Seeds of Shakti grow in Durham

John Heitzenrater teaches sarongPage counts and advertising revenues may be down at our local newspaper, the News and Observer, but we still subscribe because it still brings us a lot of good news, reporting, and commentary.  This morning I read a particularly inspiring article about John Heitzenrater, an expert in South Asian instruments.

The article begins by noting that Heitzenrater’s roots are Swedish, his accent American, “[but] when John Heitzenrater fiercely strums the sarod, the music resonates, transcending geographical and ideological boundaries.”

It turns out that Heitzenrater was inspired by one of the great boundary-trascendents, John McLaughlin

In the article, Heitzenrater notes “It’s actually people who don’t know the music, like the Western folk, whose first reaction is to discredit it by saying, ‘Oh, you are just a white guy, you can’t play that music.'”.  Thankfully Heitzenrater found the musicians on the other side of the geographical/ethnic divide not nearly so closed-minded.  (And I should also acknowledge that the great Western musician John McLaughlin is also not so closed-minded, bringing his version of the Western music tradition into the heart of South Asia with his band Shakti.)  Still, it is one thing to appreciate music that transends boundaries and another thing to be so inspired as to learn it, and learn it well enough to teach it.  This is the accomplishment of John Heitzenrater, who first transcribed the music of Shakti to the guitar (no easy feat!) and who then studied at the feet of distinguished sarodist Rajeev Taranath and tabla maestro Swapan Chaudhuri.

But this is also the accomplishment of John McLaughlin, whose music is one of the major seeds of modern jazz today.  As I blogged earlier this year, the DVD Meeting of the Minds provides an intimate insight into the music, the process, and the genius of John McLaughlin and some of the finest South Asian musicians.  One can see, literally, how the power, passion, and beauty of western and eastern musical tradition, theory, and instruments transcend geography and expectations, even when in the hands of classically-trained musicians.

How lucky are we here in the Triangle area have such a resource living in our midst?  And how lucky might he be to discover what a rich field of appreciation, wonder, and technical capabilities he finds also in his midst?

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