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July 2009: Farewell Khansaheb! Tribute to Indian Classical Sarod Maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009)
Tribute to Indian Classical Sarod Maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (1922-2009).
The music world has lost one of its greatest treasures with the departure of Ali Akbar Khan, leaving a void that will be impossible to fill. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin once described him as an absolute genius and the greatest musician in the world. He was a pioneer in introducing Indian Classical Music in the West, performing a concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955, and releasing the first long play record of Hindustani music during the same year.
Ustad (maestro) Ali Akbar Khan was born in Shivpur, Bengal, in 1922. He was the only son of Ustad Alauddin Khan of Maihar, one of the greatest musicians and educators of his time. He started his musical education at the age of 3 with vocal music. His uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin, tutored him in the art of percussion instruments. It wasn't until later that he devoted himself to the 25 stringed lute, the sarod. Under his father's strict guidence Ali Akbar Khan would practice for as many as 18 hours a day. In his early twenties, he became the youngest director of All India Radio. He then became the court musician for the Maharajah of Jodhpur. The Maharajah would have Ali Akbar Khan play for him four hours in the morning, four hours in the evening and sometimes another four hours at night. Ali Akbar Khan would play ragas corresponding to the appropriate time of day or night. It was during this time that Ali Akbar Khan earned the title of Ustad, maestro.
In 1956 he founded Ali Akbar College of Music in Kolkata. In 1966 he opened a branch of his school near San Fransisco, and in 1985 he also opened a European branch in Basel, Switzerland.
Ali Akbar Khan has educated and inspired thousands of musicians worldwide and leaves behind a rich legacy. The Indian government granted him the title Padma Vibhushan, the highest civilian recognition award, as well as declaring him a national treasure. He also received the MacArthur Genius Fellowship and the National Endowement for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship. But of all the awards and honors that he received the one that meant most to him was the title Swara Samrat (emperor of tone/pitch/melody) which his father and guru bestowed upon him.
Here are a couple of the late Maestro's quotes:
I teach what I learned from my father, the same system, with the same traditional purity. The same kind of devotion, the same love for music has to be built up. And that can only happen when it comes from the heart. Otherwise, music doesn't last. It doesn't stay.
If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist -- then you may please even God.
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