By Noa Glow
One of BYV’s very own teachers, Tim Haig, has gone to Mumbai, India, on a mission: to learn the basics of the sarangi, a 40-stringed bowed instrument, in three weeks. Considering he used to play the baroque violin with Tafelmusik in Toronto, we think he’ll do just fine! Read more about his journey here, and find a link to his daily progress blog.
For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us what a sarangi is?
The sarangi has been called the instrument of one hundred colours. Its Indian roots are in Rajasthan (if my understanding is correct) – it is carved from one piece of wood and the belly of the instrument is made of goatskin. There are three gut strings, which are bowed with a bow similar to a western baroque bass bow, and 37 metal strings, which ring in sympathy with the bowed notes. The bow is held underhand and drawn straight across. As a beginner, paying attention to the quality of sound (the pitch gets distorted easily) is my main task. The sarangi is bowed downward and upward, same as the violin family, which means one less thing for me to think about!
What compelled you to undertake this challenge?
I was introduced to the sarangi by performer Aruna Narayan during the filming of a piece based on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with my ensemble Tafelmusik. Then last year I was reminded of the sarangi’s beauty during a concert at the Chan Centre with Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion. I love gut strings and have been looking for a voice-like instrument that shares some of the characteristics I like so much about the baroque violin. I reconnected with Aruna, who put me in touch with her nephew Harsh Narayan in Bombay. Aruna and Harsh are carrying on the legacy of master sarangi player Pandit Ram Narayan. I feel very lucky to have had this connection with Aruna but, at the same time, I can’t take it lightly – I feel like I’m at a yoga training with “no windows and no doors” (as Bikram would say) as I start from scratch and attempt to learn something totally new.
Tell us about your first lesson …
When I arrived at Harsh’s apartment for my first lesson, we immediately sat down to business. Well, HE sat down in a beautiful cross-legged position with the sarangi balanced easily against his shoulder, while I tried to force my left knee out of the way of the sarangi bow. He told me not to worry, that it would come with time. But he warned me that I’d have cramps for a while, until I got used to the playing position!
What challenges do you face in learning to play this new instrument?
The main challenge is patience. First I have to tune the 40 strings, then I have to make a clear sound with the bow. It’s a combination of relaxation, strength and discipline – similar to yoga.”
Do you think your Bikram Yoga training will come in handy?
Absolutely, I think it’s one of the best practices musicians can do! The development of full-body awareness; relaxing any part of the body that doesn’t need to be tensed (for instance, the hips and the eyebrows); the willingness to return again and again to the same practice, in order to develop the brain pathways; and understanding that every day is different, and improvement comes with persistent practice over time. Sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back.”
Tim is keeping a daily record, with plenty of photos, of his journey. Follow his blog at Sarangi Lessons: Learning 40 Strings in 23 Days.