A season of ragas ends on a high note



By Rajeev Gupta

After enjoying a formidable line-up of musicians at concerts this season, audiences will meet sitarist Josh Feinberg and  vocalist Manjiri Asanare-Kelkar at Raag-Mala’s last  concert of 2018.

Manjiri’s khayal singing has drawn listeners to remark that she will remain a voice that spans not just two octaves but also two centuries. 

Her rich tonal quality reveals her tutelage under Madhusudhan Kanetkar, Padma Tawalkar and the late Kishori Amonkar. Her temporal approach is consistent with the Jaipur Atrauli gharana’s style, of which Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar, Mallikarjun Mansur and Dhondutai Kulkarni are stalwarts.

She has received accolades at music conferences in India including Harvallabh Music Festival, Dover Lane, ITC Sangeet Sammelan and Sangeet Natak Academy. One lesser known fact about her is this: she also trained in Kathak since age six!

Josh Feinberg, also grew up in a musical family in Long Island, just outside New York City. He began his education in western classical music and didn’t discover raag based Indian classical music until his late teens.

He was fortunate to get an opportunity to train under Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Josh remembers Khan sahib as a very generous teacher who shared all his knowledge with his pupils and never withheld anything.

Khan sahib was also famously patient. One time he made Feinberg repeat a piece over and over, 30 to 40 times, in a class full of students, until he got it right. Later, when Josh touched Khan sahib’s feet to apologize for not getting it right sooner, Ustad ji said, “Sometimes it takes longer to grasp a new concept”.

 The guru-shishya tradition was strong in Josh’s musical education. He explains why this tradition of spending hours with the teacher from dawn to dusk was once a necessity. “There were no means of recording. For a student to hear the correct notes and melody, the teacher had to be with the student to perform or sing. But now, students can practise at home and replay the guru’s recording.”

Technology has made teaching and learning more efficient.

Another huge influence on Josh’s music was Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. It was Panditji’s sitar that introduced Josh to Indian classical music when he was sixteen years old. “He was a musical legend! His soul-searching music was complex and displayed technical virtuosity.”

Josh is familiar with the theory of time and seasons, as well as the overall spiritual nature of raag-based music. He appreciates how different raags influence human physiology and depict feelings.

Even though he follows the time theory in his performances and plays the appropriate raags for the time of day, he laments how this keeps many beautiful raags from being performed and appreciated. Raag Chadrakauns, for example, is a raag for the middle of the night and hence is usually absent at most evening concerts, except, perhaps, at Raag-Mala’s concert during Nuit Blanche.

Which raag Josh plans to play will be a surprise, but Shuddh Madh-yam is the swar that is close to his heart. When asked for his favourite raag, he said, “Oh so many, Hemant Behag, and Hem-Behag which is less frequently performed, then Purya Kalyan, Dhanshree, Jhinjhoti, Piloo, and Khamaj.”

To conclude my brief chat with Josh, I asked his opinion of mainstream Bollywood music. “That’s western pop music sung in Hindi,” he quipped.

When and where: Saturday, October 27 at 7pm. Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. West. Tickets: Sulekha.com. Manoshi: 416-276-5616.

• Rajeev Gupta is a Raag-Mala Toronto volunteer.

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