American jazz has at least one thing in common with classical music from India.
“There’s a lot of improvisation in Hindustani, or north Indian, classical music,” said Peter Kvetko, associate professor of music at Salem State. “The genre that’s most common is khyal. That word means, literally, imagination.”
Visitors can hear one of the leading vocalists in this classical tradition, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, at Salem State University on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Deshpande has recorded 30 albums since 1985 and is an important innovator in the tradition she practices, Kvetko said.
Khyals can last anywhere from half an hour to an hour, although their lyrics are usually only a few lines of poetry.
“Within that genre, the emphasis is on the improvisation and interpretation of the singer,” Kvetko said. “You don’t need a lot of lyrics for the singer to improvise and interpret within the boundaries of the melodic framework they call a raga.”
While singing khyals, vocalists sometimes make music using just fragments of language.
“There are long, melodic phrases on one vowel sound or syllable of a word,” Kvetko said. “Many of the improvisations are about artful ways of breaking up the small number of lyrics. It’s a tool an artist will use to create maximum impact from the minimum.”
A second genre Deshpande may sing, a thumri, is shorter but includes more lyrics.
As with jazz, it allows the vocalist to take more liberties with the raga, which Kvetko defines as a template for improvisation.
“In khyal, the vocalist strictly follows the rules of the raga,” he said. “Thumri is a light classical piece that allows you to sing outside the rules of the raga.”
Ragas describe the order in which notes must be sung, provide pieces of melody and must “have a certain phrasing that evokes the identity of that particular raga — a hierarchy of pitches, also. It’s more specific than a scale, but not as specific as a song.”