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John Perkins, who lives in London, plays the sitar for concerts and recordings, and has embarked on a project to put online the sitar lessons he has received from his guru Dr Raj Bhan Singh
 
 
 
 
 
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Feature

Sitars in his eyes

John Perkins, Scotsman sitarist, puts online raga lessons recorded with guru Dr Raj Bhan Singh of Varanasi

John Perkins: the Empire loves back Thanks to the pioneering work of Pandit Ravi Shankar, the sitar has found a following all over the West. The media may talk only of a George Harrison's interest in the sitar, but scores of less famous Europeans and Americans have put in serious years of effort and achieved proficiency on the instrument. Indian classical music may not be as visible as the curry restaurants that now dot the UK landscape, but it has a steady audience and committed exponents.

John Perkins, who lives in London, plays the sitar for concerts and recordings, and has now embarked on a project to put online the sitar lessons he has received from his guru Dr Raj Bhan Singh, who lives in Varanasi. Dr Singh was on the faculty of Banaras Hindu University, and is now retired.

London and Varanasi may be continents apart, but Perkins has put modern technology to good use in learning and disseminating the ancient art. He visits his guru for some weeks every year. What lessons he has recorded with Dr Singh he has now turned into mp3 files. He has put them up at a second location as well. The first lessons uploaded include ragas Darbari and Ananda Kalyan.

Perkins is exploring what the Net can do to help musicians and music students. His list of Indian music links features some foreigners, like the Japanese Jin Nukamura who plays the sitar.

In this exclusive interview with The Music Magazine, he says the drones of the pipes in his Scottish blood drew him to Indian music, where ragas are played against the drone of the tanpuras. To go with this piece, he has sent a photograph of himself "playing under the protection of Lakshmi", which he says was "magic'd up" on Photoshop by his graphic designer friend Marcus Podilchuk. Perkins holds a Prayag Sangit Samiti Prabhakar (B Mus) degree from Allahabad, and is currently preparing to take the Praveen (M Mus) exams under Dr Singh's guidance.

How did you come to appreciate and learn Hindustani music? What and who drew you to this style of music?

My grandfather was a Scots piper. I think the drones are in the Celtic blood as much as in the Aryan.

Are you a fulltime sitarist? Have you done other jobs before?

I would love to be, but I also make silver and gold jewellery.

Tell us a little about your relationship with your guru Dr Raj Bhan Singh. Besides meeting him in person, do you get lessons on tape? What is it like learning from a guru who lives so far away?

I have published some of Dr Singh's recent lessons at www.mp3.com/rajbhansingh. He is an inspiration, still working hard as a teacher in his retirement, and very generous with his knowledge to all who respect it. His lessons are all quite sophisticated teaching documents, as you can hear, and it is his skill in compiling them that makes it possible to maintain the study on just a few weeks of close contact a year.

Do you know any fellow countrymen who have a similar passion for the sitar, or for Indian music?

There are now a growing number of expat Asian musicians working in the UK. I know maybe a dozen Europeans who play Hindustani classical music on the sitar, sarangi, sarod and tabla... a select but growing band. Look at www.mp3.com/jin_nakamura for a modern Japanese exponent.

You have compiled a list of mp3.com links to Indian music. What criteria do you follow when you put a link on your list?

Commitment to the integrity of the traditions. I have devoted some time to promoting north indian classical music on the net, enabling the surfer to listen to a good range of vocal, and instrumental music in the most important styles -- dhrupad, khyal, thumri and dhun -- from one Internet location. This is a quick reference catalogue of downloadable mp3 files http://www.sitar.co.uk/raglist.htm. I would like www.sitar.co.uk to be treated as an educational resource rather than a commercial promotion. All offer Hindustani classical CDs for sale with free downloadable sample tracks.

TMM Desk

Published on 11  February 2002


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