Mac tunes into sitar culture

October 19, 2011
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Julia Redmond

The Silhouette

In the midst of the excitement of homecoming weekend, there was an oasis of calm and music.

Renowned sitar player Partha Bose came to McMaster on Oct.1 for a lecture and performance. His presentation gave the audience a taste of classical Indian music. Students, faculty, and community members alike gathered in the Ewart Angus Room of the Health Sciences Centre for the session, which took place as part of Culture Days at McMaster.

Culture Days is an annual, volunteer-led event that gives Canadians the opportunity to expose themselves to the arts and culture in their communities through lecture, performance and demonstration. Last year was its first year.

Bose hails from Calcutta, India. His training on the sitar has been going on for decades, and he’s specialized in Indian classical music. Sitting cross-legged at the front of the room, surrounded by instruments, he talked through the concept of “note ornamentation”.

To explain the idea, he began by playing traditional Western music on the sitar. “You might like the tune, but you won’t feel the waves,” Bose pointed out as he plucked out the notes of such well-known pieces as “Fur Elise” and the Sound of Music’s “Do Re Mi”, which he described as “flat.” He used this as a basis for comparison to Indian folk music. Note ornamentations, or alankar, as they are called in India, are the key difference between Western music and Indian music, adding flavour and colour that don’t exist in the West.

In playing examples of Indian folk music, Bose showed the intricacy of the genre to the audience. “The Boatman’s Song”, a traditional folk tune, showcased the haunting reverberation that is characteristic of the sitar. Though a relatively pedestrian song, it was decorated with trills and slides.

“They’ve seen, smelled India,” Bose said of the folk musicians who play such pieces, “so they use ornamentation instinctively.” The song, like others on the sitar, was meant to evoke the feeling of waves. Bose, an experienced performer, was able to whisk his audience away and give them a taste of his nation. The audience listened intently, nodding and humming along.

Both audience and performer were moved by the intricacies of the sitar music. “I don’t know why we move, but we move,” Bose commented between songs.

Once the lecture and demonstration portion was done, Bose and his accompanists devoted the rest of the session to playing Indian music. Not only was the music he produced beautiful, his instrument was, too; the sitar, a long-necked, fretted instrument, called to mind an acoustic guitar or a banjo, but it produced a much richer, exotic sound. Bose played the complex-looking instrument with the serenity and ease of a true professional.

Not to be underappreciated was accompanist Indranil Mallick, who played the tabla, two small drums that traditionally accompany the sitar. He produced a diverse range of sounds with speed and rhythm that repeatedly drew cheers from the audience.

As well as being a lecture and performance, the event served as a fundraiser; donations were welcomed for the purpose of buying a water ambulance for people in need in the Sundurbans area of India.

The event was sponsored by The Malhar Group, a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to promoting Indian music, and was run in partnership with OPIRG.


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    Rachel Faber is the assistant news editor and studies political science. In her spare time she likes to travel or eat her body weight in popcorn.

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