Songs for Hindustani Vocalist, Soprano and Sinfonietta is a product of my growing fascination with Indian Classical singing. I began working with acclaimed vocalist Saili Oak in 2016, and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to create a big project with her. Three Songs would not have been possible without her guidance, open-mindedness and long, long phone calls. The project, premiere at the University of Texas Austin in 2018, and Saili’s residency of singing workshops were generously funded by the Richard E. Rainwater Award for American Music and the South Asia Institute of the University of Texas.

Geliebte Sakhi / Beloved Friend:

The first version of this song, for mezzo-soprano and sinfonietta, was commissioned by Density512, on the subject of “recomposing” Alma Mahler lieder. I borrowed Heinrich Heine’s text (Ich wandle unter blumen) and some aspects of its setting in Alma Mahler’s Fünf Lieder, notably the continuous (and slow!) rise and fall of the melody. The Hindustani Vocalist sings improvisations on a slow khyal composition in Raag Bageshree by Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. I have harmonized and orchestrated this melody based on the features of the Raga (scale) and luxurious, meditative mood. In juxtaposing the two singers and their contrasting styles, the German text and the Hindi text, I am trying to create one character that sings in two voices. Here are two methods of surrendering oneself to love, two forms of intimate meditation. They seem so distant, in language and style, but they are beautiful musical and cultural complements.

Texts & Translations

Ich wandle unter Blumen
Und blühe selber mit,
Ich wandle wie im Traume
Und schwanke bei jedem Schritt.

O halt mich fest, Geliebte!
Vor Liebestrunkenheit
Fall’ ich dir sonst zu Füßen
Und der Garten ist voller Leut!

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)


Eri sakhi tyaja maan
Dhara dhyaan, chhaand gumaan
Tabhi pave gyaan
Pratamata dhara dhyaan,
Sharana eka surajaan,
Pajhe saba miTat agyaan.

Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande (b. 1960)

I wander among the flowers, blooming,
I wander as if in a dream,
swaying at every step.

Oh, hold me close to you!
Enraptured, I fall at your feet
while the garden breathes
the life of thousands!

Transl. Akshaya Avril Tucker


My friend, let go of your arrogance
Focus, be compassionate
Let your pride fall away
Surrender to each note
Then you will see that truth:
The artist is the divine servant of music.

Transl. Saili Oak & Akshaya Avril Tucker


Tarana / Dance: 

Tarana uses abstract syllables like “de re na” and “ta na na”, borrowed from the South Asian percussion tradition of vocalizing rhythms as you learn and perform them. (This was actually how I learned my steppings in many years of dance classes. The practice is very useful, guiding you on everything from polymeters to delicate phrase emphasis points.) This Tarana includes snippets of two Tarana compositions by Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, in Raag Bhimpalas and Raag Desh. The soprano and Hindustani vocalist explore fast runs (which are frequently improvised, on the part of the Hindustani vocalist) as well as lyrical singing. The voices explore many ways of dancing around one another while keeping the transcendent center of Sa (Do, in Western Solfège) always present.

— Akshaya Avril Tucker, October 2018