Friday, March 13, 2009

Mind Blowing

It's not difficult to notice that a (eastern) bamboo flute is a much uncomplicated-looking instrument. Apart from the calculations used in carving the holes and the rare Assamese bamboos used for manufacturing, the appearance seems amazingly simple. Little would one know that playing this aero phone (blowing instrument) takes much more than you ever think, unless you'd tried to before.

These flutes come in different sizes, different pitches and some even with different numbers of holes. A North Indian flute, which is the most popular variety, has six fingering holes compared to its Karnatic counterpart with eight. All seven notes of the octave are produced by fingering these outlets.

Initially a player would have to hold the instrument properly and position his lips correctly at the blowing hole maintaining body composure. Then while blowing and controlling his/her breath, the player has to open and close the holes using his/her fingers in order to produce the desired notes. To obtain some notes such as flat notes, the holes should be closed partly. Even the amount of closure of a hole may vary the tone of a note. In addition, blowing needs to be controlled accordingly to play a lower or higher octave note. Hence at times moving between notes of two octaves in quick succession is a task which requires skilled control of breath and blow. A flute player must also learn to manage his breath carefully in order to play long continuous melodies and notes without choking himself. When playing many notes at a rapid pace (higher tempo) the fingers should move quickly and accurately, whilst precise and rhythmic finger movements are very much needed to produce 'touch notes' and oscillating notes. All this needs to be done while breathing and controlling breath.

Although it's a very complex situation playing this 'simple-looking' instrument, the outcome is definitely mind blowing (no pun intended). It creates one of the most meditative sounds to be discovered by human beings, and that too a very long ago. Great flutists are able to produce haunting melodies that bind listeners to an inescapable trance. Some folk even believe that if played in a particular way, a flute is able to make the heavens pour or in other words to make it rain! 'Vas Danda', which is a Sinhala synonym for the flute meaning 'rain rod', probably would have been derived from the above belief.

There is much more to be said about flutes, but I stop here leaving the rest to be learnt by the enthusiasts out there. And finally, no, I wouldn't mind blowing. ;-)