Singing ‘Asaavari’ with Passion and Perfection

[This piece is written by Mirza Yawar Baig which I have reproduced verbatim with his permission. I am proud to be his friend and have deep respect for him. He has travelled worldwide, lectured at many institutions of repute, trained managers in dozens of countries and has written several books. Reach him at his two websites and]

For three years, my wife and I trained with Aunty Chandra, 5 days a week and then practiced at home daily for an hour. Going by professional standards that is very little. Most vocalists practice for 4-6 hours but then again, I was not trying to become a professional singer and so was quite happy with what I was doing. During this time one day, I went on a camping trip with a group of managers from one of my client companies for which I was doing a leadership development program. Early one morning on that trip we went to bathe in a nearby stream and I stood in water up to my throat and sang Raag Asaawari. It was an amazing experience because the flowing water did something to my voice that was very beautiful. No recordings of this incidence this except in my memory. Aunty Chandra was thrilled when I narrated this to her on my return and said for the

umpteenth time, ‘You have a gift. You must develop it and show the world.’ After those three years in Bangalore, we left for the US and lost touch with Aunty. When we returned to India in 2000, I went to Bangalore on a business trip and went to visit Aunty who I hadn’t seen for 3 years. I was shocked to see the house locked up, looking desolate and unlived in. I asked the neighbors and they told me that Mrs. Chandra had passed away and that the house was locked up and nobody lived there anymore. I was very shocked and extremely sad about the death of my teacher who taught me more than she herself knew. She was teaching me classical singing but I was learning lessons about life and winning that she would have been very happy to know about.

One lesson I learnt was the importance of practice if you truly want to be good at something and that practice is not simply doing the same thing over and over but to ensure that you do it right. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Correct practice makes perfect. That’s why it is easier to teach someone who doesn’t know something than to retrain someone who learnt it the wrong way. So practicing to meet a high benchmark is essential.

Second critical lesson was the importance of seeking correction. You learn singing by singing before a teacher and wordlessly accepting correction. When you sing a note incorrectly and the teacher signals you to repeat it you don’t say, ‘You heard it wrong. I sang it right.’ You simply repeat it over and over and over until the teacher signals you to move on, meaning that you finally got it right. You realize that correct and incorrect is for the listener to decide. What is correct is not what you do but what the listener experiences. Great lesson in customer service – great service is not what you give but what the customer receives. The only way to achieve that is to be intensely receptive to the customer, accept feedback without argument realizing that the customer’s perception is their reality.

Another big one was the importance of detail. The difference between the Komal Sur (soft note) and the Shudh Sur (pure note) is subtle indeed. I can’t even describe how exactly it is done except that despite not being able to describe it in words, I used to do a very good job of it when singing Raag Aasawari to the extent that my teacher would actually smile. And what made that difference? One small detail of what you did with your throat as you sang. A small detail which makes a world of difference.

Another big one was about the importance of doing things right first time because there is no taking back a note once it has been sung. So you have to get it right the first time.  In singing there is no record – either of good or bad. What you sang has no reality apart from the momentary existence between your singing and your listener’s hearing. Then it ceases to exist. I am not talking about recording devices and so on but contrasting this with writing and painting and so on which have a material existence and can be redone, corrected and so on. But not singing. You can sing again, but you can’t correct something that has been sung once. The song has no existence until it has been sung and so you can’t really give a sample because there is no guarantee that it will be exactly the same when it is done again. Many parallels in service delivery and the need to get it right the first time and the loop back to merciless correction and dedication to perfection.

Finally one very big lesson is the critical importance of passion in singing. Singing has a technical aspect, no doubt, but a great singer is not a great technologist and is not concerned with technical details. He is a passionate human being concerned in literally ‘pouring his heart out’ – like the nightingale, who sings not because it has a message but because it has a song.

[Mirza Yawar Baig]
Pic courtesy: Wikipedia