Harmonium

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Pakrashi's Professional Harmonium

The Harmonium is a small, manually-pumped musical instrument using fixed reeds to create the basic sounds. There are two main types of harmonium: a foot-pumped version that resembles a small organ, and a hand-pumped portable version that can fold up for easy transport. The hand-pumped portable version is very popular with Kirtan Jathas along with the Tabla and these form the main type of instruments used by Ragis during the performance of Kirtan.

The Harmonium was invented in Europe in Paris in 1842 by Alexandre Debain, though there was concurrent development of similar instruments elsewhere. During the mid-19th century missionaries brought hand-pumped harmonium to India, where it quickly became popular due to its portability and its low price. Its popularity has stayed intact to the present day, and the harmonium remains an important musical instrument in many types of Indian music, as well as being commonly found in Indian homes.

In Indian music, the Harmonium is considered to be one of the most versatile instruments. The harmonium is used in classical, semi-classical, and devotional music. It is usually used as an accompanying instrument for vocalists in classical music. However, some musicians have begun playing the harmonium as a solo instrument. One of the largest pioneers of this style is Pandit Tulsidas Borkar of Mumbai. More and more music students are learning in this fashion.

Harmoniums consist of banks of reeds (metal bands which vibrate when air flows over them), a pumping apparatus, stops for drones, and the keyboard. The harmonium functions mostly like an accordion. In order to play the instrument, one must pump air into the instrument and press the desired keys. The sound of the harmonium is unique, and improves over time as the instrument ages.

The number of reed banks is up to the particular person. Some harmoniums use 1 reed, 2 reeds, and 3 reeds. This refers to the number of reed sets there are in the instrument. Classical instrumentalists usually use 1-reed harmonium, while a musician who plays for a qawaali (Islamic devotional singing) usually uses a 3-reed harmonium.



The harmonium is popular kind of sushir vad. The word harmonium is derived from the Greek word "harmony" which is the basis of western music and implies simultaneous sounding of several notes or the accompaniment of a melody by chords.

The harmonium has the appearance of a box out of which music can be produced. It is a reed-blown instrument like a large harmonica with mechanical bellows and keyboard. It is said that the harmonium was first produced in Paris in 1840 by Alexandre Debain. He devised a bellows worked by the player's feet to force air into a wind-chest and then through channels opened or closed by means of a keyboard. The notes are produced by reeds made of steel. The bellows is either worked by feet or hand. When the keys are touched and bellows is inflated, the air passes through the inner reeds and produces twelve notes (seven shudh, four komal and one teevar).

The harmonium has either single reed or double reeds. In case of double reeds, two notes of the same type, in two saptaks are produced simultaneously. Generally, a harmonium has three or three and a half saptaks. This instrument is very easy to handle and is very popular in North India. The beginner can easily play it and learn both vocal and instrumental music. The instrument has fixed notes and its tones cannot be changed. The harmonium can be used also an accompaniment of a vocalist. Any svara (note) can take the place of S and the raga played accordingly.

The twelve notes of the harmonium are not natural notes but are a tempered scale. In the saptak, the difference between S and R and again between R and G and so on has been(figures) to consistent and equal degree. The main defect of this instrument is that it has twelve artificial notes though they correspond to the twelve natural notes (as for instance on a sitar). With the accompaniment of harmonium-notes, the svaras of vocal music also tend to be artificial.

By playing the harmonium, the human voice becomes artificial, because according to the tradition of Indian classical music, the real notes of 22 shruties should be produced. There are certain notes in classical music which cannot be reproduced by the harmonium, for example _G_ in raga tod, M in raga Lalit, etc. Therefore, practice of svaras on the harmonium tends to make the svaras unnatural or unreal. Many classical singers frown at the use of harmonium.

For Strange ways condemns the use of the harmonium and regards it as a serious means of Indian music. He remarks "Besides its deadening effect on a living art., it falsifies it by being out of tune with its itself." [2]

It is not good to practise svara-sadhana (note modulation) on the harmonium. It is better to practise the svaras on the tamboora. When the strings are touched, they vibrate and the note continues to sound for a while, but in the case of the harmonium, the tone starts for a while, but in the case of the harmonium, the tone starts with inflation of the bellows and when the bellows stop, the note comes to an end.

Meend (glide from one note to another) and gamak (delicately mixing svaras in a raga) are not possible on a harmonium and as such, richness and excellence of melody is unavailable. This instrument is not good for accompaniment of vocal music, because it cannot reproduce the various delicate shades of vocal music. It is better to use a sarangi or bela (a kind of violin) for the accompaniment of vocal music.

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