Jaunpuri by Michael Harrison

“Kimball asked me to write a piece based upon elements of Indian classical music that he could play on his upcoming tour of India. Because I have a great love of Indian classical music, and have been receiving talim (training) and practicing N. Indian vocals almost daily since 1979, I was very happy to fulfill my duty and to further develop a relationship between our two great traditions of music.

Jaunpuri is based on an old tarana bandish (vocal composition) in raga Jaunpuri, which is similar to the mode of the natural minor scale, but omitting the note Ga (3rd scale degree) on the ascending scale. With the exception of the opening chorale, the entire work is in jhaptal, a 10-beat tala (rhythmic cycle), and may be played with or without tabla (Indian drums) or other Indian percussion which adds another dimension to the work. This rare composition is considered one of hundreds of family treasures of the Kirana gharana (a prominent musical lineage) and was sung by the great Abdul Karim Khan. I learned it by ear in 2006 from my guru Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan, who is a senior vocal guru of the Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, India.


I composed this rendition of Jaunpuri to be effective as a solo piano work, with the left hand of the piano acting as both the tamboura (drone) and tabla (percussion), establishing the key and rhythmic cycle throughout the work; however, I added an optional vocal part for those pianists that might also want to sing the original banish while they play, or if a vocalist is available to join the pianist. As with the lyrics for most taranas the wording for theasthayee (first part) is musical syllables without any literal meaning. The lyrics for the antra (second part), however, are in Farsi, and are about the romantic and tragic Persian fable of Layla & Majnoon. Besides a deep love for this particular bandish, one of the reasons I chose this raga is that the modern equal tempered piano tuning is not too distant from the correct tuning of the notes according to the Pythagorean tuning that is often used for this mode in Indian music. In addition to the raga, tala, and bandish the work also uses taans, fast melodic riffs that are usually improvised by the soloist, but in this case which are notated, and a tihai, which is a riff that is repeated three times so that the last note ends on the downbeat. Elements of Western music, such as the introductory chorale, harmony, and some counterpoint between the two hands are added to fill in for what the piano lacks in terms of sustaining a vocal melody and gliding between the notes, which is truly the essence of raga.

I composed Jaunpuri in September 2012 during a residency at the MacDowell Colony, the oldest artist colony in America, where artists of different disciplines are provided with a private studio in the woods of New Hampshire and gather together in the evenings for dinner, and to share their work and enjoy each other’s company.”

-Michael Harrison.

“Performance with Michael Harrison- Tambura, Sheetal Karhade- Vocals, Naren Budhakar, Tabla, March 14, 2014”

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Performance from Afghanistan with 2 Clarinets and Tabla