I had set my alarm for 6:40 a.m., but I woke up at 5 a.m. I couldn't get back to sleep; I was too excited. For I knew that at 8 a.m., I had a lesson with Gaurav Mazumdar
and Kuntal Roy
I arrived early to the Davenport
and waited in the lobby. Gaurav came down at 8 a.m. sharp, dressed in jeans rather than the traditional attire he wore last night. With a smile and a handshake, he ushered me up to the room he shared with Kuntal.
They were very gracious and hospitable, ordering tea from room service. As they got out the sitar and tabla, I looked around, noting that Gaurav had set up a tri-fold containing images of deities and pictures of gurus, including Ravi Shankar
. For a fleeting moment, I felt ashamed that I don't set up a picture of Ronald Copes
near my bed. Why don't Western musicians do this?
Gaurav kindly selected a raga in 16 beats to teach me, rather than one in an irregular meter such as 9 or 7. He had written this particular raga for a collaborative concert with the English Chamber Orchestra
. It took me a while to learn the raga, and I never did get the ornamentation right. The movable frets on the sitar facilitate rapid decorative slides which the violin cannot even approximate.
Then, Gaurav showed me how to improvise between sections of the raga. I listened carefully to his improvisations, done at the same speed as the raga theme, and tried my best to imitate them. He showed me how to signal the close of the improvisation by repeating a phrase three times. In a pattern of 16 beats, it's easy enough to repeat a four-beat-long phrase three times, but Gaurav effortlessly came up with phrases of 7 or 9 beats, introducing the first iteration at just the right time so that the end of the third repetition coincided with the return to the theme.
Now it was time to up the ante. Since I had (sort of) been able to follow their instructions thus far, Gaurav and Kuntal showed me how improvisatory sections can also be executed at double speed, 1.5 speed, triple speed, and quadruple speed. When I got going at 1.5 speed, I never could find my way back to the theme because of the effort of calculating 3-against-4, and at quadruple speed, I was basically slamming my fingers frantically at the fingerboard.
Gaurav and Kuntal, of course, were right at home. In Gaurav's improvisations, he achieved an ecstatic intensity that drew me out of time. In Kuntal's tabla improvisations, his fingers wove a dense rhythmic tapestry of coruscating virtuosity. Eventually, I stopped taking my turn to improvise, simply sustaining a drone as Gaurav and Kuntal really took off in a rapid tempo, their eyes closed in concentration. Such was the hypnotic power of their music at this point that I could not conceive of playing any pitch other than my drone pitches of D and A; an E-flat seemed as alien as another planet.
Suddenly, my cell phone rang. It was time for me to go to my Tchaikovsky rehearsal. I bade my new friends farewell, and we agreed to discuss via e-mail the possibility of a Music for the People
project in India. I left the Davenport in a daze.
I could not believe what had just happened. Had a random kid who'd never played Western classical music approached Pinchas Zukerman after a concert, Mr. Zukerman would not have offered the kid a free, 90-minute lesson on the Beethoven Violin Concerto...at 8 a.m. the next morning. I can pretty much guarantee that! Yet, I had just received a tremendous gift from the hands of two of the greatest Indian musicians of our time.
It was more than just a great musical experience. It was a spiritual experience. With them, there is no talk or thought of "I'm tired," or "I have a concert tomorrow," or "Why should I even bother with this person." With them, all that exists is an unflagging desire to reflect the rapture of existence in music. They will seek to re-create that rapture at every opportunity, whether at the opening of the 2004 Olympics for a TV audience of millions, or for a neophyte audience of one in a Spokane hotel room. As I strive to become the best musician and person I can, I must never forget the dedication, passion, nobility, and humility which Gaurav and Kuntal bring to each second they live, and each note they play.