Thursday, February 19, 2009

I was recently sent this image of myself from late December of 1992, in Lucknow, India. I think my friend Paul Brians took this photo, and somehow it languished on a WSU image database for years until a friend happened to see it and sent it. "Is that you?!"

I heard the musician on the left for awhile before I found him. I kept hearing bits and echoes of soaring melodies fading into the hum of the streets. And suddenly there he was, walking through the streets of Lucknow selling bamboo flutes (whistles, really) by playing very lovely improvisations on bhajan (Hindu hymn) tunes. So I bought one and finagled a lesson on the spot. Our lesson immediately attracted the attention of kids in the area who began pressuring parents to buy flutes and for a few minutes this fellow did very good business, but it was clear that he feared attracting too much attention and soon made a quick exit. I have always been drawn to this sort of Indian music that thrives under the radar of "classical" music, which, while wonderful, is also burdened by the rigorous hierarchies of British India as well as its own aristocratic heritage. Competitions, grades, judges. But there are plenty of musicians like this fellow, who played soulfully and beautifully without those institutions, whose improvisations may or may not correspond with classical ragas, but follow the rules of a more human raga.

This photo also serves as a cautionary tale to me, growing my hair long again...In six months I will look as scruffy as I did in this photo, except with a lot more gray hair.

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