Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons in Madal Tuning

I brought my madal to my music lesson today—carted it with me on the bus from Ektantakuna in my canvas Hollins bag—as Buddhalal had instructed me to bring it two weeks after I received it, so it could be tuned. As usual, I arrived early—Nepalis usually have the problem of arriving late (dhilo) I have the opposite problem of always arriving too early (chaaDho). I sat on a bench on one of the covered porticos, and listened to the tabla class above me and the dhimay class across the courtyard, and the one guy practicing various rhythms on an oversized madal in between them while I waited for my class to begin.

“You brought your madal today,” Buddhalal stated when he saw my canvas bag.

“Yes, for tuning,” I replied.

He took the madal from me and resounded the smaller head. His faced screwed up at the sound. “Oho,” he exclaimed, “heterika! [a Nepali expression equivalent to “wow” “geez” “dang” etc in English]” He resounded the larger head as well. “Sound is so small,” he commented.

He told me to watch as he tuned the instrument. He found the end of the rawhide lace that helped bind the two heads to the wood body, undid it, and began to tighten it like a shoelace. He braced the drum between his bare feet, and tugged on the rawhide until he reached the other end. He now had a longer tail than at the beginning.

“I need water,” he said, and went to the window and began calling names. He came back to wait for the water to be brought. A young man soon appeared, but without water; he rather carried a pair of pliers. Buddhalal began using the grip to tug the rawhide lace to make it as tight as possible. In the end though, part of the rawhide ended up breaking off.

“La!” he exclaimed. “What a problem! How to bind it again?”

After fiddling around with it, he exclaimed, “where is that water? I guess I’ll go get and bring it myself!” He left the room and came back shortly with a bowl of water and a rag. “This is to soften the rawhide,” he told me in answer to my question, “to make it more pliable and easier to work with.” He began soaking the broken end of the lace in the water. He was able to bind the broken piece to this end, giving him enough lace to tie the ends back together. “There!” he was pleased with himself. “Just like it was before!”

He then took the small metal hammer that he used to tune his tabla, and began banging on each of the heads. The pitch of the head rose with each stroke. Soon, it was to his liking, or at least satisfactory. “You’ll have to bring it back in two weeks to be tuned again,” he informed me.

“Ha, I’m always so tired after tuning,” he stated. I was not surprised; tightening the rawhide had taken quite a bit of energy.

I wonder if he’ll let me tune it myself the next time around?