Sitar, Tabla Performers Introduce Indian Classical Music at the 5Cs

A performance of Indian classical ragas took place at Harvey Mudd College's Drinkward Recital Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 28. With international performers Paul Livingstone on the sitar and Vineet Vyas on the tabla, the evening was an amalgamation of cultures that gave the audience a small taste of Indian classical music. Both people who were familiar with this style of music and those who heard it for the first time were left astounded by its beauty.

The tabla is a small drum that is beat on by the palms of the artist, and it creates a resonant sound that can be very rhythmic and upbeat, contrasting with the more melodic sound of the sitar's plucked strings. While both instruments are now mostly played for recreation, they require several hours of practice and can be performed at temples, on special occasions and anywhere else. Both instruments hold a pathway into Indian culture because they represent a good mixture of complexity and sweet sounds.

From alap, the traditional melodic improvisation that opens a classical piece, to ragas, a typical melodic mode using a series of five to nine musical notes to construct the melody, this evening entailed a variety of interesting musical sequences. The sweet sound of the sitar was complemented by the resonant tabla in a way that cultivated a love for Indian classical music in many people. Professor Nita Kumar helped organize the event and even invited her Bollywood humanities seminar to see the cultural aspects of India.

“The music was very soulful and I loved the jugalbandhi, or interplay between the tabla, sitar and tanpura,” Jahnavi Kothari SC '19 said.

Livingstone and Vyas performed at four to five concerts together before this. After performing two sequences for an hour, the musicians answered questions from the audience. They then started the second part of their performance, which consisted of the Kafi raga—another important raga in traditonial Hindustani classical music.

The unified sound of the tabla and sitar proved very interesting to the audience. One advantage of the universality of classical Indian music, they mentioned, is the ability of artists to perform with anyone without having practiced with them before. They also compared jazz music and Indian classical music, both of which have their own language with the sounds they make.

“I grew up in India listening to maestros, and I think this performance came very close to what I've heard before. But I do believe that influences while growing up affect the kind of music one creates,” Saloni Dhir CM '19 said.

The night ended on a positive note with a standing ovation for the artists and the tanpura player, who provided backing for the other two players. The talent, skill and passion for music in the room seemed almost tangible and left everyone feeling more connected to culture at the end of the night.

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