Classical Music in New York

Recently, the India Ink blog of the New York Times published a Music & Dance feature in their Mumbai/New York project. Readers might recall that we were thrilled to see a project that tries to bring Mumbai & New York together. We still are happy with the concept. But the NYT articles detract from the project’s goal because of limitations of the two authors, the primary limitations being a lack of knowledge about and a bias against Indian culture.

For example, the recent Music & Dance article about Mumbai/New York focuses on introduction of Western Classical Music & “modern” dance into India. What about the flow from India to New York? The only such exchange in the NYT article was introduction of Bhangra into New York. Previous NYT articles have featured Bollywood songs. Nothing wrong with that. We like Bhangra and, being Cinema Rasik, we are fans of Bollywood songs. Music crosses all cultures, and genres are always able to be mixed and matched to create unique sounds that have become a big part of different cultures. There are blogs such as which music lovers can go to if they want to discover or talk about different types of music.

But music in the Indian concept means Classical Music, first and foremost. And Indian Classical Music is doing very well in New York. As the snows melt and spring arrives in its glory, New York begins offering Classical Music concerts on a weekly basis. Frankly, New York offers a greater number and variety of Classical music concerts on a weekly basis than Mumbai does. And New York does it on an institutional basis.

By that we mean the American Academy of Indian Classical Music (AAICM) co-founded in 2005 by Michael Harrison and Pandit Vijay Kichlu with “the mission to promote the study
and appreciation of Indian Classical Music in America
AAICM, a registered 501(c)3
not-for-profit organization
, presents concerts and seminars for music lovers. AAICM further distinguishes itself by its primary objective of providing “an unsurpassed level of instruction in Indian Classical Music under the traditional Indian “Guru-Shishya” tradition on Classical Music.” We present two clips that demonstrate the style and success of AAICM in teaching*.

AAICM Student Recital 2012

An intimate tabla/rhythm workshop with Pandit Subhankar Banerjee

A student at the University of Oregon, Michael Harrison used to travel to Berkeley, CA to listen to Pandit Pran Nath, a great doyen of the Kirana Gharana (school) of Classical music. He then became a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath and later continued his scholarship with Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan, one of the gurus of AAICM with Pandit Sanjoy Banerjee and Pandit Sandip Bhattacharjee.

We asked Professor Harrison to give us a quick tutorial on the differences between Indian Classical music (ICM) and Western Classical music (WCM). Consistent with the Guru-Shishya tradition, we asked for little and received so much more. We urge interested readers to contact him at AAICM while we provide brief excerpts below:

  • “Improvisation vs. Notation: The entire system of N. Indian classical music is designed in such a way that the musicians can spontaneously express their spirit through improvisation, while still having extensive and complex structures with which the music unfolds. On the contrary, Western classical music is at the core a tradition of notated music, in which the composer uses a very complex system of symbols in which almost every note is notated, and which highly trained musicians decipher to bring the music to life,”
  • “Harmony vs. Raag** & Taal**: One of the primary components of Western music is “harmony,” in which multiple combinations of notes, or melodies, happen concurrently, providing a rich and more complex musical fabric than that of a melody on its own. Indian music, on the other hand, is based primarily upon a complex system of melodic formulas (Raag), and rhythmic cycles (Taal), which have a codified system of melody and rhythm far more comprehensive that its counterpart in Western music. … classifies literally hundreds of modal and melodic possibilities into Raag, of which there are approximately one or two hundred in common use today.”
  • “Passing on the Tradition: Another key difference is the depth of the centuries old aural tradition of Indian music vs. the extensive repertoire of notated works in Western music. In Western music there is a great tradition of master musicians passing on their knowledge and training to new generations, which today happens primarily through institutions such as universities and conservatories, but also through private study. …However much continuity there has been it has been passed down in a very different manner than in Indian classical music which is perhaps the oldest continuous aural tradition of classical music in the world. For example, my guru Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan traces his family lineage, known as the Kirana Gharana, back 700 years, which was taught mostly from father to son, generation after generation.”

South Indian Classical Music

What AAICM describes as Indian Classical Music is really North Indian Classical Music or Hindustani Classical Music. It is only a half of the universe that is Indian Classical Music. The other half, equally rich, sophisticated and divine, is called South Indian Classical Music or Karnatak Sangeet.

New York offers regular concerts of South Indian Classical Music during spring and summer at organizations like Symphony Space and private foundations like Chhandayan. We love listening to the music but know little of it. So we would welcome comments & suggestions from our readers both about the music and how it is flourishing in America.

Two Great Examples

We present below two celebrated examples of the two styles of Indian Classical Music. The first by the great M S Subbulakshmi was suggested by a reader who loves and understands South Indian Classical Music. The second is our personal favorite. It features the celebrated Pandit Jasraj with his two elder brothers, Pandit Mani Ram & Pandit Pratap Narayan. If you’re a big lover of music, check out to see how the right equipment could really improve your listening experience.

* American students.
The venue is usually in a private home on the Upper West Side of New
York. Their 2013 schedule begins in April with a class with Ustad
Mashkoor Ali Khan
. Interested readers should contact AAICM at [email protected].

** We use the phonetically correct spellings Raag & Taal rather than the British ragas and talas versions.

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