‘Dhrupad Days’ Indian music festival visits Seattle

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Jeff Lewis teaching a Dhrupad workshop at Cornish College. (Photo from DMIA)

“Dhrupad,” said Vibhavaree Gargeya, Director of the Western Region for the Dhrupad Music Institute of America (DMIA), “is an ancient style of Indian classical music.” The nature of Dhrupad is spiritual, seeking not to entertain, but to induce feelings of peace and contemplation in the listener.

The Dhrupad Music Institute Of America is currently presenting a “Dhrupad Days” festival of Dhrupad music in Seattle, starting June 24 with music workshops and ending with two concerts on July 6 and 7.

The style itself is much different from other genres of music, and its roots grow back millennia. However, just recently, the style nearly died out.

“The word ‘Dhrupad’,” said Gargeya, “is derived from ‘Dhruva,’ the steadfast North Star (Polaris), and ‘pada’ meaning poetry. It is a form of music that traces its origin to chanting of the ancient text of Sama Veda [ancient Hindu scriptures]. From this early chanting, millenniums ago, Dhrupad evolved into the sophisticated classical form of music, that it is today.”

The musical tradition began with vocalists, but has extended across centuries to include instrumentalists as well. After going into decline starting in the 18th century, Dhrupad was revived with considerable success in the 20th century by the Dagar Brothers, who brought the tradition to Europe in a series of well-received concerts.

The festival is part of the DMIA’s push to grow Dhrupad in the United States, and Seattle was chosen to host a festival due to its long history with the genre.

“The earliest activities of Dhrupad music in the U. S. occurred during the tenure in the 1970s and 1980s of the late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, a prominent Indian instrumentalist, who was artist-in-residence at the University of Washington’s program in ethnomusicology,” said Dhrupad musician Shubha Sankaran.

“There are currently teachers of both vocal and instrumental Dhrupad music very active in at least three U.S. locations — Washington, D.C; San Francisco, Calif.; and Seattle, Wash.” Sankaran continued, “ But his [Zia’s] teaching and performing presence have made Seattle the current center of Dhrupad interest and activities in the U.S.   During his time there, Zia created a community of Dhrupad connoisseurs, as well as a coterie of musicians who will be featured in [the festival]…”

The DMIA came about following a concert by the Gundecha Brothers — prominent Dhrupad performers — in Washington D.C. during the summer of 2011. Three Dhrupad musician and enthuisists — Dr. Brian Q. Silver, Shubha Sankaran, and Satish Bhatia — established the DMIA in September 2011 to grow the form.

“The organization has expanded to cover different geographical areas of the U.S. with a Board of Directors representing the North East, Mid-west, and Western regions,” Sankaran said. “We also have a range of Honorary Members currently in 17 states and 32 cities from around the U.S.”

The festival will include performances from Pandit Ramkant Gundecha, one of the two Gundecha Brothers who have done an enormous among to popularize Dhurpad throughout the world. The singer will conduct workshops both in Seattle, at Cornish College of the Arts; and in Bellevue at the Eastside Eastside Baha’i Center. Other venues include Seattle’s Dibble House, a bed and breakfast; and the Odd Fellows Lodge in Ballard.

Asked about future plans for the organization, Sankarna says:  “DMIA is planning a U.S. tour of two accomplished non-Indian performers of Dhrupad, a duo of a Japanese and an Australian singer, as well as a percussionist on the traditional Dhrupad barrel drum, the pakhawaj, later this year. This tour, which will include a concert in Seattle, will demonstrate the burgeoning worldwide interest in Dhrupad.” (end)

The Dhrupad Days 2013 festival occurs June 24 to July 7 in Seattle and Bellevue. For more information on events, locations, prices, and performers, visit www.dhrupad.com/event/dhrupad-days-2013/ or call the Dhrupad Institute Of America at 206.491.4578.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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