Learning from the Best: Music Students Sit with Indian Sitar Master


A group of music students, some of them holding guitars and other instruments, sat in a semi-circle, listening intently for ninety minutes as the man with the sitar spoke and played for them. His name is Ustad Usman Khan, and he’s regarded as one of the greatest living sitar players, said music professor Vineet Shende, who brought Khan to campus to hold workshops and to perform in a concert with tabla player Ravi Albright on April 13th, 7:30 PM  at Studzinski Hall.

These students are taking Shende’s Mus 3502: Beyond Western Harmony class, and this workshop provides them with a glimpse into the complex rhythms and harmonies of Indian classical music. Khan explains a few basic melodic patterns, and some of the students join in to play a tune based on a traditional Indian raga

Now in his eighth decade, Khan has been performing for seventy years, said Shende. “His family have been musicians going back six generations, and he’s a third-generation sitar master,” he explained. “His grandfather was the legendary Ustad Rehmat Khan, who in the nineteenth century codified the sitar into its modern-day form.”

Shende himself is a renowned composer who has studied Indian classical music in depth. His works often draw heavily on that genre. His String Quartet No. 2 in Raag Ahir-Bhairav, a work that seeks to synthesize the worlds of Western and Indian classical music, recently enjoyed its world premiere in a concert at Bowdoin.

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