Aged to Perfection (Ravi Shankar)

October 19, 2009 on 8:57 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Solo Piping, Stories | Comments Off on Aged to Perfection (Ravi Shankar)

I had a great night last Saturday. I was treated to a concert of Indian classical music. And what a treat. None other than the world’s greatest exponent of the art was centre stage, sitar in hands. Ravi Shankar, the eighty-nine years old living legend, and his twenty-eight years old daughter, the remarkable, Anoushka, enthralled the sold out audience with non-stop musical virtuosity.

Anyone who knows my music will know, that from time-to-time, I’ve been inspired by South Asian influences. My “Shimla Hum” project drew on sitar, tanpura and tabla sounds. Though, you know what, after experiencing the real thing, live ragas in full-flight and played at the highest level, I’ve been so naive. Good intentioned – but naive.

The raga is an interesting art form. A melodic, heavily improvised, exploration of a simple theme, the raga might be compared, to a fair (yet limited) extent with pibroch. I’ll leave it to you to delve in to the raga and make your own comparison but I will suggest, the level of performance sophistication and musicianship required to deliver a raga exceeds what’s needed to deliver a postively impactful pibroch.

Right now, I don’t want to dwell on the music. It’s Ravi Shankar I want to talk about. I mean, eighty-nine! He’ll be ninety in April! Sure he may’ve been helped to his place by his (strikingly beautiful) daughter, Anoushka, but once seated, he displayed calm, controlled, musicianship. His ability to move his aged hands up and down the lengthy expanse of the sitar – and at sometimes impressive tempos – is other worldly. What magnificent music. This old master made some seriously great energy happen.

Relative to the overall number of Highland bagpipers in the world, it seems to me there’re few who actively perform past age fifty or so. Outside of pipe bands it’s a real rarity. In fact, come to think of it, outside of non-competing pipe bands it’s still a rarity.

Maybe with more performance venues, places other than solo competitions for instance, we might see piping “Ravis” appear. To now we’ve been pretty good fostering a youth movement in the piping game.

I see Ravi Shankar making remarkably beautiful, masterful music on the cusp of his tenth decade. We need to think about nurturing a piping master’s movement, one that has nothing to do with prunes – or competitions.


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