Writings about Music
Interviews with Indian Masters
An Email From Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar and Harihar Rao
Late last week, prior to an important appointment, I found myself going though old papers seeking something I didn’t find at this first attempt. Tonight, revisiting the mess I had made, I decided to take a peek into one rather mysterious looking envelope, and there it was – not what I had been looking for, but rather the text of an email Ravi Shankar sent me in January 1998, the only such message I ever received from him. There is no exact date on the page I typed out back then, making a hard copy of the email this way because the computer I was using was not attached to a printer at the time, but I recall receiving the email during the glorious time I had housesitting for Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin.
I had met Ravi and his wife, Sukanya, in December 1997 after a lecture he gave at UCSD, learning they had been dazzled by my recent album, Chinese Legend, including the title piece making use of a sitar timbre in previously unimagined ways. It was after this meeting that I wrote to Ravi, his response below. Chinese Legend was even played on the notoriously conservative classical KUSC, the host, Martin Perlich, excited by what he found to be a new form of Western classical music using raga and other world music influences.
Chinese Legend from the Chinese Legend album
Hopefully, I will be able to find the email I first wrote to Ravi resulting in his reponse because it was a favorite of mine, including making reference to the mountains in the distance gleaming with fresh snow.
From Hills of Snow from the Chinese Legend album
Below is the text of Ravi Shankar’s email to me that went missing for over twenty years, only appearing tonight. Vinayaj refers to the humility a student has toward the guru.
And this is what is most amazing. The past three days I have been listening almost constantly to several of Shankar's recordings, finding new details of technique, form and expression that evaded me previously. I even played improvised variations upon Ravi's melodies on the piano. There is now a mystical sensation that he somehow said hello back.
Thank you for your letter dated December 22, 1997. Vinayaj is a rare quality in us. And I was touched by finding it in your letter!
Contact me after I come back from India about mid march ’98.
Best Wishes and blessings for the coming year.
I only blame myself for not being persistent enough in pursuing having lessons with Ravi Shankar, but thank god I was able to study with Ravi's senior disciple, Harihar Rao. Other students of Rao included George Harrison, Brian Jones, Don Ellis, Lalo Schifrin, Ed Shaughnessy, John Densmore and Robby Krieger among others I'm unaware of.
Porcelain Nights from the Chinese Legend album
Harihar is so much a part of me that if I close my eyes and think of him, its like he's right there seated in front of me ready to answer my questions about music. And if he's there you know Ravi is close by, too. They are both in my heart.
- Michael Robinson, December 2019, Los Angeles
© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).