Louis Natale

SPK Academy student, Louis Natale is a notable Canadian composer and multi-instrumentalist.

As a budding hippie when Pandit Ravi Shankar splashed onto the Western music scene, Louis was instantly attracted to the new sound. With an eye for unique instruments, upon his journey to India in 2013, he acquired his first sitar. Fast forward a few years and his relationship with the sitar has deepened his bond and perspective of music as a whole.

After a trusted friend recommended Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan as the only teacher to learn from - fate stepped in. Ustadji was holding a workshop in Toronto, where Louis resides, within a few weeks. Louis booked his first lesson October 2014 has been learning sitar from Ustadji ever since.

For Louis, playing sitar is a vital part of his daily life; it has given him tools that he can use in his professional life as a composer, as well as apply to any aspect of life.

Learning with Ustadji often has that effect; it is like the sharpening of a diamond’s facets; the potential, the gem, it is already there—Ustadji simply shows us how to find it.

 Composing another piece at his piano

Composing another piece at his piano

1 - How is learning from Ustadji different from the methods of your previous music instructors? 
To me it’s a matter of learning style preference. Ustadji gives me a definite and methodical path, but more importantly he seems to see and respect who I am, and from that perspective, he challenges and encourages. I got some of these things, from other teachers, but not the whole package. And Ustadji has Seema, which is a real bonus, and the Academy, which provides a whole community to learn from and interact with.

2 - How would you say the emotional depth of Indian Classical Music, especially Ustadji’s, is different from that of Western Classical?
My feeling is that emotional depth doesn’t reside in any type of music intrinsically. It comes from the musician, and she or he could be performing Blues, Tibetan chant, Jazz, Indian or Western Classical, Hip Hop...endless possibilities. Ustadji’s playing is profound, and I feel privileged to hear him up close at shibirs.

 Louis in his studio.

Louis in his studio.

3 - Which instrument do you love most?
My favorite instrument to play, I would have to say is the acoustic guitar, just because I’ve been playing one for so long. My favorite instrument to listen to is anything played with deep feeling (except perhaps the bagpipes). 

4 - Do you feel that learning sitar from Ustadji has helped your understanding of Western Classical music? And in regards to composing?
Learning Indian Classical Music – especially from Ustadji and Seema – has allowed me to experience music from a totally different perspective; one that I never knew existed. No chords or harmonies, only melody and rhythm.

In regard to composing, which is something I’ve done professionally for about 40 years, I find that when I sit down to write, now I am increasingly aware of melodic and rhythmic patterns and the infinite variations possible. And while they have a logical or mathematical base, only certain ones will feel right in a particular context. My work with SPK has sharpened my ability
to focus and stick with it until I find something that works.

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5 - How would you define your composing style?
I began as a songwriter in my teens. Beatles, Paul Simon, Motown, that kind of thing. Started writing film and TV scores in my late twenties. That required me to learn to compose just about any style, though not always very well! My natural leanings are toward folk, jazz and pop. I have recently retired from the hectic life of the film composer and am returning to my songwriting roots, as well as global music pursuits.

6 - Has your background in composing helped you to grasp the patterns and rhythms of Indian Classical music?
Most definitely. I think familiarity with Jazz especially makes it easier to pick up on the taans I am learning. But I still always get lost trying to follow a performance. I need a lot more active listening practice.

7 - What modes of composing do you use? Keyboard, synthesizer?
I use whatever suits the project. A keyboard and computer are most often involved, but so is pencil and paper. I also have a room full of instruments which I will noodle on for inspiration, e.g. guitar, sitar, setar, piano, dranyen, dulcimer, accordion and percussion.

Raag Kafi played by SPK Student, Louis Natale

8 - Do you perform?
Not too much. I’ve been producing records for a Tibetan friend, and we put a band together that plays a couple times a year.

9 - How do you balance work and riyaaz? 
I feel fortunate to be more or less retired, and have formed a habit of daily morning practice. One time I had to take my sitar in for a small repair, and the shop owner recognized the look in
my eyes. “Ahh. You need to touch this every day, don’t you? I could rent you one, you know.” He was the pusher and I, the addict.


Louis will be attending our shibir in Phoenix this January.  I encourage you to introduce yourself and learn more about the life and times of Louis Natale - www.lounatale.com

By Radhika Raturi