Harmony Beat

Violinist from Indiana traveling to all 50 states in 2016, asking: "What is American culture?"

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Location: Indianapolis, IN, United States

violinist, violist, teacher, composer, conductor, writer, cultural diplomat, traveler

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Benefit concert in New York tomorrow

Tomorrow, Saturday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m., the Metro Chamber Orchestra will present a benefit concert for Music for the People at Symphony Space in New York City. For the full press release, click here.

I am truly delighted to play and conduct Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with the extraordinary pianist Philip Fisher and the terrific flutist John McMurtery at this concert. The concert will also feature Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with Mr. Fisher returning to the piano. Maestro Phil Nuzzo will conduct.

I hope that those of you who live in New York will have the opportunity to attend what promises to be a wonderful concert. Tickets cost $30, but most of that money goes right back to Music for the People. Please come!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Indian music lesson

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.

Gaurav Mazumdar

Every time I go to CenterStage here in Spokane, I have a life-changing experience. I should start coming more often!

If you read my blog last Wednesday, you'll remember that on Monday I met Dr. Jody Graves of the Sapphire Trio, who spoke about her group's astounding experiences presenting music in the Persian Gulf. Tonight, as the guest of CenterStage director Tim Behrens, I enjoyed the incredible opportunity of hearing Gaurav Mazumdar, the eminent sitar player and disciple of Ravi Shankar, in concert with the great tabla player Kuntal Roy.

I had never attended a live concert of Indian classical music, and I was mesmerized. The musicians have a stunning rapport; they sense instantaneously when they would like to intensify their playing, or relax for a bit. They have the capacity to spiral into figurations of ever-increasing complexity and virtuosity, but they do so in a way that, rather than flagrantly calling attention to the skill involved, gently leads you into a profound state of awe.

Gaurav is one of the greatest world musicians. He has collaborated with Yehudi Menuhin and also with Philip Glass at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics. He was the first Indian musician in history to play for a pope. He and Kuntal lead a jet-setting career: they played in Syracuse, New York, last night, and are off to Seattle tomorrow. On October 30, they play their last Seattle concert. The next day, they play in Madras, India, and a couple days later, in London!

In light of this, I was astonished by his and Kuntal's humility and graciousness towards me when Tim introduced us afterwards. As they ate, we brainstormed ideas for a Music for the People project in India.

Now, I should go to bed: I must meet them at the Davenport tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. I will not be tired. I cannot wait to enjoy the honor of conversing with such extraordinary musicians and human beings one more time...and who knows what will happen?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sapphire Trio

This past Monday, I spoke about Music for the People at the Spokane Symphony's adult education series. The second half of the evening consisted of a stunning presentation by Dr. Jody Graves, a Spokane-based pianist who teaches at Eastern Washington University. This past May, she was invited by the State Department to tour the Middle East with her group, the Sapphire Trio.

Sponsored by the State Department, the trio went to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. They played for royalty, ambassadors, policemen, American servicemen, and groups of women. They conducted workshops and master classes for students. Their trip was historic in many ways, most memorably:
1. In the past 30 years, Saudi Arabia has granted 23 visas to women, total. Three of those were for the three women of the Sapphire Trio.
2. In the entire history of Bahrain, men had never received instruction from women until their visit, when the women conducted master classes for the police band.

Dr. Graves had several experiences which attest the extraordinary power of cultural diplomacy:
1. A conservative Saudi columnist approached an American diplomat and said something like, "Why don't you send more of these women instead of your Marines and bloodshed?"
2. One woman in Kuwait had always wanted to play a piano and had never seen one in person before the Sapphire concert. Dr. Graves taught her how to play something simple and the woman e-mails her frequently ever since, telling her how this experience changed her life.
3. Twelve women at a university in Kuwait attended the concert. This was the first time in the history of that university that women had attended an event with men. They told Dr. Graves that they finally had the courage to do this because the members of the Sapphire trio are all women.
4. The bagpipe section of the Bahrain police band created a special arrangement of Yankee Doodle to play for the trio
5. They gave an invitation-only concert to Saudi women who had to come to the concert in burqas. None of the women had ever seen a concert before and talked excitedly the whole time about how wonderful it was. One woman cried, saying that in their society women are not allowed emotions and in listening to the music, she finally had the opportunity to express emotion.
6. An American serviceman at a concert at an American embassy told Dr. Graves that he had just gotten to Qatar from Baghdad, and that the concert was his first reminder of what "normal" was.

How differently will those Bahraini policemen treat women, now that they have finally realized they have something to learn from a woman? How differently will women act at that Kuwaiti university now that they have the courage to attend an event with men? All this because of music!

The presentation was very inspiring, and renewed my commitment to the principles which guide Music for the People.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Applications now accepted!

Music for the People is now accepting applications from players of orchestral instruments, pianists, and composers who are interested in participating in a project in 2007. Please click here for more information.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Journal article

The Juilliard Journal published an article I wrote about Project III in its October issue.

Also, Juilliard posted the video of the speech I gave at their opening convocation on September 6. The speech deals with Music for the People and the importance of educational outreach. To view it, click here, click on "Convocation (Sept.2006)," click on William Harvey, and then click on William Harvey Video.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Radio interview

WFIU, the radio station of Indiana University, will broadcast an interview with me at 7:06 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, October 9. If you live near Bloomington, Indiana, I invite you to listen. Otherwise, the interview will later by archived at the site.