Singing with 19 Strings

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Veena Chandra & Devesh Chandra
A Tribute to the Legends: Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan
New York Open Center, March 2, 2013
 
Not claiming to be any expert on Classical Indian music, I am naturally drawn to its wondrous reverberations and deeply enjoy the trance-like influence that overcomes me when surrounded by the sounds of the sitar and tabla. This past Saturday I was privileged to have just that kind of experience. In a tribute to Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan, Veena Chandra (sitar) and her son Devesh Chandra (tabla) mesmerized an audience of open ears with classical pieces played by these late, great masters of the art form. With the loss of the likes of Shankar and Khan, it is difficult for me to imagine that I will see a greater performance of these pieces than the one I witnessed that night.

It would not take a trained ear or eye to hear and see that Veena Chandra works musical magic with a sitar tilting across her lap. The speed and intricacies of the pieces she seamlessly glides through are thrilling and her bending of notes in calmer moments awakens a presence within. The emotions that emanate are rich, weaving a seductive story which beckons the listener in, inciting me at times into a sort of involuntary swaying motion. Devesh Chandra has clearly inherited his mother’s musical gifts and is an accomplished player of the tabla. In more supporting moments he maintains the rhythmic cycle, or "tal," providing a steady base for the sitar to play off of with its scales or modes, called "rag," but in moments of soloing (a unique occurrence of putting the tabla player in the spotlight which Veena Chandra informed us was a break with tradition initiated by Shankar himself), Devesh transcends. The complexity and speed of the rhythms he is able to maintain while generating a wide variety of sounds and intonations from the tabla, all with crisp clarity, is something truly amazing to witness.

What little I do know about Classical Indian music is that despite what may sound free-form and ambient to the Western ear, it is strictly structured and guided by cycles of rhythmic patterns, which are kept by the person playing tabla, and matching scales, played with the sitar. While my ignorance concerning this style of music is vast, concerts like this make the prospect of correcting that deficiency all the more enticing. Anyone interested in exposing themselves to these beautiful and emotive styles and sounds, which pre-date most of what we call music, would do well to attend the next concert held by Veena Chandra and Devesh Chandra. - C. Jefferson Thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

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