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Music to Sooth Thy Soul by Shyam Amladi


I have selected three intensely creative musicians who became and remain giants in the field of music, long after they have passed on. Their backgrounds and musical styles are widely divergent, but they share three attributes:

  1. They overcame and rose above a debilitating physical disability
  2. Their greatest compositions were created through the years they were suffering from their infirmity
  3. Their music is marked by respect for structure and grammer, but almost a disruptive  style of performance.

Ludwig Beethoven

Beethoven (1770-1827): he battled deafness throughout his adult life and was totally deaf towards the end of his creative years. 

Beethoven transformed the Classical era of Western classical music (1750-1820) by infusing and making them the centerpiece of his music, enlightened themes – defeating tyranny and  oppression, defiance against fate and spiritual ascendancy . Beethoven’s innovations include: weaving these lofty themes into his works; introduction of stark rhythmic passages; use of extended architectonic structures and deployment of large orchestras, as in his 3rd and 9th symphonies.  Thematic motif is seeped into many of his compositions: cruel fate in Symphony No. 5; unrequited love in Fur Elize; rippling beauty of nature in Symphony No. 6; royal grandeur of his Piano Concerto No. 5 and heroism in the Eroica overture.  As his deafness worsened; his music became more sublime, more gripping. Beethoven conducted one of the most stirring, uplifting of his symphonies, the Choral Symphony no. 9 (Ode to Joy) when he could barely hear a single note being played.

Beethoven’s rebellion against tyranny is woven into his musical phraseology. Comparing the music of the three post-Baroque era composers, Hayden was pleasant, Mozart impetuous and Beethoven is—incisive and hard-hitting. 

Here is Beethoven's immortal piece, "Fur elise"


Kumar Gandharv

Kumar Gandharv (1924-1992): he lost his lung to tuberculosis, gave up music for 10 years and emerged with a unique, intense musical style and superb creativity. 

Kumar was a child prodigy. Faiyaz Khan, upon hearing him perform when Kumar was but 11, bestowed the title “Kumar Gandharv”, the Young Angel of Music. During his convalescence he began exploring and experimenting with folk tunes of Madhya Pradesh. Kumar’s raag style is sometimes called “aakaar-bhav” and “dhun-ugam”, respectively sing-along and folk-melodic style. His thematic blend of notes and idiom is unconventional, marked by sharp, staccato phrases flawlessly delivered in a rapid-fire tempo; then juxtaposed with upper falsetto notes creating polar opposite moods. Instead of the traditional “bandish” sung by other musicians, Kumar sang his own compositions. Contrast the riveting imagery describing the strange, ascetic magnificence of Lord Shiv in his raag Shankara, “Sheer pe dhurree gunga, kumura mrig chala  with his  plaintive Sohni: “Rung naa daalo Shyamjee.”


Kumar took the traditional ritual of developing a “raga” slowly and somnolently and somewhat turned it on its head, not unlike what Beethoven did to the slow development of symphony and concerto. From the initial, almost querulous note sung by Kumar, the listener is sent on a roller coaster of fast tempos and breathless glissandos. Kumar’s concerts are adventures in scale, tonality and melody.

Here is Kumar's famous Shankara, including his signature "Shir pae dharee Ganga"


Nusrat Fate Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali (1949-1999): he suffered and prematurely died from an enlarged heart and obesity.

He descended with a 600 year old tradition of music. His main genre of music, Qwalli, or group vocal singing with rhythmic clapping of hands is an import from Middle eastern cultures of Iran and Afghanistan. Nusrat has a piercing, high-pitch tone unique in its intensity and breadth. He glides easily in and out of 3 octaves like Bade Gulam Ali Khan. The irresistible call of his music is his ability to weave a Punjabi and Multani raag based Qwalli into a Sufi theme and keep its anticipation and hypnotic langour through the use of rhythm and tonal variations.

Not only is Nusrat’s singing profound, so are the lyrics. He specializes in Bulle-Shah’s poems—Bulle-Shah was a 17th-century Sufi leader who popularized the concept of “Yaar” or friend, teacher crucial to our individual faith. Here is a sample:

Mainnoo yaar manunon dee fursat nayeen,  dusso rub noo manavaan kis vele

= I am so busy pleasing my yaar, when do I have time to please God?


Jai too rub noon manaunan palle yaar noon munaa, rub munn jaanda, yaar noon manaunan aukkha ae

=To make God happy first please your yaar; God is pleased easily, but the yaar is very hard to please

Here is Nusrat singing one of his qwalli, Akhhiyan udeek diyan