Being an online sitar school, our 3-day music camps or shibirs present a very special opportunity for our students at SPK Academy to meet each other, study together and have unprecedented access to Ustadji.
3 day music camps are held all over the world but such camps through SPK Academy are hardly comparable, as many of our students will attest. Its isn’t just about the music that a student learns or is taught…the experience of attending a shibir, albeit exhausting, is nothing short of a spiritual awakening.
This past January shibir was no less, Ustadji arrived directly from India the day before the start of the camp. After a wonderful meal and scintillating conversation about urdu poetry, we all sat around him near the couch. A few students asked him to tune their instrument. More students joined, as they arrived, to listen to Ustadji as he tuned each instrument carefully. Suddenly, we found ourselves listening to a soulful alap in Raga Jhinjoti.
No stage, no microphone, no separation of performer and audience, it was just our Ustadji with his students, sharing with us…sharing Jhinjoti with us, because at that moment Jhinjoti spoke to him. I have head him play Jhinjoti, so many times, and yet…I felt like I was hearing it for the first time.
As the night wore on, more students arrived and took their spot while others retired for the evening so as to be ready for the morning. Those of us, who continued our vigil with Ustadji, were invited to sit and listen to the late Ustad Vilayat Khan’s rendition of Jhinjoti.
With sweet music filling the empty spaces of the room, we watched our maestro listen to one of his idols. Through his ears, the late Ustad’s music came to life in a way that we could never experience for ourselves.
Ustadji continued to speak, into the early hours of the morning about his inspirations and music that touches him, that propels him deeper and deeper into his own musical journey. Suddenly at about 4:30 am, he gently said “Let’s play…”. We scrambled for our instruments, frantically tuning them so we could quickly take our place. As the sound of his sitar filled the room, he began to introduce us to his new composition in Jhinjoti – a madhya lai jhaptaal composition with a twist that starts 1.5 beats after sam.
This was unlike any other composition I had heard from Ustadji, to date.
The sheer beauty of the 'Re' landing on the half beat every time, simply left us breathless. Together, we played beautiful taans in tishr jaati that would enter the gat in a way that would enhance the beauty beyond compare.
For those of us who stayed up, we had barely 2 hours of sleep that night and the shibir hadn’t even started. And yet, it had… because Ustadji does not just teach music. He personifies music.
The shibir officially started on Friday morning. Jhinjoti had just been announced as the raag. Even with barely 2 hours of sleep, Ustadji played it for a few minutes and like a bloom of sunlight, those first notes filled our hearts with wonder and joy! It was as if all the rigors of daily life, just melted away and stopped. All we experienced was the music. Suddenly colors were brighter, sounds were sharper and I was whole again.
We learned a mind-boggling amount of material. As usual, each new gat was more beautiful than the last, touching different parts of my soul that I didn't even know existed. But again, what's special about shibirs is that they are about much more than just the lessons. Its also about the moments in between.
Its about seeing fellow shagirds and welcoming new shagirds into the fold through a ganda bandhan ceremony. This time we welcomed Vineeta and Sonal and congratulated them on becoming formal disciples of Ustadji.
Its about listening to music with Ustadji. Its about sharing jokes and stealing small chats with Seema. Its about birthdays and eating delicious food. And sometimes, its about celebrating life's triumphs like who got to the bathroom first!
Shibirs are inspiring. And this time, just like every other time - I suspect, just as it is for every other attendee - it gave me exactly what I needed to keep progressing on my sitar journey.
Written by Jawwad Noor and Ipshi Kamal.
Photographs courtesy of Sutapa Sengupta and Jay Matrona.