice I love concentrating on my breath and the vibrations which the sound creates in my body (tummy, heart, throat, head), which is also very healthy (it massages the internal organs)! The genius of this practice of lower notes is also that it gradually and naturally widens the singer's note range: Over time, as the singer can start singing lower notes, s/he can automatically produce higher and higher notes as well. I LOVE this!
I also love this practice because I have always felt that my body is extremely sensitive to vibrations, yet although I've always loved the idea of singing particular mantras in yoga for specific benefits, they have never worked for me. The same goes for singing kirtans and bhajans (religious chanting). And I know why: because if I did start believing in God thanks to Yoga, I could only believe in a shapeless, all-encompassing, energy-love kind of God, and I never got into singing the names of Rama or Shiva or Ganesha or any "belief-based" god in particular. I think this is also why I prefer the mantra "So Ham" which simply reflects the sound of the inhalation ("so") and that of the exhalation ("ham"). I know there is more to it, but this signification is the one that moves me. After all I am a very practical person; working on visualising my chakras has never worked for me because I need something tangible like working on feeling something like my limbs (Iyengar Yoga) or my breath, and focusing on something universal, unquestionable like body sensations and vibrations which I know and feel for real, rather than belief-based gods and goddesses. And that's also why I love the Dhrupad practice; because there is no more imposed meaning to it than what you do and feel while you do it. And because the benefits are real and I already feel them, the first being to love getting up for practice and to feel fresh and ready for yoga afterwards!
Music and yoga were always one and the same for me, and with singing it is even more. I start at 6am with Dhrupad practice which is meditation and breathing exercise and music at the same time, and then I feel more ready to practise one hour of yoga asanas (postures), as I have the time, the inspiration and the energy.
Yoga, meditation, music, vibrations, this is more and a journey, this is also looking after my physical and mental health. This is my daily sadhana (practice, quest) which I cherish and love, and which India turns more meaningful and vibrant everyday...
A note on my three blogs
A note on my blogs
(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...
(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!
(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.