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Scholarship of music

Ghulam Haider was one for the theoretical aspects of music and did not limit himself to its practice

Scholarship of music

The Ghulam Haider Khan was not well-known, except in the circles that take music seriously. He was a vocalist and in his younger days ventured out more to perform but in his later years he performed less and less, while concentrating on the scholarship of music, particularly in relation to our rich music tradition.

He was the son of Ustad Mando Khan, the clarinet player who moulded the playing of the Western instrument in such a way that it was about to also intone “shrutis” on it.

Originally from Kasur, this family of hereditary musicians got their music education from the legendry qawwal Mubarak Ali Khan who, with Fateh Ali Khan, teamed up to form an unforgettable duo and then passed that on their music knowledge to the next generation, the even more famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Ghulam Haider was also lucky to be mentored by Ustad Sardar Khan, the doyen of the Dehli gharana and considered to be a “jagat ustad” by all.

Ghulam Haider was, thus, much into the theoretical aspects of music and did not limit himself just to the practical aspects. He was a regular at Radio Pakistan and later from being a visitor he also joined the Classical Music Research Cell after the departure of M.A Sheikh.

The author has penned many books like. ‘Tazkeae Mauseeqi,’ ‘Qasoor Gharane Ke Naamwar Funkaar,’ ‘Kahet Sadarung,’ ‘100 Achoob Raags’ and ‘Naghmaat-e-Khusro.’

At the same time, he also ran the Music Guild which was a platform for the performance of classical music in particular. At times, the performances were held regularly but at times they could not be. The real reason was not lack of commitment or laxity but paucity of resources. Whenever Ghulam Haider had the funds he held a programme and, in the process, also gave away prizes and awards to the many deserving ustads and promising youngsters.

The problem in Pakistan with music has been that we have created a lot of music but no theoretical work has been done in this regard. The framework against which musical expression can be judged as part of scholarship has been missing and this has really affected music in the larger sense possible.

Our music, especially in the northern part of the subcontinent, has been a product of various layers of cultures that have been formed here due to migration of populations and interaction of cultures, particularly Persian and Central Asian. The emphasis on the scholarship should have been the distinct feature of music in our part of the world.

It is thus not fair that music scholarship is taken back centuries or thousands of years to prove that it is something that has been pristine and unchanging or that we are in the process of digging out the purer form that existed once. This approach has found zealous adherents across the border.

In Pakistan, due to a number of factors, music studies have been left to wither on the vine with a few making attempts on their own. Khursheed Anwer, Qazi Zahoor Ali Abbas Jalalpuri, Saeed Mallick, Rashid Malik, Badruzzaman and Pervez Paras — come to mind readily though there have been many others as well.

It has been rare that musicians themselves have played the vital role of the musicologist. This has been the case usually among the Muslim societies. The non-musicians have usually pontificated upon what music is, what its role is supposed to be and what are the dos and don’ts of being either a practitioner or a listener.

Many who have written with profundity on music in this tradition have borrowed terms and concepts from scholasticism, philosophy, ethics or mathematics to prove the validity of their arguments. Among the Muslims, the practice of music has been considered lowbrow while thinking about music, its structure and its principles of harmony and rhythm in refracted forms very prestigious, and has continued to fascinate them.

It has taken them beyond the institution of it being a practising and a performing art. It is difficult to understand as to how they reconciled their two stances and how these abstract concepts or the canons were related to the experience of creating or appreciating music. Whether it was or is wholly possible to experience something conceptually without being physically involved is questionable and, on the surface, may defy reason.

Mercifully, there was no such dichotomy or apparent contradiction where Ustad Ghulam Haider was concerned. Hailing from a family of musicians, he has been relentlessly paying attention to the various aspects of music, its development, its history and the various outstanding musicians who have shone on the firmament ever brightly.

For the past many years his passion for a critical understanding of the issues involving music had taken him to work at the Classical Music Research Cell, a place or an institution that was created for this specific purpose but did not live up to its initial expectations because those who followed the founding fathers were not up to the task.

The ten thaats of music as delineated by Pandit Bhatkhande have been the standard system of classification followed in the last one hundred and fifty odd years. But since the practice of music precedes the theory of music, huge gaps have been detected in that standard classification as well.

Many scholars have come up with many more fundamental scales to support a musical practice that always hovered over and above its theoretical underpinning. Many others have opted for other and more fundamental scales than the ten thaats and Ustad Ghulam Haider, also joining the scholarly pursuit, has come up like some others with thirty two fundamental scales labelled by him as thirty two thaats.

The team created by one of the founding fathers, M. A. Sheikh, despite all the challenges, limited resources and marginalisation persisted in the pursuit of their passion or commitment. Very few out of that set have survived and probably one of the last among them has also gone. He passed away on June 25, 2019.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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