“Raga No. 1” for solo timpani was first published in 1978 by Wimbledon Music, and since then it has been performed by timpanists and percussionists all over the world. It continues to be among the most selected of works in the repertoire for percussion recitals, juries, and competitions. I have occasionally received inquiries about various aspects of the composition. First, it is important to note that some of the published printings of “Raga No.1” have pages 2 and 3 IN THE REVERSE ORDER, so it may be necessary to cut and reassemble those two pages in the correct order.
Here are some frequently asked questions.
Question 1: How did the idea for “Raga No. 1” come into being?
Cahn: “Raga No. 1” was originally written for my senior percussion recital at the Eastman School of Music in 1968. The inspiration for the music came from hearing North Indian classical music for tabla (the traditional pair of single-head, closed-shell drums) for the first time and by my initial perception of tabla rhythms and playing techniques, incorporating a highly developed use of the fingers and hands.
Question 2: Why did you choose timpani as the medium for your composition?
Cahn: I needed a timpani piece for my senior recital at the Eastman School of Music and since there were only a few solo timpani pieces published in 1968 – and most of those were included at the back of timpani method books – I decided to compose my own solo piece. I had recently been exposed to a recording of North Indian classical music featuring Chatur Lal playing tabla and I was inspired by the rhythmic complexity and energy in the music. I had no formal study in Indian classical music, so rather than attempting to copy the musical structures, I simply focused on the rhythmic energy in the music. While rhythmic intricacy provided the primary focus, there is also a sense of ‘rag’ (‘raga’) or mode created by the half-tone interval of Bb-Cb, sandwiched in-between the low and high G-natural pitches. Glissandos on the low timpano also added a sense of the vocal quality that can be heard in hand strokes on the low tabla drum (bayan). Finger rolls on the high timpano were a way of acknowledging the complex finger techniques used on the tabla by imitating them, although in a very simple way.
Question 3: At measure 128 the piece goes into cut time and it indicates half-note equals half-note. Then at 177 it goes back to common time and indicates half-note equals quarter-note. At 127 should it say quarter-note equals half-note, or if the half-note equals half-note is correct, should the feel of that section be different since the tempo would remain the same?
Cahn: The printed score is correct. At Bar 128 the half-note equals the new half-note; the desired effect is to go from a fast four feel to a slow two feel (the pulse becomes twice as slow). Then at Bar 174 there is an accelerando to Bar 178 (Tempo 1), until the outgoing half-note is at the same tempo of the new quarter-note (which is the same tempo as at Bars 10 and 44).
Question 4: Is the pedaling on the 32-inch timpano intended for specific notes, or just to play the shape? Since the melody goes up to a D, which is not possible on most 32-inch drums, is pedaling on the two bottom drums intended, or is the intent to just play the general shape?
Cahn: The X-head notes are all approximate pitches as indicated in the NOTE at the bottom of page 2 and should all be played on the 32-inch drum, with the high note (written approximately D) being whatever is the highest pitch on the available drum. The effect is to sort of imitate the bayan – the low tabla drum – which in Indian classical music can play vocal-like portamentos as the player applies left-hand wrist pressure on the drum head while striking the head with the first two fingers of the same hand.
Question 5: Should the pedal glissandos be in strict time, or should they be exaggerated more freely? Should each of the X-head notes be struck individually…or should one strike over a phrase of glissandos?
Cahn: Each of the X-notes should be struck only in the notated rhythm, with the accompanying glissandos played in an easy-flowing manner to suggest a vocal-like effect.
Question 6: Why was there so much time between the composition of “Raga No. 1” and “Raga no. 2 ?”
Cahn: There were many times between 1968 and 2000 when I thought about writing a “Raga No.2” but there never seemed to be enough time between my playing with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and with NEXUS, as well as composing ensemble and orchestral pieces for NEXUS. Finally in 2000, in response to requests from students and friends, I decided to revive several other solo timpani pieces I had written as an Eastman student, and also to compose some newer works for solo timpani. The result was “Six Concert Pieces for Solo Timpani,” published by Meredith Music in 2001. “Raga No. 2” was one of the six pieces.
Question 7: Are there any direct parallels between the two Ragas?
Cahn: Both Ragas were through-composed. One direct parallel is the simple rhythmic phrase at the very end in the quasi-coda last three bars of both pieces. The octave interval between the outer timpani is similar in both Ragas and the Bb-Cb half-step interval in “Raga No. 1” was expanded to a whole step (B-C#) in “Raga No.2.”
Question 8: Are there specific Ragas that you have learned that guided the composition of the Ragas?
Cahn: No. Neither of the Ragas was intended to copy any specific pieces or styles of Indian classical music. They are both through-composed original works.
Question 9: Is there a specific Tala Cycle in mind throughout the composition?
Cahn: No. Neither of the Ragas was composed with Talas in mind, though there are rough parallels with the 4/4 of “Raga No.1” (Teen tal) and the 7/8 of “Raga No.2” (Roopak tal).