A Raga Lesson

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A Raga Lesson

Film, 16mm, color, 11 min. (2007)

A Raga Lesson is about the guru-disciple relationship among a small subset of Kirana gharana musicians in America, with the inaudible yet ever-present background of the music itself. Through fragments of the lives of musicians, this film shows how the tradition is passed down, nurtured, cultivated, performed and perpetuated in one example of this particular relationship. In this film, narrative elements are used in abstract ways to develop a certain mood that conveys a feeling that is characteristic of this relationship, in the same way that music creates a mood.

A Raga Lesson is structured in the musical form of a raga performance. Raga performances in Khayal form usually consist of three sections: Alap; Vilampit (including Sthayi, Antara); and a Drut section that frequently closes with a distinctive melodic repetition called Tihai. Recurring patterns of certain arrangements of cuts in the film are coordinated to run parallel with the distinctive melodic phrases in the music. Even though its beginning seemingly is analogous to a documentary, A Raga Lesson was not built on literary narrative but rather uses some narrative imagery set to musical form. Since a raga always centers around one characteristic emotion, A Raga Lesson is structured to lead the audience to a corresponding depth and intensity of feeling.

The idea for this film developed from my own experience as a student of Indian classical music and as a disciple of composer-vocalist, La Monte Young and light artist-vocalist, Marian Zazeela.