Gopal Shankar Misra (born 1957 in Kanpur, died August 13, 1999 in Bhopal) was an Indian musician and music teacher, who played the vichitra veena. Inheriting Music Misra's father, Lalmani Misra, was born in the 1920s and became a singer and instrumentalist who performed dhrupad and khyal, and played the tabla, the sitar, and revived the vichitra veena in his advanced age. Lalmani Misra was a performing musician and an academic, who served as Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts at Banaras Hindu University, where he worked as a teacher and administrator, until he his death in 1979.
Misra's father, Lalmani Misra, was born in the 1920s and became a singer and instrumentalist who performed dhrupad and khyal, and played the tabla, the sitar, and revived the vichitra veena in his advanced age. Lalmani Misra was a performing musician and an academic, who served as Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts at Banaras Hindu University, where he worked as a teacher and administrator, until he his death in 1979.
This shattered the 22-year-old Gopal, leaving him a huge challenge of work unfinished. The family eventually attained Gharana status when the third generation - Gopal and Padmaja's son and daughter, Gandharva and Shruti - began to excel at the veena. It was much later on that the Uday Shankar connection was to lead directly to this disc, when Gopal was invited to join the 1998 UK touring and Real World recording project made by State of Bengal and Ananda Shankar, Uday Shankar's son.
Gopal was born in Kanpur, India in 1957. With the birth of a sister, Ragini, some years later, the authority of the eldest child crowned young Gopal. His grandmother, Rani Devi whose musical urge ran in the family, doted on him. His mother Padma, also showered love and care on both her children. Surrounded by and growing up with music, his interest deepened following an international tour with his father. He had studied vocal music and sitar since the age of four but grew up as a normal healthy boy with interest in cricket and other sports.
At the age of 15 his interest in music turned serious. After testing him thoroughly the proud father introduced the worthy son in 1975 at Varanasi. Chhotelal Mishra disciple of Pt. Anokhelal, accompanied Gopal who enthralled the august audience with an accomplished rendering of Marwa, Chandrakauns and Pahadi on sitar.
Gopal was fated to encounter ruthlessness of life. The loving mother was claimed by cancer and on 5 April 1977, the small family of four was reduced to three. The shocked father, Lalmani Misra tried his best to lessen the children's grief. Together they travelled around the country, relaxing here, performing there and meeting academics, musicians and enthusiasts all over the country. As a visiting Professor at Penn University, Misra had to leave for a semester (January to June 1978). He recorded ample music lessons for Gopal and Ragini so that both excelled in their respective examinations. On his return, he developed an ache in his back and had to rely more on his children. Gopal and Ragini thereby received training in academics of music, which served them much later on.
After the passing away of his mother, Gopal had become passionately devoted to his father and sister. When his father died, he had a sister, his legacy and the whole world set to test him. He faced the challenges with least hesitation or fear and soon proved that in talent as in knowledge he was a true heir to his father. Ragini and Gopal had taken lessons from their father together, but the elder brother would assist the sister and consequently started training his first disciple while he himself was learning. Music to them was a source of joy.
Today Ragini is the sole exponent of Misrabani. She plays the complex Misrabani compositions on Jhoomra Tal. Ragini credits her brother for instilling the innovation of their father so well, that she can play the toughest of compositions almost instantaneously. She presented 16 Pearls (at a seminar organised by Bhatkhande Deemed Music University at Lucknow in 2005) a non-stop string of sixteen compositions in sixteen different Raga-s, starting from sixteen consecutive beats on Trital. Gopal Shankar also inspired his sister to take up another instrument - jal tarang when she was in school. Ragini has also been recognized as the first woman playerof jal-tarang following Sitar gatkari in her presentation.
At this juncture, his devotion to the veena intensified. In playing it, he felt closer to his father, and from this was able to draw much comfort in the coming years. Having observed his father's chaste style of living, Gopal bid adieu to his natural youthful manner and strictly followed almost an ascetic life-style. At the age of 22 he was appointed lecturer in music at Banares Hindu University and shortly afterwards became Doctor of Music in sitar. He had also studied Sanskrit for M.A. degree. Over the years he became a "Grade A" Indian musician, making several radio recordings and giving concerts while encouraging a number of students to take up veena.
Teaching at Banaras Hindu University exposed him to many potential learners. Having inherited the art of imparting tid-bits of skill as well as wisdom about the swaroop (nature) of Raga, he had already taught his sister Ragini. Now, his ability to teach with patience was fully exploited. His students were not limited to a single instrument. Kamala Shankar played guitar while Taranga Vilasini sports a santoor. Berndt Pichelbauer, apart from playing the instrument is a musicologist exploring construction of sitar.Benoit Gerstmans from France studying Vichitra Veena. Students from Korea, Srilanka, Canada, Germany etc. would come to Varanasi to learn with him. He was equally at home with theory and demonstration and would often repeat his father's advice, "Don't explain, do it". Completely at home with technology he his visual sensibility were equally strong. He would capture finger movements and other postures accurately on video which proved immensely useful to his students. All his students would record their sessions with him and return only after they had perfected the phrase or melody. His teaching was effective as it was inspiring. Many of Gopal Shankar's students are now teaching music at various levels.
He toured extensively in India, USA and Europe and was fulfilling his father's wishes by introducing the instrument to new situations and audiences. It was through Gopal Shankar Misra that the vichitra veena finally found wider international fame. The veena is associated with Saraswati, the Goddess of learning in Hindu mythology. In Hindi "vichitra" means peculiar and the veena is part of a family of chordophone or stringed instruments said to predate the sitar. It evolved from the ancient Ban and later was known as Batta-Been. Gopal inherited the style known as Misrabani, from his father who had brought the instrument to prominence in Northern Indian music. Gopal perfected it to such a degree that it is hard to distinguish between the music of father and the son.
Veena as lifeline
Gopal Shankar Misra was an acclaimed artiste of Sitar who was invited all across Indian and abroad. But because Vichitra Veena held a special meaning for his father, he could not let it lie silent. The vichitra veena is made of a broad, fretless, horizontal arm or crossbar (dand) around three feet long and six inches wide, with two large resonating gourds (tumba), which are inlaid with ivory and attached underneath at either end. The narrow ends of the instrument are fashioned into peacock heads, the national bird of India - a most appropriate carving as Gopal often drew a metaphor between the colours in the bird's tail and the musical range that the veena offers.
There are four main playing strings and five secondary strings (chikaris), which are played openly with the little finger for a drone effect. Underneath them are 13 sympathetic strings tuned to the notes of the appropriate raag. The veena has a five-octave range. Two plectrums (mizrab) identical to those used for sitar are worn on the middle and index fingers of the right hand to pluck the strings, and a glass ball (batta) is moved with the left across the main strings to create melody (there can be a distance of up to two inches between notes). Olive oil or butter is put on the strings to ease the playing action. The veena was often used to accompany the Dhrupad style of singing and this did not allow for much intricacy or embellishment around the notes. Along with portamento passages (meend) where the notes glide effortlessly into each other, the dramatic and vigorous plucking style, the jumping from note to note (krintan), was a stylistic departure developed in Gopal's family tradition, Misrabani.
Through the efforts of Gopal Shankar Misra, a course of D.Mus. in Vichitra Veena was to be started by College of Music and Fine Arts, B.H.U. when his sudden demise at Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) on August 13 1999 while attending a function (an annual feature of Madhukali) held in the memory of his father, Lalmani Misra bereaved besides his family, a number of existing and potential disciples. He had authored the third part of Sangeet-Sarita, a series started by his father for middle-school students. His major work dealing with compositions of vocal and instrumental music together in a single volume is yet to see the light of day. Those learning Vichitra Veena with him have turned to sister Ragini Trivedi who has been a guardian mentor to children, Shruti and Gandharva.
1. Jacket note by Alan James, Out of Stillness Real World Compact Disc, April 2000
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gopal_Shankar_Misra )