Many people here use the phrase “classical music” to describe works from mostly Western traditions. Amirali Alibhai, Head of Programming at the Aga Khan Museum wants to change this.
“We need to re-think classical music in the context of a more global, more diverse understanding of culture” he says. “We need to expand our awareness of classical music to include traditions of India, Indonesia and countries of the Middle East, among others, and bring them into the mainstream zeitgeist”.
The Aga Khan Museum is partnering with Raag-Mala Toronto to present the first in the Museum’s Classical Concerts series featuring non-Western traditions, with a program of instrumental and vocal music from North India.
“We couldn’t have chosen a more compelling start than to have a sitar recital by Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee and a lecture-demonstration and vocal recital by Sri Warren Senders,” says Manoshi Chatterjee, who is on the programming team of Raag-Mala. “Both artists have performed previously to rave reviews for Raag-Mala”.
That Budhaditya Mukherjee is one of the finest sitar players in India today cannot be disputed. He started learning sitar at the age of five from his father Pandit Bimalendu Mukherjee who was trained by Pandit Jitendramohan Sengupta, a disciple of Ustad Enayat Khan, the father of Ustad Vilayat Khan.
Steeped in the gayaki ang (singing style) of the Imdadkhani gharana, Budhaditya was heralded as a prodigy early in his career. The iconic filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who was a composer himself, said this of Budhaditya when he was in his early 20’s: “I was stunned after hearing him. He is incredibly good; really extraordinary”.
The great Veena maestro late S.Balachander said, “I felt that I was listening to the Sitar Artist of the Century”.
Over the years, Budhaditya has continued to garner plaudits and awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award from the President of India in 2010, arguably a couple of decades later than he deserved to.
“Few musicians today, and I am including vocalists and other instrumentalists, are able to tease out the rasa (feeling/mood) of a raag as satisfyingly as does Panditji”, says Raag-Mala’s Chatterjee, adding, “We are truly blessed to have him lead off the Classical Concerts series”.
One thinks that a person raised in the suburbs of Boston, with no connection to Indian music, would be an unlikely expert on shastria sangeet.
How, then, did Warren Senders become a renowned musicologist, composer and performer of Hindustani music?
“I always liked music with drones – I enjoyed listening to highland bagpipes, and then I heard Ravi Shankar’s Music Festival from India, and was fascinated by it”, says Senders. Shortly thereafter, a friend lent him albums by Bhimsen Joshi, the Dagar Brothers, and Prabha Atre.
After all these years, he can effortlessly reel off the names of the raags in each of the albums (Joshi’s Marwa and Komal Rishab Asavari, Dagars’ Darbari and Adana, and Atre’s Maru Behag and Kalavati).. This testifies not just to his formidable memory but also to his deep feelings for the music.
He found a music teacher in Boston, and delved into the theory and practise of raag music. In his mid-20’s Senders traveled to Pune to learn from the masters, including spending some time with the maestro Bhimsen Joshi.
However, it was after meeting Pandit Shreeram Devasthali in 1986 that Senders feels that his life as a khayal singer began in earnest. “Panditji was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and one of the most demanding”, says Senders. “And spending a long time studying with him was a totally life-changing experience for me”. He also met his future wife Vijaya, who was also his Guru’s student.
In addition to his passion for shastria sangeet, Senders is deeply committed to climate change activism. A picture on his Facebook page shows him holding a placard with the words: “Save the Earth – It Is The Only Planet With Music”.
For a year now, Senders has been keeping daily vigil at a major intersection near his home with signs that read “Climate Change is Real” and “Ignorance is No Excuse” – all the time doing his riyaaz of various raags.
His erudite posts on Facebook each day following the vigil provide a clue to his articulate and engaging lecture-demonstration and recital at Raag-Mala in 2012. His presentation at the Classical Concerts series on September 25th is sure to add to the number of admirers of this charismatic artist.