Bansari flutes, tablas and ragas are a hit in Emerson

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Steve Gorn on bansani flute accompanied by Rob Morrison on tabla in Emerson Auditorium before the concert (Jenna Salisbury I Concordiensis)

On Monday, April 18 at 5 p.m., famous bansuri flutist, Steve Gorn, held a small concert in Emerson Auditorium in the Taylor Music Center. The concert featured the musical stylings of North Indian classical music. According to Gorn, North Indian classical music, also known as Hindustani classical music, is unique in that it includes elements of both classical and jazz styles.

Accompanying Gorn was percussionist, Rob Morrison, who played tabla, an instrument similar to bongos. Morrison was a student of Gorn for several years and had played in several concerts together. Morrison was actually introduced to tabla while under Gorn’s tutelage. Gorn continued to hone Morrison’s talent before becoming partners. An electronic tambura provided the ostinato, or background music, for the duration of the concert.

The performance was part of this spring’s Taylor Time concert series. Gorn has played in many venues across India, including The Nehru Center in Mumbai and the Triveni Hall in New Dehli.

Gorn opened his concert by introducing the audience to a type of melodic mode known as “raga.” Raga is a musical technique often found in South Asian music, and is a major component of the Hindustani music style. Elements of ragas can even be found in modern Bollywood soundtracks. According to Gorn, raga means “to color the mind.”

The origins of this music are best described as a yoga of sound; the idea that like devotional prayer and physical yoga, sound itself can portray the way in which we connect our mind and our bodies. Especially in a meditative sense.”

Gorn then goes on to explain Indian classical music as being both highly improvised within a very specific and set structure.

“It is like jazz music in that we do a lot of improvisation, but there is an architecture in the music that we follow,” explains Gorn. “For instance, in raga, which is the term for the melody in Hindustani music, there are sets of a specific series of five to nine notes that construct the song, but the musician is able to rearrange them to create different melodies. And each raga has a collection of notes that really reflect one’s mood,” continued Gorn. The melody is accompanied by the rhythm, which is provided by the tabla. Additionally, different ragas are associated with certain times of the day.

The first song Gorn and Morrison performed was a song traditionally played in the afternoon. The raga was very upbeat and light with a lively tempo. The next song the duo played featured a raga called Sham Kalyan. The Hindi god, Krishna, who also is known for being a flutist, inspired the raga. The song began very slow and sweet but then quickened in tempo when Morrison jumped in on the tabla. From there, a playful dialogue shifted between the whistle of the bansari flute and the thrum of the tabla. The tempo alternated between slow and fast throughout the song, then gradually slowed to an end.

The last and final song included a raga inspired by the songs that boatmen would sing while sailing on the waterways of Bangladesh. The raga was called Bilawi. Morrison kept a steady beat while Gorn’s flute sang a tune that resembled the steady rush of water. The song hit a climax when Morrison took the forefront and performed a small but fast drum solo, hitting the tabla with intensity. Eventually he receded back in order to sustain the rhythm, welcoming Gorn’s flute into the raga until the song descended to a steady close. The audience’s cheers at the end of the pair’s performance indicated that ragas were definitely a hit at Union.

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