Rodger Daughtry, singer of legendary rock group The Who, once proclaimed that “I hope I die before I get old”. John Lennon himself said he hoped he wouldn’t still be singing “She Loves You” at age 40 (an age he sadly never made it past, RIP), and many popular musicians throughout the world revel in their youth. When our heroes get old, should they still be alive or remembered, we endlessly compare them to who they once were, which although is pure injustice is the status quo. While many go out revered, they go out with a fizzle, or at the least past their prime.
There is one man, however, who not only has persisted but has torn down the notion of age affecting the sharpness of a musical mind of the nimble ability of aged hands. He is one of my all time heroes: Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar is a held in esteem as THE best sitar player the world has seen (the sitar is a 20-ish string Indian lute), and is a composer of legendary status that has not only done the most for Indian classical music than any other single person, but has introduced it to the mainstream west and with his compositions masterfully blended the mathematical western traditions and the more philosophical traditions of the east that many thought were incompatible on any grand orchestral level. He is without a doubt, India’s most prolific and important musical ambassador, and through him many come to appriciate the country’s rich and vibrant culture. Here is a younger Ravi:
While Ravi was well-known throughout Indian circuits before the 60’s, it was during the 60’s, through his friendship with George Harrison, that he took America by storm, playing the Monterey and Woodstock music festivals. Where time has slowed some down, Ravi continued expanding his mastery and finesse, writing new pieces, including an awesome sitar concerto for orchestra published in 2008. April 7th, 2011 marked his 91st birthday, but unlike many 91 year-olds, Ravi is still out touring, sharing his love of his musical tradition and the deep spiritual devotion that comes with Indian music. As some may think, it is not just a freak show, a chance to see some awesome old person sit there and try and imitate themselves that you can brag about seeing. Ravi still has it. Despite his age and the complications that must come with it, Shankar has not lost a step. He still has an amazing ear for his ragas, and when needed he cans till rip up and down the sitar’s neck.
Here is the master in all his ripeness and glory:
Indian music (which will be explained in a later post) varies dramatically from western music in theory, and is all improvised from a set of ragas (until later, just think of them as scales or modes). The fact he at age 91 is still on the road and has a sharp enough mind to still keep producing his magic and have his body keep up with him is a strong testament to his devotion to his religion and music, which requires a vegetarian lifestyle, no drugs or drinking, and no illicit sex. Happy (belated) 91st birthday pandit Ravi Shankar. From the Selective Listening team, you da’ man!