Many of us have heard raga music played on the sitar, but how can we play it on the piano? John Pitts, a British composer and pianist, answered that question by producing a work on the subject that is both thorough and comprehensible.
The author details many examples of ragas in what at first seems to be an overwhelming amount of material on the subject, 262 pages worth. There is a wealth of knowledge to acquire, from the scale patterns and their significance, to terminology and rhythmic variations. However, he details everything while adopting a conversational tone, addressing the reader who is new to this art, and helping them to avoid beginner’s mistakes.
John Pitts is a wonderful guide to this aural world, demonstrating his expertise through the advice that he gives the novice. For example, in one case he cautions the reader not to play the drone patterns in strict rhythm, in another, he lets the reader know to keep the damper pedal down to evoke the resonance of the sitar. In many ragas there are more rhythmical sections, moving toward a more rapid section called the “jhala.” one of many terms he discusses thoroughly. As the reader continues their journey of improvement through this book, the detailed descriptions and the examples it provides, help them steadily improve their understanding of the material from one peak to the next.
In his introduction Mr. Pitts describes this work as a practical book. “It is designed to allow you the pianist to jump in and explore and play and experience music within this totally different sound-world[…]” As I play through his examples, I find myself in agreement. This is not a mere transcription of someone’s performance of Ragas; it is a pathway to exploration for the pianist of an ancient and venerated art form that is very different in many respects from that of tonal Western Music. It is a journey well worth taking, not only as an exploration of Ragas, but as a new lens through which to view the music that we play most often.
Mr. Pitts has also produced a companion volume titled “Indian Ragas For Piano Made Easy,” which includes free mp3 downloads from www.pianoraga.com. Five stars to John Pitts for his exhaustive and absorbing book on a timeless music with a very different feel and conception – a journey of discovery for the pianist.
John C. Carpenter, WAIF Radio