Posts Tagged ‘Flynn Theatre’

Bigger than both of us

November 23rd, 2013

Anoushka_ShankarLast night I saw Anoushka Shankar at the Flynn Theatre in Burlington. My mother took me to see her father, the great Ravi Shankar, when I was a teenager.  My recollection is that he performed in a junior high school auditorium, and that may indeed have been the case.  Back in those days, I don’t think Ravi Shankar would have been filling concert halls in places like Buffalo, New York.  I might be wrong, though.  Maybe I saw him at Kleinhans.  Be that as it may, it was the beginning of a lifelong love of Indian classical music for me.  Now Anoushka is selling out the Flynn, and she is very much her father’s daughter, and very much her own person.

So-called “world” and “fusion” music generally doesn’t do much for me. The Mahavishnu Orchestra and its like bore me to tears.  All their virtuosity produces nothing more than spectacular noodling; they seem to be masters of nothing but their instruments.  Paul Winter et al. are pretty ornaments for the holiday season, but not much more.  In short, I find most of it empty and/or shallow. 

 Not so with Anoushka Shankar.  A master of the northern Indian classical tradition, she also has thoroughly assimilated our culture’s music.  She is not striving to create a fusion, she is the fusion.  Consequently, when she joins her sitar with a piano, and cellos, and a trap drum set in addition to a tabla and shenai and mridangam, and even throws in what sounded to me very much like chords on the sitar (is that possible?), and weaves harmonic structures in together with straight-ahead Indian raga-based voice-and-rhythm, it all sounds seamless, deep, and authentic.  (And there are layers upon layers of “fusion” here.  Mridangam and shenai are based in the south Indian musical tradition, whereas the sitar and tabla are north Indian. Maybe we should call this “laminated” music.)  What “authentic” means in this context I can’t really say, except I knows it when I hears it.  It has something to do with integrity and directness of expression.

I was transported, in that lovely way the best Indian classical music can do. The sounds took me over and washed me clean.  But this had something extra.  Very often, in a classical Indian concert, I do not have a clear understanding of what I am responding to, because I did not grow up with the tradition and I don’t really “get” the meanings of its inflections and vocabulary.  The program notes, for example, will tell me “this is an evening raga which inspires a sense of peacefulness and devotion.”  Well, alright, but what makes it different from a morning raga or a late-midafternoon snacktime raga?  Got me.  And what is so peaceful and devoted about this last section where the sitar is going like the blazes and the tabla player’s hands are a blur? By contrast, Anoushka’s music, which is steeped in my language, speaks to me.  She manages to combine the personal expressiveness of western music with the impersonal spirituality of her native tradition.  It’s a powerful combination.  The example from the concert that comes to mind is “In Jyoti’s Name,” inspired by the woman who was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi last year.  Beware: on the CD, which seems to be tailored for western ears, this piece is considerably watered down.  Heard live last night, it was a meditation on grief and rage that managed to comprehend both the personal and the collective aspects of these emotions, and also presented them as forces in their own right.

I sometimes think I must be a tiresome person to sit next to at an Indian music concert, if I am enjoying it, because my head bobs and waves ceaselessly and I tap my feet and bounce in my chair.  Can’t help it, I’m afraid.  This is bigger than both of us.


Finger on the pulse

December 14th, 2011

The Tea Party's Bitch

On public radio this morning, I heard three stories whose rapid juxtaposition seems to illustrate perfectly this moment in our society’s life.

First, congressional Republicans were playing politics with extension of tax breaks for the working classes.  The version they passed would have paid for the tax break by freezing federal employees’ wages,  instead of the funding mechanism proposed by the Democrats to increase taxes slightly on the highest income earners.  The GOP bill also contained a “poison pill” provision that they knew would be unacceptable to the Senate Democrats and the President.   The poison pill would, if enacted, force the President to decide quickly whether to allow construction of an unnecessary and environmentally questionable oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, rather than wait until after the election.  I guess the idea is to divert attention from the GOP’s unwillingness to increase taxes on the richest of the rich for any purpose whatsoever, and to allow themselves to say the Democrats oppose both working class tax breaks and “jobs creation.”  As an added bonus, in this age of climate change they get to continue the pretense on behalf of their corporate masters that protection of the  environment conflicts with economic development.  Of course the cynicism is breathtaking.  To add to the bizarro world flavor of our national politics, later today, a Senate vote on the bill was blocked by… Senate Republicans playing politics!  But read on…

The second story was about testimony before a legislative committee by a woman in her eighties, concerning the cuts to the federal home heating assistance program proposed by the Obama administration.  Funding to help poor people buy fuel for heat would be cut roughly in half.  She was talking about what a reduction in this assistance would mean to her, this winter.  Last winter, she kept her thermostat at 60 to save money on heat.  This winter, she’s wondering what she has to give up in order to keep from freezing – food? medications?

The third story was about a local arts center, the Flynn Theatre.  It has just received an anonymous $1,000,000 donation to help replace its  squeaky seats.