An average general listener at a Concert of ICM may not worry much about the Gharana of the artist singing / playing music there. The listener primarily gets entertained during the recital and alongside probably gets informed / educated about the music; the pleasure of listening is enough for him.
What is a Gharana then? Simply put, a ‘Gharana is a family of musicians’. Gharana is a Style or a School of thought of music. Each school has distinct features which characterize it deferentially from the other styles.
There are Gharanas in vocal music - in Khayal, in Dhrupad, in Thumari, in Tappa.
According to some, a style of Thumari is known as ‘Baaj’ (like Banaras or Lucknow baaj) rather than Gharana.
The concept of Gharana is also found in melody instrument as well as percussion instrumental music – one comes across Gharanas of Sitar, Sarode, sarangi etc and in Tabla, Pakhawaj too.
The traditional method of training in music - the ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’- could be the basis of evolving a Gharana. A creative musician would experiment with new ideas; with his convictions he would establish a separate musical ideology. The new school could be somewhat or radically different from the prevailing structure of music. That’s how an independent identifiable school called a Gharana emerges.
The convictions of the musician straightway affect the contemplation, training, presentation and appreciation of music for a pupil learning from him. The disciple absorbs such features (techniques of music, mental inclinations of the Guru) and would eventually pass these on to his student. If the style transcends through at least three generations like Guru > Disciple > Disciple (or Musician > Son / Nephew > family-member) the style gets the status of a Gharana.
In practice, an artist from a gharana may pick up once in a while, a stylistic aspect appealing to him of another gharana to improve on his gayaki. It is also seen these days that a musician learns from another Guru for a limited purpose to pick up some aspects which he liked.
Since the styles have their own distinct identities, certain Ragas and therefore some Bandish’s (compositions) are predominantly performed in some (and not all) Gharanas.
A common listener, depending upon his mental inclination, may develop more affection, loyalty towards a Gharana for enjoying a performance; while some others become fans of a musician.
A brief glance on some of the well-known Gharanas of vocal khayal music here:
Pioneer in Khayal gayaki, it is the oldest [16th century] Gharana and is known for its simplicity. The musicians of Gwalior Gharana generally prefer to sing ‘Shuddha Raga’s. The style is considered to be "Ashtanga Pradhana" – balanced still complete with the all the features like Alap, Bol-Alap / Tana, Layakari, Meend, Gamaka etc. Pta Malini tai Rajurkar, Pt Ulhas Kashalkar, Pt Madhukar buwa Joshi and some others offer Gwaliar Gayaki at present.
Agra Gharana [19th / 20th century] artists offer a long ‘Nom Tom’ Alap prior to the Khayal composition; they emphasis on the purity of the Raga as well as on the forceful and deep voice. One can listen to Ustad Raja Mian’s singing these days, a best illustration of Agra gayaki
Jaipur – Atrauli Gharana:
Many maestro names of yesteryears - Mallikarjun Mansoor, Moghubai Kurdikar, Dhondutai Kulkarni - come to mind at the mention of Jaipur Atrauli Gharana. Among the features of this laya-based gayaki are the predominance of ‘Aakar’ in the development of a Raga; ‘Anavat’ Rare ragas, Ragas either uncommon in other Gharanas or not much heard by the general concert-goers. Some musicians from this Gharana we get to hear these days are Gaansaraswati Kishori Amonkar, Pta Shruti sadolikar-Katkar, Pta Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande.
Ustad Abdul Karim Khan (1872-1937 AD) founded the Kiarana Gharana, exponents like Sawai Gandharv, Bharatratna Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Dr Gangubai Hangal, Pt Phiroz Dastur have made it the most popular Gharana at present. It lays more emphasis on the emotional content. The artists of this style deploy a soft and sensitive voice. In a leisurely tempo, the development of a Raga is progressively made almost note by note. Alaps are given due importance. Dr Prabha Atre is the torchbearer of Kirana at present.
There are some more Gharanas in vocal Khayal music like Patiala, Rampur-Sehaswan, Bhendi Bazaar, Banaras, Mewati etc which are heard these days and they do have audience.
On a lighter note:
An artist trying his best to introduce his Gharana in a recital had difficulty to succeed and hence unable to impress his audience. Exasperated, he lost his way.
One listener whispers to the other in the crowd: “What Gharana he belongs to?”
Answer: “Independent Gharana!
He is enjoying all the liberties of any Gharana, so he is independent of Gharana!!”