Last night (Friday) Dan and I went downtown to see Ravi Shankar at the "Festival of India." I'm not entirely sure why they called it a festival since it was a performance of Indian music at the Society for Performing Arts, formerly Jones Hall. It was a concert, not a festival.
But I digress.
The first half of the concert was a group of musicians and singers from Ravi Shankar's ashram, all led by his daughter Anoushka. Anoushka is only twenty-four but already is a stunningly accomplished sitar player. Of course, she had the best for a teacher and got the right stuff in her DNA as well. Lucky girl. Watching her perform I couldn't help thinking that in another time or place her amazing talent would've gone unnoticed and undeveloped. What a shame that would've been to the musical world! This is why we must support efforts that promote opportunities for all, regardless of gender, race, religion or class. Think what we might be missing!
We were told that after the intermission "The Master" would perform for us, and sure enough once we were back in our seats Ravi's students filed in and sat on the floor off to one side. Then the tamboura and personal tuner came on stage, then the tabla player (applause), then Anoushka (lots of applause), and then finally The Master himself, Ravi Shankar!
Everyone on stage stood, pressed their hands together and bowed to him as he entered and the entire audience rose as well. Although I had sensed the vibe that we would all rise, I was still surprised that the entire audience did it.
Ravi and Anoushka only played three pieces for us, but they were those long pieces, full of improvisation that seem to take up to six years before anyone figures out how to end it. I especially loved the way Ravi and his daughter traded the melody back and forth, getting into a little competetition as to who could do the fanciest improv work. Although they both demonstrated stunning dexterity and talent, Anoushka played with the bright and aggressive intensity of youth, while Ravi's complicated riffs had the mellower character of his eighty five years and his status as one who could showcase his skills without any sense that he had something to prove. The loving smiles they exchanged as they each took turns showing off their talents was almost as good as the music itself.
After they had finished performing and stood up to receive our ovation, Anoushka turned to her father and bowed for his blessing. He placed a gentle hand on her head, but ended up giving her a hug instead.
Some things are even more moving than a virtuoso musical performance.