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Interview with Hasu Patel

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where Are you?
Namaste!! I am fine. I am a Composer, Performer and Educator of Music of India on Sitar, Tabla and Vocal music. I live in Westlake (Cleveland), Ohio USA.       

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
Currently I have the following on my schedule:

A:  I teach Sitar, Tabla and Vocal Music at Oberlin College of Ohio, USA. I have Approx. 25 students in this semester Classical Music of India on Sitar, Tabla, Violin, Double Bass, Guitar, and Flute. I also teach many students at my 'Sursangam School of Music'.

B:  In the Month of November/December, I  will be performing at

    * InterAct Cleveland, Celebrating 15 Years of Interreligious Community
    * Wooster College of Ohio
    * Kriya Yoga Convention in Cleveland, Ohio
    * Sivananda Vedanta Center in Val Morin, Quebec, Canada
    * Oberlin College of Ohio -- my students' Class performances

Can you still remember the first time you heard a sitar? What is it you love so much about the instrument?
My musical training started as Voice training at the very early age of 3 years. My Sitar training started at the age of 6 years. Only thing I remember was that my father had decided for me to learn the Sitar at an early age. What I love so much is that the sound of Sitar connects me with my inner Voice.

George Harrison (whom for many will be their first reference point when it comes to the sitar) once remarked that it took him a year alone to figure out how to sit correctly while learning to play the instrument. How difficult did you experience the first steps yourself? 

My Guruji asked me to imitate him in sitting, holding and/or playing Sitar. So, I just followed his wishes and do not recall any trouble in seating or complaints from Guruji. My training was a very vigorous 8 hours everyday. I enjoyed the challenges that were required to learn Raga Sangeet.

You were one of the students of Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib. What can you tell us about him?

I was so fortunate that my Guruji, Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib extended his blessing to be his Student. I called him ' Abba'. He once told me along with many in the meeting, that I have two more  lives to play like him. He was truly a musician of musicians.

The booklet of your CD, “Gayaki Sitar”, mentions that you had to overcome quite a few “odds” during your career. What were they?
In India, being a female musician means that is very hard to be recognized as a musician both in the professional and non-professional world. This was the greatest challenge in my life. But this strong conviction put me today as an accomplished female Sitarist.

Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib also taught you how to play the “Gayaki Ang” style, which aims at playing the sitar as though one were singing through it. How does it work?
'Gayaki Ang' is a style of playing where the Sitar replicates the fluidity and subtle nuances of the human voice. My Guruji, the late Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib has redesigned the Sitar to give the 700 year old instrument a deeper resonance. Music listeners will notice his beautifully distinctive style of playing, where he pulls rather than plucks the strings. It is very different than most playing in the sense that the musician connects the techniques and spirituality.

Ragas are often described as extremely complex compositions. What exactly happens in a raga? Are there certain fixed parameters? Do western-classical terms like “motive” or “theme” still have a relevance?
Raga is a specific selection of melodic structure which is the basis for composition and improvisation. A Raga is distinguished by particular swaras (notes) characteristic progressions, motives, emphasis associated Rasas (sentiments) and time of the performance. Rasas are the aesthetic relish or flavor of the Raga. 

For “Gayaki Sitar” you chose to do a recording of “ancient ragas in their pristine purity”. What was your personal inspiration to go back to the roots of the raga?
In my CD - GAYAKI SITAR, the ragas that are recorded are old and popular. I was trained very extensively. Since young age playing Sitar everyday brought me closer to the spirituality. To be with the Divine power, I was inspired to play these ragas in their pristine purity.    

How important is the raga still today in India to a new generation of music lovers and musicians?
The Classical Music of North India known as Hindustani music is very much alive with the new generation of musicians. I have heard many young musicians with so much zeal and dedication that the music will add a new dimension of aesthetic sense along with the Raga structure.      

In which way has the study of classical Indian music influenced your own compositions?
Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib was a legend and had seven generation of lineage in the music of his style. I feel as moral duty to keep this tradition alive through playing and teaching.

You’ve also done various “duets” with Western classical and Jazz musicians. Did you feel there was a mutual understanding between these two worlds? What did you personally learn from these encounters?
Yes, I did some collaborations with Western and Jazz musicians. One has to respect and honor each other's music. The Western musicians were humble and thrilled to play the Music of India. We played together melodies - Ragas and enjoyed it immensely.

Do your live programs differ substantially, when playing to a Western audience when compared to an Indian one?
NO. The majority of my performances I have played to the Western audience. Both, Western and Indian audience are so respectful to my playing.

You are also the founder of the Susana School of Music in Westlake, Ohio. What is the most important lesson you teach your students?
To learn Classical Music is a commitment. It needs dedication and discipline. One needs to respect the music and Guruji. 

You played at the Woodstock Reunion Festival. How did it feel taking the place of Ravi Shankar thirty years after his legendary performance?
To play at Woodstock Festival was truly an honor and a great  experience as a female performer. I still feel the vibrations of the place and music. The audience was very receptive and appreciative.

Gayaki Sitar (1996)

Hasu Patel

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