Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Music is a world within itself"
                                                - Wonder

The musical yogi

        Once there was a saint named Swami Hari Dass who was absolutely in tune with the universe. His music brought flame to candles, and rains from the sky. One day, as he sat in the forest singing in his traditional Dhrupad style, King Ahkbar came strolling through to find this yogi in absolute musical bliss. "You there!" said the King disturbing Hari Dass from his meditation, "Your singing is exquisite, and I must have you in my court as entertainment for my esteemed guests and royal family." Hari Dass sat on the ground in his loin cloth smiling and politely declined the King's wish.

       Shocked, the King exclaimed, "I will adorn you in the finest of fabrics, and you shall be surrounded by beautiful women and luxurious accommodations!" The saint continued to gently shake his head. "Your talents will be known throughout my kingdom, and you shall be held in high regard above all other musicians! How could you possibly decline such a bountiful opportunity?" After a moment of silence and few gentle breaths, Hari Dass told the king, "I need only to work honestly, meditate everyday, meet new people without fear, and play". With that, Swami Hari Dass returned to his mediation, and King Ahkbar went on to employ the saint's finest deciple, Tan San, to play in his court and begin the Sani Gharana musical tradition.

         Music has not always been a performance practice. Originally there was no need for a stage, an audience or even a preconceived aesthetic with which the artist is expected to mold their expression. The musician was focused primarily on honing his or her connection with the universe; and through that connection realizing a state of Ananda (bliss). This state is realized when the musician becomes the composer, performer, and listener all at the same time. My teacher and I both believe that this state of bliss may be realized through visual art, dance, poetry, love, and many other form of expression.

        In the Western world, it seems that there is a common understanding that the brain is the main control center of the body, and the heart is like a pump that keeps everything running smoothly. However, I am beginning to think that there is more to this mind~heart connection. The HEART is the center of our being. It is the heart that sings, the brain that interprets, and the body that manifests the interpretation. Practice is when we refine this ability to immediately understand our heart's intention and execute the action fluidly. This is why musicians drill scales and rudimentary techniques, they are strengthening the mind~body connection so that when it is time to express the feelings of the heart, there is a clear channel of energy, and a seamless delivery.

       The story in the beginning of this post is a combination of what I have learned from my gurus and friends Joe "Rahini" Ridolfo, Trip "Bholla" Slagle, and Professor Raja. I have paraphrased, included a few historical figures, and added some 'story telling spice' of my own. I would like to encourage each of you to seek out and enjoy your own means of expression, and let it bring joy to your life and to the lives of those around you. Listen to your heart; as it is always humming, and sometimes it is singing! Follow your passion and always remember to play.

Love and Light,
Nathan King (Granola Bear)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Breathe, breathe in the air"

Use the force

           It is common knowledge that taking a few deep breathes can help one to stabilize their state of mind and find peace. When we are emotionally upset we may be breathing irregularly, and some people believe that taking a few deep conscious breaths can help one to overcome feelings of anger or intense sadness. By tapping in to our connection with the air around us we enhance our state of being, and in turn, the effect that we have on the world around us.

          Energy. We are surrounded by an infinite field of energy that is often referred to as Prana. It is from this life source that we receive unlimited vitality, wisdom and power. Consider stopping for a moment and think about the inhale and exhale of one breath. Go on... This is a practice of linking the mind and the body. When we do this, we alter our energetic frequency and open our mind to higher states of consciousness. I can go into more detail on what I have learned regarding pranayama and the states, attributes and activities of the mind if there is an expressed interest in the comments.

          For now, I would like to invite each and every reader to consider focusing on the breath. This does not require any religious ritual; you don't need to bend your legs into a pretzel or go to a yoga class to work towards clarity of mind. Meditation can happen while you drive your car, or even as you calmly walk through your house. Patanjali says that we need only to focus the mind on one thing to experience yoga; this can be an image, music, an idea or (best of all) the breath.

         However, the mind wants to focus on many things all at once. So each time you gently pull the mind back to it's point of focus, you are strengthening your "meditation muscle" and bringing yourself closer to equanimity of mind. Next time you find yourself being forced to wait for something, don't hate ~ meditate. The universe is giving you an opportunity to experience stillness. Breathe. I love each and every one of you with all of my heart, may we all bask in Love, Light and Peace.

Nathan King (Granola Brer)  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"We are all together."
                                     - Lennon


          Last night I had the pleasure of attending a Qawwali performance by the Warsi brothers at the DST auditorium on campus. Outstanding delivery! The Warsi brothers were singing and playing harmonium as they displayed their music with elegant and poetic artistry. The two brothers were accompanied by two additional singers as well as tabla and mridangam. The singers brought a sense of genuine passion and devotion to the stage, and the crowd responded with uproarious applause and cheering during and after each song.

         I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by my new friend Sritama, a graduate student in the sociology department here at UOH. Sritama helped me to understand the poems and brief speeches given by the singers. Many times their messages were regarding unconditional love and universal peace among all cultures and religions. I had previously not been familiar with the Sufi Qawwali, but it seems to be closely related to the devotional practice of Bhakti.

          In addition to helping me understand Hindi, Sritama also shared with me some responses to my previous blog entries, particularly regarding my remarks about being treated differently because of my skin pigment. Sritama suggested that instead of the "colonial hangover" perspective I have adopted, this different treatment I am receiving is more of an Indian hospitality practice; as if I am being treated as this county's guest. I like that perspective. : )

         I am extremely open to feedback. In fact, I would like to strongly encourage comments either directly on the blog posts or sent to me in person. I am surprised each day at the number of views! Thank you all so much for sharing and reading this blog, it inspires me to keep writing. I am feelin' the love.

Nathan King (Granola Bear)

Monday, August 5, 2013

"The life I love is makin' music with my friends"

Seek and ye shall find

         Huzzah! I have landed an internship with the Hyderabad Western Music Foundation. After following several leads, I ended up finding one of the most amazingly wonderful facilities I have ever seen. Lamakaan is described as an "inclusive cultural space that promotes and presents the best of the arts, literature, theatre, debate and dialogue." There is a little canteen with lunch and tea available, and lovely places to sit and chat. In addition to the classroom I will be teaching in, there is also an outside performance area with a large stage!  Check em' out:

        I just so happen to arrive at Lamakaan on the last day of a six week music theory and composition workshop. Mikhail, a young man of Indian decent who is studying in Chicago, delivered a general overview and introduction to the world of western music. The students were so attentive and enthusiastic, and their ages ranged from twelve to seventy. The class size was originally about thirty students, and by the end of the program there only about twelve. This is common with music classes like this, and I could tell that the twelve remaining students were very dedicated and focused.

        After observing the class and speaking with the students and Mikhail, I have decided to give my own brief introduction to music and then begin with ear training. I have been told that Indian academic culture is very reliant on assessment. So (like my guru Dr. Roland Carter) I will likely give weekly ear training quizzes. Pitch, interval and chord identification and dictation will help the students to conceptualize music in the western way. Most important to me though is what the students want out of the course, so I plan to have lots of in class discussions and workshops.

       Speaking of studying music, I attended my first session with my music guru Dr. Raja (Raja means King in Hindi. Two Kings discussing music, I love it) . We are still refining exactly what it is we plan to cover in our two semesters together, however, he has had students like me before and there are several paths we may take. Professor Raja is less concerned with teaching me mechanical nuances and instrumental technique. Instead, he and I are going to dive deep into the theory, history and culture behind the music of both Hinduistani and Carnatic music. The title of the course will be,  "An introduction to the nature and characteristics of Hinduistani "Shastriya Sangeet" (which loosely translates to "book of musical truths").

    I confessed to Dr. Raja that I have already been teaching myself how to play sitar. To which he responded with a quote from Ravi Shankar, " Your music your life." My method of self instruction has always felt more natural, although, the musical journey is not complete without other more experienced musicians who can provide an example of excellence. My guru seems very open and supportive of the idea that I teach myself while receiving as much guidance as possible along the way. Dr. Raja hails from the same lineage as Ravi Shankar, and assures me that he is a purist in regards to Hinduistani classical. I love purists, even though I am far from one myself.

  Also, I am joining the HWMF choir and jazz band! Rock n Roll.

Hugs and kisses to my friends and family back home!
Missing you,

Nathan King (Granola Raja)