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On the science of voice culture


S.A.K. Durga helps singers make the best of their voice and keep it in good shape.

Fusion does not mean bringing two systems together. S.A.K. Durga

Photo: S. Gopakumar

TRAINING SINGERS: S.A.K. Durga is a vocalist and vocologist.

If you are a singer who strives for perfection, vocology, science of the human voice can help you, says internationally renowned vocologist S.A.K. Durga, who was on a visit to Thiruvananthapuram recently.

Her three-day workshop on voice culture, organised by Swaralaya and Sangeeta Bharati, was attended by budding singers in the State.Dr. Durga is a musicologist, ethnomusicologist and vocalist. A pioneer in research on voice-culture, she is the founder-director of the Centre for Ethnomusicology, Chennai.

Recently appointed Emeritus Professor at the Department of Music, University of Madras, she has authored six books - `Vallala Raja,' `Yakshagana,' `Voice-Culture,' `Opera in South India,' `Research Methodology for Music,' `Ethnomusicology and Indian Music in the context of Independence,' besides many research papers in Indian and international journals.

Importance of voice culture

"In the past, voice was not given priority. But today, an effective and impressive voice is a must for singers to succeed."

At her Centre for Voxology in Chennai, established in 2002, Dr. Durga gives regular voice and counselling sessions.

She pointes out that unlike India, the West accords importance to voice training and practising. For instance, in New York, an institute called Voice Forum has an ENT specialist, a psychologist, a physiologist and a musicologist working together to treat the voice.

"For classical music, depth is essential. If you whisper in manthra sthayi and shout suddenly in thara sthayi, it becomes flawed. Voice should be even or tapering. Training includes taking the voice through the vocal range and guttural articulation - singing of fast passages (brighas), which is a unique feature of classical music.

"In the traditional system of teaching, no such exercises were there. I ask my students to push the voice as fast as possible so that they can use it in raga alaap. For film music, soft singing is necessary. Singing in a standing position carries the voice. Students are taught to hold the microphone, adjust the modulation and keep the voice supple...'' The best voice is that which is most flexible, opines Dr. Durga.

After learning the basics of Carnatic music from her mother, Dr. Durga learnt under stalwarts like Madurai Mani Iyer, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, T. Viswanarhan and M. Balamuralikrishna. She learnt Hindustani music under Ustad Mohammed Munnawar of Delhi. She did her post graduation in voice culture.

New area of study

"It was a new area of study and I had to equip myself with a knowledge of physiology, physics and psychology and do interdisciplinary research. I studied physiology under M.S. Venkitaraman and S. Ramasamy, doctors at the Department of Larynxology.''

Dr. Durga worked as a lecturer in music at Madras University from 1976 to 1979. Then she was invited to present a paper at an international seminar at the International Institute for Experimental Research in Singing at Denver (Colorado), United States, on `Vocal Abuse and Misuse.' The invitation came on the basis of the work `Voice Culture' that she authored in 1975. Her paper was adjudged the best. That visit gave her the opportunity to join Weslyn University.

"It was at the Weslyn University and later at the Yale University that I learnt more about the music of different parts of the globe - Western, Indonesian, Afro-American and Chinese. At Yale University, my post-doctoral work was a comparative study of Gregorian chants and Vedic chants and Tevaram hymns."

Another subject of the research was the fusion of various music cultures of the world. "Fusion does not mean bringing two systems together. How best you can synchronize the sounds to produce a harmonious whole, that is important.''

Conferred with many titles and awards including the coveted Eleanor Roosevelt Prize (1984), Dr. Durga has associated with international musicians like the late Yehudi Menuhin.

Dr. Durga is now doing research on `Singer's optimal pitch' in collaboration with Pradip Sircar at the Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT, Kanpur.

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