Campus Welcomes Northern Indian Music

Seated on a pillow-covered platform at the front of the room, their legs crossed and feet bare, the three musicians at the North Indian music recital this past Sunday were an unexpected sight. The recital, presented by the Music Department, exposed the audience to a pleasantly different style of music. The event also featured Peter Row, a member of the faculty of the New England Conservatory, his teenage son Andrew Row and Askhay Navaladi, a student at Harvard Business School. Sunlight filtered in through the blinds, creating a mysterious, meditative atmosphere as Peter Row balanced a complicated instrument on his lap and shoulder while Navaladi played a rapid and intricate rhythm on a pair of tabla drums. Andrew Row sat between the two, providing accompaniment on the stringed tampura throughout the recital. The performance included several ragas, which can most simply be described as complex melodic outlines over which the musicians improvise. In addition to having a set scale, each raga also has a ‘sentiment,’ or mood, which can range from heroic to meditative. Different ragas can also be played at different times of the day. Peter Row said, “To play a raga at the wrong time of the day is to offend the audience.” Despite the sun shining outside, audience members seemed to enjoy a raga designated for “night.” Between each raga, Peter Row and Navaladi explained how to play their respective instruments, getting into complex music theory. Peter Row opened and concluded the performance by playing a sitar, a guitar-like instrument. The sitar, which translates to ‘three strings,’ actually has 21 strings. However, the majority of the strings lie underneath the frets and sound with the melodic strings without having to be plucked. For a few songs, Peter row switched to the rudra veena, an even larger and more complicated stringed instrument containing two hollow gourds, one of which balanced on his shoulder. Unlike the sitar, whose ringing high notes can be played very quickly, the rudra veena was slow and deep, and despite its large size, made a relatively quiet sound. Peter explained that the rudra veena had once been the king of instruments in India. He commented, “[But in recent centuries] it has been cast aside in favor of the flashy new sitar.” Few musicians play the regal instrument anymore. In fact, Peter Row had to persistently ask for lessons before his mentor agreed to teach him the nearly obsolete instrument. Navaladi’s instrument, the tabla, appeared simple next to Peter’s complicated stringed instruments. However, as Navaladi’s fingers danced at impossible speeds over the stretched membranes, the small drums proved to make an equally intricate sound. Although each instrument created its own distinct and exotic tone, they sounded best when played together. Raquel Gordon ’12 said, “[My favorite raga] was the last one. The tabla and the sitar sound really good together.” Peter Row has performed at Andover three times before. During his last visit, he gave a workshop and sat in on music classes. This weekend’s performance of Indian music took place only a few days after the Indian holiday of Diwali.