Paula: What advice would you give to people who aspire to play the sitar?Ashwin: There are various reasons for someone to take up this instrument. To me they are all valid. I love it when someone simply displays it on their wall! But I love it even more when they are able to play something meaningful. It takes a very special person to commit to a life of dedication to any instrument. If you are that person, my advise is that it only gets harder. Don't let this discourage you though. It all comes back to the three life times required to play this music. When you know a little you are happier. But as you progress, you will find that your learning challenges becoming deeper and tougher. To a lay person it will not seem obvious. But within you, you will start to get a hunger and that will drive you to higher goals and finally there is a point you will settle into. Where you will start performing and getting recognition but it will not stop you from feeling inadequate. You'll always feel like you need to learn more. It is a state of humility that is inevitable and this is what will also make you grow and mature and you will be the better for it. The other key is have a very good teacher as your guide. Don't settle for anyone. Most of all, trust your teacher when you do find a good one. The other day I was cornered at a party by a gentleman that wanted to study with me. He was an engineer by profession and wanted desperately to learn the harmonium, but quickly. Before I could even give my approval, he literally demanded I give him a time table for when he would be able to play the instrument. With specific details on his progress! I suggested to him that did you become an engineer overnight? There is a famous song that goes something like this "you only put in a nickle, and you want a dollar song." Paula: How do you give a contemporary flair to the traditional raga style? Ashwin: Ragas are timeless. They are little nuclei floating around within us all. That is why one can create and another can appreciate. A good song or a melody will instantly act as a link between the performer and the listener. Why? because there is a certain unwritten and un described connection that comes together. It is with this concept that I started to combine the classical North Indian traditions with Western rock, pop, jazz, R&B, and even Country music. There is noting wrong in this. Everything outside on my classical tradition is in itself a raga. That's what raga means. "That which colors." I actually have a great deal of fun with this. It gives me an opportunity to bring the best of my music forward into a musical space that is very lively, and affords a canvas not available in our Indian culture. I have also invested in a lot of equipment and time and effort learning about synths, computers, sequencing so I could create compositions in my own space and time. The timbres I tap using synths helps me create a bed for my lead instrument, the sitar. That is always my ultimate goal. I don't use synths to make lead melodies, just accompaniments. In most of my compositions I also try to keep the raga intact. I will take a few liberties in some tunes. Which is also a very classical concept called Tirobhava and Avirbhava - going out and coming back into the raga. I also like to present rhythmic pieces.
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