Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7. A Song of New Beginnings

This is the only piece on the album NOT performed on my wonderful old acoustic steel-string made by Vincenzo DeLuccia in 1915, (and restored at Jon Lundberg’s wonderful shop in Berkeley). 

Last year, I got a National resophonic steel guitar (O-14).  For years, I had treated these instruments in the traditional way:  blues, with or without slide.  Frankly, I am not the greatest blues guitarist, and so I never really clicked with the instrument.  But two years ago, I was in a shop having luthier Trevor Healey do some work on the DeLuccia, and they happened to have a National on consignment.  Having nothing to do, I tuned it in the way I tune my guitars for raga style explorations (variations of open C), instead of either standard tuning or the typical open G.  Admittedly, this was also a very good quality National.  But suddenly, bringing the instrument into the Indian raga realm suddenly made perfect sense:  it has a timbre closer to my favorite instrument, the sarode, even than a steel-string guitar.  I knew then that some day I was going to have to get one.  And that “some day” happened last summer (2011), in one of my visits to the wonderful Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto.  They had three brand new Nationals just in, and this one had the perfect balance I am always looking for in an instrument.

As I say on the album “A Song of New Beginnings” is “a straight-ahead raga, exploring the rasas (emotions) of hope, courage and the joy of unfettered voyaging on the high seas.”  A typical Hindustani raga will begin with an initial free-form exploration (everything is improvised, BTW) of the notes and melody of the piece, before the drummer enters;  this is called the "Alap".  Well, actually, technically, there is no "beginning" of a raga:  an instrument called a tambura sets up a repeated background drone that establishes the connection with the cosmic "Om" of all creation.  That drone continues throughout the entire piece.  Out of this cosmic sound, the Alap then emerges.  When this free-form meditation is done, the drummer (player of the two drums called the tabla) begins the "gat" or main body of the raga by establishing the rhythmic cycle, just as the soloist plays the melody of the raga.  Both melody and rhythmic cycle are always in the background of the rest of the piece, although the improvisations and variations take it all over the place. 

This is the only song on the album played on the National steel resophonic guitar.  Although at the time I was deeply struck with grief following the death of my lovely wife Bev, this song kind of dropped down out of somewhere, piercing the gloom to let me know of what lies ahead some day when the dark clouds clear up.  In the context, it was surprising, to say the least, and that is where the title came from.  Another joyous piece that I love to play

1 comment:

  1. "Song" has become one of my major "warhorses" for performance. A basic and straightforward raga in a mixolydian scale (flat 7), also known in the Hindustani system as the "khamaj" thaat or scale, It provides me with a good basic structure to work within and an uplifting and fun "rasa" to explore. It was a big hit at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall when I performed it there in Summer of 2013, and it may appear excerpted in Liam Barker's film "Voice of the Eagle: the Enigma of Robbie Basho" when the film debuts sometime later this year (2014)