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 LESSONS in Indian Music

Shehnai : Lesson 2

The shehnai is a wind instrument blown through the mouth. Made out of dark, black wood, it is about one and a half to two feet long and cylindrical in shape. It has seven open holes. There is a separate metallic or wooden contraption called the reed, which is added to one end of the cylinder. The other end of the cylinder has a metallic bell-like structure, which gives out the sound.

A player holds the shehnai vertically. (S)he blows into the reed and closes and releases the holes with his fingers while he blows. Semi-tones are produced by partially closing the holes with the fingers as well as by adjusting the blowing pressure in the pipe. The shehnai is an extremely difficult instrument to play and calls for great breath control, training, practice and dexterity.

Related Instruments : Nadaswaram (South India) ; Sundari (a small instrument and is similar to the shehnai in tone. It has a higher register and is used to play lighter varieties of music than those played by the shehnai) ; Oboe (a European instrument) ; Recorder (used in western European music) ; Suprano saxophone (used in western music)

Major exponents : Ustad Bismillah Khan is the unrivalled maestro of the shehnai. He is credited with elevating the shehnai to the classical concert level. Born in Bihar at Dumraon in 1916, Bismillah Khan settled in Benares, because his uncle and tutor Ali Baksh was attached to the Kashi Vishwanath temple located in Benares. To date, Bismillah Khan continues to be attached to the temple. He gave his first concert at the age of 14 in Lucknow. He was recognized and accepted as an exponent of classical music in the Calcutta conference in 1937. In the beginning of his life, he would play along with his brother Shamshuddin Khan. He lost his brother early in life and stopped playing for sometime. It took him great determination and struggle to get back to playing alone. Bismillah Khan has won several awards like the Bharat Ratna (in the year 2001), Sangeet Natak Academy Award as early as in 1956, Padmashree in 1961, the Shehnai Chakravorty Award and the Padmabhshan in 1968 and finally the Padma Bibhushan in 1980. He has cut the highest number of LP records in India.

Other major shehnai exponents are Ali Ahmed Hussain, Mrs Bageshree, Baburao Yadav, Suryakant Yadav and Balakrishna Salonke.

Shehnai : Lesson 1 Lesson 2


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