Soul of the Sitar

Here we are, on another “Music Monday”! I hope you all enjoy this post while I, your hardworking muse, do a Manhattan-to-Queens all quick poses all day and night with no time to eat dinner rushing to catch trains during harrowing NYC rush hour art modeling double that will keep me posing/undressing/dressing nonstop until 10:00 at night 😮

I don’t know if George Harrison deserves most of the credit, but all the individuals who helped introduced the sitar to western pop music audiences rate a heartfelt “thank you” in my book. A long-necked stringed instrument which dates back to the Middle Ages, the sitar is used primarily in the Hindustani classical music genre which originated in the northern regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

It’s easy to fall in love with the unique, unmistakable sound of the sitar which can be described as mystical and otherworldly. Sitar strings are arranged in a way that creates a “reverb”, a humming drone behind the melody. It’s all in the construction. Underneath the main playable strings are “sympathetic strings”. These are not strummed. They exist only to react and resonate. The resulting vibrations of the sympathetic strings against the bridge create that reverb or distinctive sitar “buzz”. No other stringed instrument sounds anything like the sitar. It is instantly recognizable after just a few notes.

The name we immediately associate with the sitar is, of course, Ravi Shankar, the preeminent sitarist of the past six decades. It was Ravi who gave George Harrison his first sitar lessons, and Harrison was soon incorporating his sitar playing into Beatles’ recordings, the first of which was the beautiful “Norwegian Wood” from the 1965 album Rubber Soul. Harrison developed into a fine sitar player. But Ravi Shankar is a true master. Sitar is an incredibly difficult instrument to play. It requires tremendous dedication, concentration, and years of practice. Even the tuning process is variable and complicated. With no default settings like in other instruments, the sitar is tuned according to the key of the specific music being played and/or the personal preference of the sitarist.

In this video from 1971, Ravi Shankar performs “Raag Bihag”. The close ups are great because you can see the distinctive large curved frets on the neck of the sitar. Also, the whole tuning issue is evident at 3:05 when Shankar pauses to make adjustments. Best of all, we get amazing views of Shankar’s skillful technique, intense focus, and expression of profound spiritual devotion. The man is totally in the zone:

4 thoughts on “Soul of the Sitar

  1. KL Foster says:

    It seems to me that the creation and development of this musical instrument is a direct result of their understanding of the spiritual nature of man. Do you think that every conscious action that we make results in a like type of resonation in our subconscious? Just last week I watched an interview of George Harrison by Dick Cavet..if I remember correctly the subject of this instrument and artist came up. Thanks for the musical link Claudia, it made the afternoon of this day a little more enjoyable. I do miss George Harrison, the world sorely needs another presence like his.

    • artmodel says:

      KL,

      I miss George too 😥 I think I saw that same Dick Cavett interview you mentioned.

      Your analysis of the sitar and spirituality, and the metaphor for life, was fantastic. Your question may have been rhetorical, but I’d like to answer it anyway; I absolutely believe that our conscious actions resonate in our subconscious, whether those actions are kindness or cruelty. The kindness “reverb” is better for everyone of course.

      Glad you enjoyed the Shankar video, KL. And thanks for your thoughtful comments 🙂

      Claudia

  2. I have spent some time wandering throughout your webpage. I am deeply appreciative of the art work on display. I see that you’re a native new yawker lol. I’ve spent many years outside of America, and its only in the last few years have I considered the imagination worthy of study. My learning curve on this topic is late lol, but I am having my bildungsroman and a few artists have my attention. Are you familiar with Rhinebeck New York, its up in Dutchess County, about hour and half north if your drive or take Metro North. I mention it because of the very busy art galleries throughout that small village. Last summer one business had a party showing an original Picasso! How many guys can say they partied with Picasso eh?
    I will return to your page. . . I have much to say to you regarding Dora Maar.
    Peace.
    William
    wjholland.wordpress.com

    • artmodel says:

      William,

      First let me say, welcome to Museworthy!! I’m delighted that my little blog has impressed you so 🙂

      Yes, I am familiar with Rhinebeck. My mother has been up there a few times for the gallery scene. Although I have not been there myself, I hear wonderful things about it. I have been to Woodstock which also has an art scene and many nice little shops.

      You have a very interesting blog and you address many important topics. I hope you share your ideas and insights here as well. Thanks for posting a comment!

      Claudia

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