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Two Recognized Masters of Bamboo Flute & Santoor

By Tim Britton

Full text version

"In the beginning there was The Word."

The Bible is not alone in acknowledging the profound power of sound. Indeed, the further scientists probe into the source of causation itself, the more it is revealed that everything is simply vibrating energy, and everything effects everything else. We shouldn't be surprised, then, to find that such consciously focused vibration as music has an acute affection the environment as well as on such sensitive organisms as ourselves.

It was once quite common to relax after a hard day's work to the luxuriant sounds of a favorite record spinning away on a turn table, amplified by the warm glow of tubes driving speakers that were honored pieces of furniture. This scenario has been replaced by the over stimulation of TV and now computers, with stereos devolving into glorified clock radios.

Into this ironic arena comes Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, always in search of ways to bring human life into deeper accord with the fundamental integrity of creation. Among his many projects, he has been reviving the ancient science of music known in India as Gandharva Veda. Although basically synonymous with the classical Indian music made famous by the likes of sitar master Ravi Shankar, Maharishi has restored its original focus as a pure expression of the consummately subtle balance of nature, rather than the performance orientation it has gained in recent times. It may seem an indiscernible difference, but as a performing musician myself, I know how intention alone can change everything. In this case, the intention is to promote harmony in the physiology, psyche, and environment of the listener. It's even suggested to play the recordings around the clock, even when no one is present, with different pieces corresponding to the natural cycles from sunrise, to sunset, to sunrise.

My first chance to really appreciate the effect of Maharishi Gandharva Veda was about ten years ago when I purchased a set of the vocal tapes. At the time, I lived in a one-room studio that housed my workshop, as well as my bed, kitchen, and office. It was just after10:00 p.m., so I put on the tape designated for 10:00 p.m. to 1:00a.m. Now this is the time that Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health, prescribes for going to bed. I, however, being self-employed and living in my workspace, was just sitting down to burn a bit of midnight oil, when the leader on the tape gave way to the most haunting cosmic moan that had ever found my ears. Dumbstruck, I stopped before I started. It was clearly not time to indulge work holism. I walked over to my bed, lay down, and picked up abed side book. No dice. This music demanded full surrender. Having no choice, I closed my eyes and floated away into something far more sumptuous than sleep.

Dozens of concerts and CDs later, we have the subject of this article, the latest releases, two sets of eight CDs or tapes each. Of particular interest are the artists chosen for the projects. The musicians have always been awe inspiring and the recording quality exemplary, but for these, my own excitement peaked when I heard that they had commissioned two of my long-time idols. Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Shiv Kumar Sharma are the recognized masters of bamboo flute and santoor. Even their names inspire ecstasy in myself and all who know them. The selfless devotion with which they have given themselves to this venerable tradition has enabled them to become that tradition, expanding it along with its audience. Both have significantly evolved the technique, pundit Sharma having totally redesigned an instrument that was considered by the orthodoxy as incapable of scaling the heights of Indian classical music. He persevered alone, eventually vindicated with the highest honors. Both have received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award, among numerous others.

If you have never heard Indian bamboo flute, the lush, liquid resonance will bring the hair up on the back of your neck. With Hari Prasad at the helm, the long opening notes will engulf you with the depth and breadth of the fathomless ocean. As the raga progresses, the ease with which the waterfall of buttered notes fall from his fingers will disarm you.

Shiv Kumar Sharma's delicate touch on the santoor has quite a different effect. A relative of the hammered dulcimer, the santoor is he ancestor to the piano, with a much more ethereal tone. Shiv Kumar's playful innocence belies an inscrutable subtlety that draws one in to a delight-filled place, unknown yet familiar. Although each melody is designed for a particular time of day, they also each enliven a different quality such as peace and devotion, celebration and joy, success, or relaxation. Two of the santoor recordings can be played at other times as well. Whether these would be your first introduction to the wonders of Gandharva Veda, or you are looking for something new to add to your collection, I can't recommend them more highly.

(Tim Britton is an acclaimed Irish piper, member of the band Sage, and owner of Pied Piper Productions, promoting the magic of music through the finest handmade instruments, stereo equipment, and recordings)

 

1998 Tim Britton

Copyright by Maharishi World Centre of Gandharva Veda, India.