KS3: Ravi Shankar – Symphony – finale (excerpt)
- Born: 1920
- Died: 2012
- Nationality: Indian
Why is he a Trailblazer?
The most famous sitar player of all time, trailblazer Ravi Shankar shared his passion for the sound and traditions of Hindustani classical music with the whole world.
In his Symphony Ravi Shankar explores this passion using the traditional instruments of a large Western orchestra.
The young Ravi Shankar travelled to Paris, performing in his older brother’s dance group. During the group’s tours of Europe and the USA, Shankar heard Western orchestras and jazz music.
Shankar gave up dancing to study Hindustani classical music and, by the mid 1950s, was playing the sitar in concerts around the world.
Shankar’s early curiosity for other musical styles and musicians from other traditions never left him – and he collaborated with many people, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and composer Philip Glass.
In the 1960s Beatles guitarist George Harrison was introduced to Shankar’s music. He used the sitar in some recordings and, along with other groups like the Rolling Stones, helped Indian music reach huge new audiences.
Symphony – finale – Banjara
Two of the key ideas of Hindustani classical music (raga and tala) are found in the finale of Ravi Shankar’s Symphony.
The sitar and orchestra play melodies based on a raga (a pattern or selection of notes that form the basis of a composition) inspired by the Banjara people of India.
Shankar also takes tala (rhythmic cycles) that would normally be performed on the tabla or drums and shares them out among many different orchestral instruments, like the xylophone and the French horns.
Then – almost certainly a first for a Western orchestra – he asks the players to sing a tala using Indian drum syllables.
The result is that we hear the orchestra in a new and startling way. By fusing the classical traditions of India and Europe, Shankar managed to create a piece that is uplifting and unique.