Paula: What are some of the challenges that the instrument poses to players?Ashwin: The sitar has it's physical challenges some of these being: 1. Sitting in a half lotus position. 2. balancing it with the right hand. 3. Being able to play over the large gaps between the frets especially on the faster passages 4. It takes a long time to build calluses on the index and middle finger. This process has to be done systematically and with regularity. There are the surface calluses and the deeper calluses that are required for pulling the string. Sometimes it can result in some nasty cuts and in the long run your fingers will get a bit disfigured. This is not permanent. The calluses are reversible if one simply stops playing. Mentally, it's Indian music that is very difficult to master. It is said that to learn Indian music you must give your self at least three lifetimes! The quickest way is to learn classical vocal music. Our brain has this beautiful potential of remembering songs and being able to sing them out with uncanny accuracy once the song has been learnt properly. This is what is known as building a reservoir of knowledge. Once your brain is moving your fingers automatically follow. Practice is the final ingredient. There is no substitute for this if one want to get really really good. Practice, practice, practice! Paula: Who and what are some of your musical influences? Ashwin: Well, I have to start with my father. He has been my biggest influence. He has always surprised me with his colossal musical abilities. He is simply an ocean of musical knowledge. He is a vocalist by profession but as a singer, composer and music director for the Indian film industry, he has had some of the widest span of experience that one can achieve. His training in classical North Indian music was given to him by his guru Chandan Ram Charan, a brilliant composer of khyal and thumri. My father was one of his foremost students. I have been very fortunate to have learnt many of his songs through my father. In the last 15 years, my father has opened another door in my life. He has written some of his greatest works in most of the North Indian and Carnatic rages. This is what I am presently working on completing and releasing in the near future. Pandit Ravi Shankarji has probably had the most influence in the beginning of my sitar learning. As I mentioned earlier, I would often listen to his records and copy the tunes. This was a lot of fun. I like his lighter approach to sitar. I still remember when I met him for the first time in Santa Cruz. My father introduced me. At around 16 years of age, I remember seeing Pandit Nikhel Bannerji perform in London. I was simply blown away with his style and his blistering speed. Needless to say it made a lasting impressing. I would often practice my sitar and try to emulate his speed and clarity. I saw Vilayat Khansahib perform and then I saw his brother Imrat Kahansahib performing in London. I believe it was the Royal Albert Hall. I must say I was taken back by the very articulate meend work (glisando) these two brother excelled in. At around 19 years of age, I was often accompanying my father to various musical performances - sometimes on sitar and sometimes on tabla. This gave me a lot of experience with performance but it was in Santa Cruz, California (1973 onwards), when I was around 22 or so, that I received most of my present classical performance skills. We ran an Indian restaurant and I would perform nightly on stage with my father. I learnt a lot about live performance here. My father would grill me for hours while the patrons would watch happily. My mother and brother and sisters would take care of the restaurant activities.
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