Indian music has a kinship with jazzby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
We're sampling the ever-increasing variety of ethnic music in Minnesota in a series called "Notes from Home." In this installment, music from India.
Minneapolis, Minn. — In the office of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, students of the tabla, the traditional drum and signature beat of Indian music, are warming up. One of their teachers is Allalaghatta Pavan.
Pavan is also former president of the Indian Music Society of Minnesota. He's been studying the tabla for 28 years, but is reluctant to refer to himself as a master.
"I feel like I've just about begin to scratch the surface. Especially with my teacher around these days, that's how I feel," Pavan says.
Pavan's teacher is tabla virtuoso Ustad Shabbir Nisar. Nisar flew in from India especially for the workshop. He starts to voice the sounds he wants the students to produce on their drums.
The workshop is one of several educational programs the Indian Music Society of Minnesota (IMSOM) offers. The organization started 26 years ago to provide a taste of home to first-generation Indian immigrants. The number of Asian Indians in Minnesota has risen significantly since then, up to more than 30,000 in 2005.
Pavan says IMSOM still serves that community. But it's also fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the classical music of India in the larger population.
According to Pavan, the best way to learn about Indian music is to attend one of the many concerts IMSOM presents throughout the year. They feature some of the most talented Indian musicians in the world.
Pavan says Indian music is thousands of years old, extremely complex and is very demanding of the musicians.
"They tend to perform in spaces where there's a captive audience, which is there primarily for the music, with no distractions, because it really takes a little bit of intent listening to really get into it," Pavan says.
Raga and tala are the driving forces of Indian classical music. Raga is the melodic framework, tala is its rhythmic structure. Indian music is very improvisational and spontaneous. Raga and tala inform how the improvisations and embellishments are carried out.
Pavan says a common understanding of this musical architecture allows any two Indian musicians to begin collaborating immediately.
"Sometimes people in the West find it so strange that two Indian musicians who have never crossed paths would meet and just create music on the spot," Pavan says. "And that can only happen because these fundamentals are so strongly defined and cultivated over the centuries by the great masters."
You can divide Indian classical music into two different styles, North and South. South Indian music, or Carnatic music, has what Pavan calls a "spiritual, devotional" fervor to it. Approximately half of all Carnatic music is composed songs.
North Indian music is also known as Hindustani music. Pavan says 90 percent of Hindustani music is improvisational, with occasional bits of text sounding romantic, social, and even political themes.
In the West, the sitar is probably the best-known Indian instrument. But there's also the veena, which resembles an overgrown banjo, an Indian fiddle called the sarangi, and the shehnai, commonly known as the Indian oboe.
Pavan says Indian music shares a kinship with jazz. It's a gift from musician to audience, created right in that moment, never to be repeated again.
But to truly realize that gift, Pavan says listeners need to patient.
"The buildup is really, really, really slow," Pavan says. "Sometimes for the western listener, there is no instant gratification, if you will. It's a journey into that musical space. That is the most important aspect of Indian music."
The greatest audience growth for IMSOM-sponsored concerts is coming from outside the local Indian community.
Allalaghatta Pavan isn't surprised.
"It's the draw of the music, most certainly," he says. "I mean, this music has crystallized to its present form over two, three thousand years. So that amount of refinement and sophistication that has gone into it clearly has to mean something."
Pavan says the Indian Music Society of Minnesota has played a small, but important role in not only raising the profile of Indian music, but ethnic music in general. Given the growing diversity of the state's population, he says that can only be a good thing.
- All Things Considered, 08/29/2006, 4:49 p.m.