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Reviewed by:
  • Companion to North Indian Classical Music
  • Gordon Thompson (bio)
Companion to North Indian Classical Music. Satyendra K. Sen Chib. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2004. ISBN: 81-215-1090-2. xviii, 353 pp., appendices 139 pp., bibliography.

In his forward, Ali Akbar Khan describes this book as "a comprehensive dictionary of North Indian or Hindustani classical music . . . [containing] definitions and explanations of important terms, descriptions of musical instruments, biographies of notable musicians and personalities, a chronology of historical developments, and a detailed treatment of North Indian ragas, tals, and other musical forms and structures" (ix). Chib claims that the purpose of the Companion (which he models on the Oxford Companion to English Literature) is "to provide in one place balanced and fairly comprehensive information focused on North Indian Hindustani Classical Music for students of the subject and practicing musicians" (xii). The book is all of this, as well as less and more.

Among Chib's various civil service titles is "joint secretary in the ministry of information and broadcasting," a position he held when he was responsible for All-India Radio (AIR) and the national television network, Doordarshan. As a violinist who performed on AIR early in his career, he has been in a unique position to experience and to learn from some of the twentieth century's great Hindustani performers. Because the broadcast networks have often been the primary employers for many performers in the twentieth century, Chib has also been able to shape the national patronage of these musicians. As such, this book not only serves as a guide for individuals interested in North Indian music, but also as a demonstration of what Chib thinks is important and, thus, what a prominent administrator of the national broadcasting networks thinks is important.

First, Chib has chosen to publish this book in English, indicating the value he places in this language as a way to discuss this music. If his target audience is students and performers of Hindustani sangit, then they are most likely members of the middle class who have had access to an education that includes English. In his preface, he identifies Indian musicians who have spread interest in Hindustani sangit abroad and the various schools and Western musicians who have promoted the art. His extended appendix on raga (see below) includes [End Page 134] annotations both in sargam (Indian mnemonic representations of note names parallel to solfeggio), as well as Western equivalents (note names beginning from "C"). This approach suggests that he thinks Western readers will want to read the book, too (either that or he sees English as a language of authority).

Western readers, however, especially individuals new to the art, will have some difficulties. First, although the book is organized alphabetically and this arrangement works well for terms, he has alphabetized the order of names by the first names of the individuals he mentions. Thus, the very first entry in the book is "A. H. Fox-Strangways." Similarly, Ravi Shankar appears in the R's and Walter Kaufmann under the W's. (However, Swiss sarodist Ken Zuckerman appears under the Z's and the late Jon Higgins appears only as "Higgins"). This organizational principle will make sense for Indian readers but will initially confuse some Westerners. Second, his transliteration method will leave beginning students in the West unsure about the pronunciation of the words. The standard Monier–Williams transliteration scheme would serve him well.

Perhaps the most interesting and unexpected aspect of this book is not the numerous biographical sketches of musicians or his curious inclusions of definitions of folk forms and musical forms from South Indian classical music (in a book that purports to be about North Indian classical music), but rather his attempts at describing and classifying raga. He summarizes and praises the historic work of the seventeenth-century South Indian scholar, Venkatamakhi, who developed an ingenious method of classifying raga on an elaborate grid, and of the twentieth-century scholar, Bhatkhande (1937), who collected numerous examples of raga and classified them with a pragmatic system of ten scales. He also identifies Nazir Jairazbhoy as laying the groundwork for a re-thinking of how North Indian raga and their...


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