Posted in Project 1: Percussion solos

Example 3: Short Kathak Scene in Jhaptaal for Finger Cymbals

Note: Before you take a look at the 3rd solo percussion example I have composed, please refer first to the research I have done which includes the finger cymbals and Middle Eastern rhythms, Northern Indian taal system, also the laykari in tabla solo recital, and a description of kathak performance. I am going to use a lot of the terminology, which I explained in these blog posts. Without understanding them, my presentation might end up being confusing.

A typical Kathak dance performance, as I have described, has a lot of sections. Of course, it’s a difficult and a bit unnecessary task for now, to write a piece for a single indefinite-pitched percussion instrument that would imitate the whole event. However, the research is useful, since I plan to write a full composition in future, by which I will try to evoke the complete occasion. So, this example is really just a short scene, a little taste and a small experiment of the form. Here is my example:

Short Kathak Scene.png

You can listen to it below:

Before I start with the explanation and analysis, I have to mention that beside the fact that I like their timbre, I found the idea of the finger cymbals in an orchestral setting, representing a kathak dancer with the ghungurus around his/her ankles, a bit unusual, yet appealing. In my opinion, their tone is not only capable to do the job, but also adds a curious quality to the color of the dance. Even though I have described the ways to play finger cymbals, I am not sure which of the techniques should be used or is best suitable for my example. Other than that, I am happy with my choice of instrument.

The example starts with a moderate tempo, usual for jhaptal, with a two-bar introduction in 2/4, which gives a little nod to my research regarding the Middle Eastern rhythms. The first bar is the ayoub rhythm, followed by a full bar trill – roll, that unfolds into the dance. Since ayoub is a Middle Eastern rhythm, the opening might perhaps act as something close or allude to salami. Although, this is only symbolical. Among many reasons is the facts that middle-eastern refinement of kathak under the Muslim rulers still kept the music in Indian taal, and also, ayoub itself was rather used as a hypnotic rhythm in Egyptian ritual Zar, that predates Islam. () On the other hand, this introduction can also remind of the section played on tabla before the entrance of the dancer, or perhaps a mukhra.

After the brief opening, the composition starts in jhaptaal, which I notated in 10/4. It seemed most logical since it is a 10 beat taal. The two bars (3 and 4) are like the recital of theka or dance bols, like a very basic tatkar pulsating the matras or perhaps it may give out the feeling of lehra as well. To further add to this feeling, I used accents to mark the tali vibhags. I have, however, in order to give the sounds dance-like movement, used some ornaments. Last beats of both two bars (3 and 4), represent a very short mukhra-like roll, for the following sam.

In the following bar 5, first laykari treatment appears with the variations and subdivisions of matra. It also ends with a brief mukhra roll. Bar 6 repeats the bar 5 until the last two beats, which is a true mukhra in my opinion. Although hindustani music theoretically doesn’t accelerate with accelerando, but rather through rhythmic density, I still added it in my example.

Bar 7 starts with Molto Piu Mosso, although I’ve added Molto more for the fact that simple Piu Mosso didn’t give me any good result in Sibelius. It is again like a theka, but in a faster tempo, it may remind of a tukda, since bar 8 repeats the previous bar, but on the 6th beat begins the tihai, characteristic for kathak. I think I did a nice job with it:


Bar 9 is again another theka-like cycle. Bar 10 repeats this until the second half of 7th beat, where another tihai begins, except, this one prolongs into a chakkardar tihai – tihai that repeats for three times, which covers the whole next cycle and ends with sam with a culminating fortissimo:


Since there are gaps between the tihais, it is a damdar chakkardar tihai. Before the third tihai, I filled the gap by the 16th notes as a variation for added interest. The composition ends with sam, which would be incorrect in Western terms, as there was no anacrusis on the beginning. In Hindustani music, however, this is the norm, which is why I structured it like this.

All in all, I think it’s an interesting piece that demonstrates how many of the hindustani music elements I’ve learned about and that I now know how to use them.

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