September 28, 2014
This morning eight William Paterson University students joined me on my first hike-in musical event. I’ve been dreaming of doing this for some time and it was every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be. The premise is simple: hike somewhere with some folks, stop and make music, then hike back. Here we are in the parking lot:
Some of these students are in in my Indian Music class, and the others heard about it and decided to join us. All of them are smart, hard working, and creative. We talked as we walked, about a forty-minute hike to the top of High Mountain. They asked me all manner of questions about music, practicing, and life, which I answered as best I could. I also asked them questions about their lives, which are varied and interesting. As a professor I am by definition in the business of being a leader and a role model for these young talents, but it’s a position that strangely makes me uncomfortable. As I go deeper and deeper into music my feeling of humility grows ever stronger. Although it’s true I’ve built a good career for myself and had many professional experiences that are worth sharing with my students, in some sense that is all superficial. The real core of music is as mysterious to me now as it was thirty years ago when I embarked on this path. What do I really know? Only that I love music as much as ever, and am grateful to be on this journey.
So we hiked. The weather was gorgeous. The fall colors shimmered in the slight breeze. We found a good pace that worked for everyone and soon enough we were at the top of the mountain. We made ourselves comfortable on a big rock and got underway. I brought a drone box up to serve as the tanpura, and also a nice silk kurta to complete the picture:
I sang Raag Todi, one of the most powerful and deep ragas of North Indian Hindustani music. I sang it in the traditional Dhrupad style, with alaap, jor, jhala, and then the bandish (composition). The text for the composition was most appropriate. It’s a very old one about the mystery of music and how people who say they know a lot about music don’t actually know much at all.
I found I was a little nervous. It took some time for me to calm down and get my voice stable, but the breeze helped smooth things out a bit. You miss some nuance when you’re not under the microphone, but it’s also a bit more comfortable and less exposed.
As I explored Todi the sun grew ever higher in the sky. The students could see New York City from their vantage point. I had my eyes closed most of the time, but when I opened them I noticed that they were attentive and seemed at peace. Dhrupad is very natural in many ways. Combining it with natural settings amplifies its power.
After I finished we discussed the raga for a few minutes and then headed back down. Again we talked and again I was impressed with how committed they are to a life in music. They know it’s not easy, but they also know that creative music is as important to the human condition as air, water, and sunlight. It was a wonderful morning; one I will never forget. I’m honored to have shared it with such extraordinary young people. The future of creative music bright indeed.