Sitar player Parvez gives Elis taste of raga music

Raga enthusiasts and curious students got their fill of the traditional Indian musical idiom during a Saturday performance by world-renowned sitar player Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan.

Parvez, accompanied by tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur, serenaded over 300 members of the Yale and New Haven community during a benefit concert in Battell Chapel. The Yale Raga Society, a newly formed student organization dedicated to classical Indian music, hosted the performance, designed to introduce Elis to Indian music and culture.

Sitar maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez plays in Battell Chapel on Saturday night in an event organized by the newly formed Yale Raga Society.
Raymond Carlson
Sitar maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez plays in Battell Chapel on Saturday night in an event organized by the newly formed Yale Raga Society.

The society’s inaugural event featured two traditional Indian instruments: the sitar, a long-necked instrument resembling a lute, and the tabla, a drum.

“We wanted to kick off our organization and make sure people are aware of our presence and that Indian music has a lot of merit,” Raga Society President Sannya Hede ’10 said.

His fingers darting along the glinting neck of the sitar, Parvez performed with expressions both beatific and deeply ponderous. The variegated rhythms of the sitar and tabla drums kept the audience rapt for much of the show’s two-and-a-half-hour duration.

Parvez’s performance on Saturday will never be recreated. Raga music is based upon improvisation, Raga Society Vice President Sudhir Rao ’11 said, and between 70 and 90 percent of each piece is extemporized during the performance.

Rao said members of the group felt fortunate to host Parvez, who is an iconic Indian musician.

“Among Indian classical musical circles, his name is extremely well known,” Rao said. “He has the speed of Jimi Hendrix, the intuition of Yo-Yo Ma and the musicianship of Mickey Heart.”

Many attendees at the performance said they chose to attend because they admired the renowned musicianship of Parvez and Kalyanpur.

“They’re the best in their fields,” said Abraar Karan ’11, an experienced tabla player. “This concert is a great way to get people involved in Indian culture.”

Others said they attended simply to seize the chance to experience a world-class concert, regardless of the music’s specific style.

“These performers are real virtuosos,” said Derek Fujio ’08, a music major who attended the concert. “They have a lot of skill and a lot of stage presence.”

Program organizers said they invited Parvez because of his fame and the fairly universal appeal of sitar music. The sitar is one of the few classical Indian instruments well known among Western audiences.

Program organizers also chose to host Parvez because he specializes in instrumental music rather than song; Indian instrumental music is more accessible than vocal music, Hede explained. Even so, she said, the Raga Society plans to introduce the Yale community to vocal music in the near future.

The concert “sets up great momentum” for the Raga Society’s upcoming programs, Hede said. The group will push for the academic study of Indian classical music by sponsoring Master’s Teas and other informational programs, she said.

“The music isn’t just something that you sit down and listen to, although that itself is pleasing,” Hede said. “You enjoy the music a lot more the more you understand it.”

On April 25, the Raga Society will introduce Yalies to the musical talents of their own peers and others, hosting its first student concert in Sudler Hall.

Proceeds from admission to the concert totaled over $1,700 for No Place Like Home Inc., a local charity dedicated to the adoption and support of children with severe illnesses.

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