Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I've been continuing my ongoing effort to write unique music for students and expose them to styles and forms that that have been unexplored in the string orchestra canon. So I got out my atlas and looked around. There are plenty of arrangements of North American folk tunes out there as well as Latin dances. The musical styles of every European nation have been represented and Chinese and Japanese tunes have been done. There are still lots of options, but the one major culture that hasn't been represented is India.

This is probably due to the fact that Indian raga music doesn't translate easily to a Western format. It's percussive, improvisational, through-composed, and the sounds are distinctive and hard to approximate with Western instruments. India doesn't have "folk songs" in quite the same way that we do. It's a challenge, but I've found that the way around it is to meet Indian music half way - not to imitate traditional Indian music, but to write a Bollywood-style piece.

Bollywood (the Indian film industry, which puts out mostly musicals) has a style all its own, using distinctly Indian elements in a Western format. The melodies usually use the "asian" scale and are highly melismatic, but stay in strict rhythm and take the verse-chorus-verse-chorus forms of Western pop songs. They tend to use tabla drums and sitars, but often incorporate keyboard, guitars, and techno beats. They are a form of popular music, after all.

So, after a lot of research on YouTube and several weeks of false starts and experimentation, I've come up with an Indian-sounding piece that's approachable for advanced orchestras. I should be able to finish it early next week.

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