Kids Corner


New York's Teacher of Gurbani Music





An Italian woman hobnobbing with women raagis does raise one’s curiousity.

But Dr Francesca Cassio didn’t mind the strange glances when she was in Jalandhar (Punjab) recently to carry out research on “Women in the Gurbani Tradition“.

The woman is in a league of her own.

Cassio, trained in the subcontinent’s classical music traditions -- especially gurbani and dhrupad sangeet -- was appointed the first Associate Professor of the Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology in the Department of Music at Hofstra University in New York, USA, in September 2011.

She will formally be installed as Chair on Monday, October 22, 2012.

While collecting and analyzing a repertoire of the original styles of gurbani kirtan, she has updated herself on contemporary styles, including what is being performed currently at the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar.

“Contemporary practices are far away from the original and distinct style of gurbani kirtan as founded by the Sikh Gurus,” she states.

She held a class for students during her visit to Qila Sarai in Sultanpur Lodhi which is run by the Anad Foundation.

For her, music is a language. And as she is busy identifying authentic elements of the gurbani kirtan tradition, Cassio is focusing on understanding the contribution of the Sikh Gurus themselves to Indian/ Hindustani classical music.

She has been a visiting professor at Vishwa Bharti University in Shanti Niketan, West Bengal, and studied Rabindra Sangeet.

Cassio maintains that Rabindra Sangeet was influenced by Gurbani music as Rabindranath Tagore was fond of gurbani kirtan and imbibed it at the Darbar Sahib.

“These elements are quite identifiable in terms of importance of text/poetry in music and structure of compositions,” she said.

“While my interest in Indian classical music started in 1991, I came to Delhi in 1994 to learn dhrupad style of singing and remained under the tutelage of Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Dagar. I also learnt thumri from Girija Devi and then Rabindra Sangeet too,” she said.

“It was during my training under Ustad Dagar that Bhai Baldeep Singh -- [he heads the Anad Foundation and is on the executive of the Sangeet Natak Academy] -- told me that the original gurbani sangeet, initiated by the Sikh Gurus, was in dhrupad and had developed its own style and finer nuances. I entered gurbani sangeet through the window of dhrupad and then trained not only with Bhai Baldeep Singh, but also with Bhai Gurcharan Singh, the 11th generation raagi who, along with his brother, the late Bhai Avtar Singh, had imbibed and helped to perpetuate the original style of kirtan which was practiced during the Guru period in the 15th and 16th centuries,” she revealed.

“Gurbani kirtan had its own style. The general perception is that it only took impressions from genres of Indian classical music. But my area of research is on how it contributed its own original nuances to the Indian music,” she said.

Currently teaching at Hofstra in New York, Cassio says her training both in Western musicology and Indian musicology was helping her teach western students to learn gurbani music better.

“I have American as well as Sikh and Indian students,” she says, adding that as she was brought up in a noble family of Rome, she has great respect for every tradition, its evolution and quest to explore music.

[Courtesy: Times of India. Edited for]
October 18, 2012       

Conversation about this article

1: Artika Bakshi (Sri Lanka), October 18, 2012, 11:30 AM.

Lovely article! Especially for me as I was looking into the connection between gurbani kirtan and Indian classical.

2: Raj (Canada), October 18, 2012, 10:45 PM.

Any attempt in reviving the original kirtan tradition is a step in the right direction. Otherwise, who knows what the new trend our filmi raagis may start in singing gurbani shabads. Rap?

3: Gurnam Singh (Jammu, J & K), October 19, 2012, 6:07 AM.

I teach gurbani sangeet and instruments - dilruba and esraj - here in Jammu.

4: Gurpreet Kaur (Ludhiana, Punjab), October 30, 2012, 7:28 AM.

Very encouraging for the lovers of Gurmat Sangeet. I am really keen to get hold of any recordings of her work. Can anyone help with links to her singing gurbani?

5: Pinkky (Delhi, India), June 23, 2013, 5:31 AM.

I'm looking for a gurbani teacher in Delhi ... if somebody can help me.

6: Swarn Singh (Fazilka, Punjab), January 09, 2014, 1:18 AM.

Wish I too could be granted this sewa.

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