Frozen Music

Reviving a cross-cultural genre called Hindoostani Airs,Pandit Ravi Shankar’s student,Barry Phillips,spearheads a new music album

Written by Suanshu Khurana | Published: September 29, 2013 5:12:46 am

In 18th century Calcutta which was a melting pot of English,Mughal and Hindu cultures,a music scene was brewing. English musicians,playing harpsichords were learning Indian music and performing their renditions of it. Taught by nautch girls who visited British households,they would stay on for music sessions after soirees. In the homes of well-heeled,influential English women,these English artistes would notate Indian music and play it on western instruments.

Called Hindoostani Airs,it resulted in a melange of north Indian and British musical traditions,a first-of-its-kind cross-cultural exchange that flourished for some years and was eventually forgotten. Now,renowned cellist and Pandit Ravi Shankar’s student Barry Phillips and Linda Burman-Hall,harpsichordist and director of the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival,are bringing this genre to the fore. The two along with Lux Musica Ensemble and

percussionist Debopriyo Sarkar have recorded an

album Raga & Raj (East Meets West Music),which was

heard and approved by Shankar,few months before he passed away.

“We found this to be pretty amazing and inspiring,so Linda wrote a proposal to The Creative Work Fund in San Francisco and they funded us,” says Phillips,who began writing the music at the Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts (RIMPA) in Delhi in 2010; it took him nine months. “I am so thankful that he (Shankar) had heard this and had several constructive comments for the mockup. He called me after hearing the final recording and said he liked it and was proud of me,” said Phillips,who recorded the album at University of California at Santa Cruz Recital Hall. The CD release of Raga & Raj comes three years after it was recorded. Featuring compositions by American composer Lou Harrison,18th century conductor and musician William Hamilton Bird and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and arranged by Phillips and Burman-Hall,the music of Raga & Raj is built on the affinities and vibrations between north Indian and British musical traditions of the late 1700s and early 1800s.

In one of the sections called Eight Ragas,Phillips takes eight different Indian ragas “for inspiration and to guide the eight movement composition” but treats each one individually. Quiet Hour is based on mysterious ragas such as Lalit and Puriya Dhanashree while Brindavan Forest is inspired by the energetic raag Vrindavani Sarang. Phillips has also taken Paluskar’s famous bhajan Raghupati raghav raja ram and added Baroque-inspired harmonies to the devotional track. “I’ve been horrified by the idea of creating hybrid music that misses the point. For me,to love both western and eastern music is one thing,but to combine them can be risky. What do you come out with,the best of both? Or does one tradition cancel the other? I’m sure a composer could almost insult every culture they are inspired by in combining musical styles,but I do hope that my love of eastern and western music will save me,” says Phillips.

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