Michael Harrison’s Project with Mashkoor Ali Khan receives New Music USA Commission

Shastra is excited to share composer Michael Harrison’s recent collaboration with his vocal guru Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan. Harrison spoke about this beautiful new work and his decades-long engagement with Hindustani music – including pure intonation applied to Western instruments –  at the Shastra Symposium 2016. Listen to “Tarana” here:

“Last month I was honored to have the opportunity to share four of my recent works with the most amazing group of cross cultural musicians at the Shastra Symposium. The work that captured the most attention was a Tarana, which is part of a collaborative CD with my Indian vocal guru Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan creating new works for multi-track Indian vocals, just intonation piano, tabla and tanpura. The project received a New Music USA commission and the recording and production was sponsored by American Academy of Indian Classical Music. The works are being composed using the basic structures and materials of North Indian classical music including raga, tala, alap, bandishes, gamaka, taans, and structured improvisation; but the juice comes from adding compositional structures, multi-tracking and piano, such that the Western hallmarks of harmony and polyphony become integral elements of the music.

“Tarana features Mashkoor Ali Khan singing one of his rare and old traditional taranas in raga Yaman Kalyan. He and guest vocalist Daisy Press also sing composed taans, harmony parts and countermelodies, with tabla played by Meghashyam Keshav, a disciple of Pt. Anindo Chatterjee, just intonation piano and tanpura played by me, and co-produced by Chris Botta at Staple Chest Audio. Although Indian classical music usually includes a lot of improvisation, this work is completely notated; yet the tightly structured 6-minute work still allows for the music to come alive. Because Ustad is a master of a centuries old aural tradition, he has never needed to read music. Therefore we developed most of his parts based on things that he already knew, with countermelodies and harmony parts that he learned by ear.

“To provide a little background for my work on this project, since 1978 I have studied and practiced singing Indian ragas on a daily basis, first as a disciple of the late Pandit Pran Nath, and his two foremost Western disciples, composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley, and since 1999 as a disciple of Mashkoor Ali Khan. When I was first getting started, La Monte encouraged me to study and practice the music in its pure form rather than creating hybrids. Whether consciously or not, I took his advice to the extreme. As a result, although practicing Indian music has profoundly influenced my life and work from the beginning, it has only been the past five years that I have directly used materials from the genre in my original works. La Monte’s advice enabled me to dive much deeper into the music; and decades later, with relatively equal training and background in both Western and Indian classical music, it comes naturally for me to merge elements from these diverse traditions. As a result over the past few years I have shifted my riyaz (daily practice) from singing with the tanpura, to singing and playing ragas on the just intonation piano. It is incredibly rewarding to start each day by exploring the merging of the two musical traditions that I love best. Now I am more excited than ever about the possibilities, and it is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to collaborate with my Ustad!

“You can hear Tarana and other related works and receive updates by “following” our project here: New Music USA Profile.”

– Michael Harrison

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