Classical Indian musicians perform, reflect

setru_sitar-3
Photo by Sagar Setru.

On Tuesday night, North Indian classical musicians Rabindra Goswami and Ramchandra “Ramu” Pandit performed at Battell Chapel in the third stop on their latest tour of the United States. Sitar player Goswami and percussionist Ramu, who plays the tabla, have performed as an award-winning duo for 36 years worldwide. Ramu worked for 30 years as the musical coordinator for the University of Wisconsin’s College Year in India Program.

Q: What kinds of audiences do you play for in India?

Ramu: Classical music has always been for a certain elite class that is trained to listen to it. But day by day the audience is growing. Younger people are taking an interest at the university level, where they can get basic training [in playing]. We ourselves play mostly in temples and at big conferences. The music is universal [to anyone with the proper background].

Q: What is it like playing for an audience in the U.S.?

Goswami: If you play good music, it doesn’t matter what form or style you choose. Everyone will appreciate it. That’s my experience from playing for a Western audience for a long time.

R: Every note has its own importance, and whether you’re from the West or the East it has the same effect on you. There are 22 notes in any [North Indian] octave, and what you pick influences people’s hearts and minds and souls. At the end there’s always big applause and appreciation.

G: We know that when we play in India, the people who come to our concerts know what [techniques are] right and wrong. There’s a strict discipline and we have to be very careful. But we play the same way for Western audiences. We’ve also learned to know what they like.

R: When we play in India, we do have more time to elaborate on our improvisations. 85 percent of our music is improvised. When we play for Western audiences, we try to respect their tastes, their time limits.

Q: How have your American audiences changed over the past few decades?

R: It used to be that the “elite class” wouldn’t come because they thought this music was for hippies. Nowadays, this is changing. All kinds of people come. [On October 14] we played at Dartmouth for all kinds of people, from age four to age 70. There have also been masters like [three-time Grammy winner] Ravi Shankar that people know about. Now more Americans have started coming to India to learn sitar, vocals, tabla. In the hippie era, the problem was that only hippies came to India. Now more people know what the music is about, and it’s touching their heart. Before, there was only one place, Wesleyan, that had a world music department and called visiting professors to teach. But now everywhere has a South Asian music department.

Q: What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of playing your music?

R: Music is my first love, so when I’m playing onstage I’m so happy. Our style is an old, old style where we talk to each other rhythmically, and we try to keep up that traditional system. If you miss a fraction of a second, you might miss a lot. When you make it a really good concert, people come up to you and tell you, “It looks like you had a dialogue,” and that’s the happiest moment for me.

G: When the audience is happy with our music, that is the best part of our art.

R: This music awakens your internal soul, and that’s why people listen to it in India. If we can do the same thing for an audience in the West, that’s what we want.

Comments