The humble harmonium is finally set to get its due. For the first time in India, a harmonium player has obtained a patent for developing a unique harmonium with 22 shrutis — fractional notes or microtones.
A typical harmonium has 12 shrutis, and was considered an instrument with limitations in Indian classical music, as it could not render all the nuances of Indian ragas. A complete octave (sa, re, ga, ma…) has seven notes plus 15 microtones.
Thane resident Dr Vidyadhar Oke received the patent for his ‘Improved Harmonium’ from the Indian Patent Office on December 15, 2011, five years after he applied for it.
“I wanted to prove that every microtone could be identified scientifically and played on a harmonium. The harmonium was once banned by All India Radio as a solo performance instrument because it could not play the 22 microtones,” said Dr Oke, 59, a pharmacologist, who quit his job at a pharma company in 2003 to pursue research in music.
The third generation harmonium player has been playing the instrument since the age of four, and has accompanied vocalists such as Vasantrao Deshpande, Manik Verma and Asha Bhosale.
The 22-shruti harmonium was made with the help of artisans from the 75-year-old Haribhau Vishwanath Company, manufacturers and exporters of Indian musical instruments. Dr Oke measured the frequency of each microtone and constructed the harmonium with additional gaps (reeds) that would allow wind to pass through the leather diaphragm to create the missing microtones.
“Vocalists should now insist on having this 22-shruti harmonium so that people become aware of it and start using it actively,” said Deepak Raja, a sitar player and author of the book Hindustani Music Today.