Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prelude: A symphony of (Spanish?) timbres and textures

Earlier tonight Washington's unique and adventurous Post-Classical Ensemble presented a splendid program of music--mostly lesser heard--from a range of Spanish composers, as well as one of Villa-Lobos' Choros, No. 7. And so it was with a particular sense of fortuitous spiritual resonance that I celebrated the 45th anniversary of my ganda-bandhan with my wife, Shubha Sankaran, in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center.

After I have a chance to obtain a bit of background on the works chosen from PCM's extraordinary conductor, Angel Gil-Ordonez, I will write at greater length about this fine program later--amidst my musings on various of the Arabesque offerings (see previous entry below), also at the Kennedy Center, during the past week and those two forthcoming. But for the moment, I am still in a somewhat transformed state of being, as my thoughts churn with more than fifty years of music and memories, amidst continuing echoes of the rich and varied timbres and resonances of tonight's memorable concert.

* * * * * * *

But please permit me here a personal entry on this occasion:

Of all the days in the year, 1 March holds for me the greatest and most important network of musical associations.

To begin with, it was my late mother's birthday. Born on 1 March 1901, Madelyn Cannon Stewart Silver was a child of the new twentieth century, and was always forward-looking, with broad perspectives, both aesthetic and social. Today would have been her 108th birthday--108 being a number of great sigificance and auspiciousness in Hindu and Buddhist culture. In her marvellous book, The Mystery of Numbers, my late senior colleague (with whom I taught at Harvard) Annemarie Schimmel notes, among other instances, that prayer beads are 108 in number, and that the ever amorous (in the godly sense, of course) the Hindu deity Krishna had, in addition to his beloved consort Radha, 108 gopis (cowmaidens) with whom he would engage in dance and erotic play. . . . .

My mother was always supportive of my musical interests; my late father, an inventor and an immensely practical man, once expressed his concern that I might turn into a "banjo-picking pantywaist" if (because I wanted to stay back and practice) I did not accompany my hardy male Romney cousins on a fishing trip in Utah's Wasatch Mountains, where my mother's brother and sisters had summer homes adjacent to ours. During my high school years in Denver, my home town, I was a regular performer with my late friend and mentor Vaughan Aandahl for the very substantial local Hispanic community. It was in this connection that Mother surprised me with the gift on my 18th birthday of a superb Flamenco guitar from the celebrated Spanish luthier, Jose Ramirez.

And so it was that date in 1965 that I chose for the occasion of becoming a virtual son of my wonderful sitar teacher, the late Ghulamhussain Khan, in the ganda-bandhan (thread-tying) ceremony--the most important rite of passage in the entire life of a serious practitioner of Indian classical music. My mother had died at the beginning of my sophomore year of college (1961), but her spirit has remained with me in myriad ways (not only musical) throughout my life, and I could find no better way to honor her living memory, and to seek her blessings in my forthcoming musical ventures, by choosing that day to become a lifelong disciple of my ustad (the equivalent term in Muslim culture to guru, and also a title--like pandit for Hindu musicians)--for master Muslim musicians.)

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