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Though notated as Western music, The Fire Raga is written in the style of Indian classical music. It abounds in figurations common to that style. In Indian classical music the musicians improvise on the scale notes of a chosen 'raga' (a mode in Western music), and, therefore, the music is not notated. When there are two instrumentalists, say sitar and shahnai (a one-reed wind instrument) they mainly 'dialogue' with each other, imitating a phrase introduced by one player and repeated from memory by the other, joining together in the occasional unison. In The Fire Raga the imitation often involves three, or, at times, all four players, and unison passages are often harmonized, but, at all times only the scale notes of the 'raga' are sounded. Glissandi, grace notes and trills decorate the notes. The tuning of the scale notes in Indian classical music, which is subtly different to that of traditional Western music, achieves the mood and atmosphere which is the intention of the 'raga'. The time of day when a particular 'raga' is played is important too. For instance, 'The Fire Raga' is meant to be played at 'sunset when the lamps are lighted at the end of twilight.' This 'raga' of Northern Indian music called 'The Fire Raga' belongs to a group of evening ragas known as Dipaka (after sunset). It is hexatonic but different in ascent and descent consisting of C, E, F sharp, G, A flat, B (ascending) and C, A flat, G, F sharp, E, D flat (descending). Notice there is no D flat in the ascending scale and no B in the descending. The notes of the raga are introduced in the slow beginning section establishing their relationship with the 'tonic' (consonant) C and the 'dominant' (sonant) G. When the tabla enters in the longer fast section of the music the player uses a rhythmic pattern called a tala. Certain standard variations fill out the pattern as well as some cross-rhythms. The player diverts from the basic pattern to add interest and a sense of 'play' with the other musicians. In the first performance of this piece a tabla player was unavailable so the improvised drum part was played on a 'djembe' – a single-headed drum from West Africa – successfully enhancing the music.
Written especially for Locana Quartet