Evelyn Glennie, a most sought after musician internationally, is a multi-percussionist who can play thousands of instruments to perfection. Surprisingly, she achieved this status in spite of her disability as she was profoundly deaf. But she learnt to listen with her body instead of the ears. She feels the sound through her body.
Evelyn was eleven years old when it was discovered that she had a hearing problem. She wanted to pursue her career in music but her teachers discouraged her. It was Ron Forbes who recognized her potential and supported her. He advised her not to listen through her ears but try to sense it in some other way. This proved to be the turning point. She learnt to open her body and mind to the sounds and vibrations. After that she never looked back. She had mastered the art of interpreting different vibrations of sound on her body.
She joined the prestigious Royal Academy of Music and scored the highest marks in the history of the Academy. She worked hard and with determination stood against all odds and got right to the top. In 1991, she was presented with the Royal Philharmonic Society’s prestigious ‘Soloist of the year award’. Apart from the regular concerts, Evelyn gave free concerts in hospitals, prisons and also to aspiring young musicians. She became a source of inspiration for the deaf and other handicapped children. She inspired them and made them believe that if Evelyn could do, so could they.
This chapter throws light on the origin of Shehnai and the life of all time great Shehnai Vadak – Bismillah Khan. The winner of Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India, for his dedication to music and his love for India.
‘Pungi’, a musical instrument was banned by Emperor Aurangzeb because of its shrill and unpleasant sound. In fact, it was regarded more of a noise maker rather than a musical instrument. It was modified and perfected by a barber who belonged to a family of professional musicians. He played it in the chamber of the king. Its sound was so appreciated by the emperor that it was made a part of Naubat. Since it was played for the first time in Shah’s chamber by a Nai, it came to be known as Shehnai.
Traditionally, it was played in the temples and on every auspicious domestic occasion also. Its sound was regarded as auspicious. But it was treated as an incomplete musical instrument, not capable of creating independent pages. But Bismillah Khan broke this myth.
Bismillah belongs to the Benares Gharana. He was born in 1916 at Dumraon, in Bihar. From five years of age he used to visit the Bihariji Temple and sing Bhojpuri ‘Chaitya’ there. For his melodious singing, as a child he used to earn a big Laddu from the local Bhojpuri King. At the age of six, he moved to Banaras. There under the guidance and training of his maternal uncle, Ali Bux, he started picking up the finer nuances of shehnai. He used to spend most of his time practicing on the banks of the River Ganges. The themes of his music were deeply affected by the sounds of flowing water of the Ganga.
He got the best performer award at All India Music Conference in Allahabad in 1930. In 2001, he won three awards the Padma Bhushan, Padmashree and Padma Vibhushan. He was invited to play the shehnai from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 1947, becoming the first to greet the independent India. He won many international awards also. He became the first Indian to perform at the Lincoln Central Hall, USA. An auditorium in Tehran was named after him — Tahar Mosiquee Ustaad Bismillah Khan.
Bismillah was very fond of Banaras and Dumraon. He declined an offer from one of his students to settle in the USA, as he was not willing to stay away for long from Benaras and its holy river Ganga. He ventured into film world also. He contributed his music in two movies. His composition ‘Dil ka khillona hai……’ for movie ‘Goonj Uthi Shehnai’, was a chartbuster. But he could not associate himself with the artificial glamour of the film world. For him, music was his soul, his life.