Growing up with the legends: Learning to play their fathers’ music


Alam Khan, Sarod Maestro Ali Akbar Khan’s son, and grandson of the great Allauddin Khan, has been playing Sarod since childhood, continuing to perform at classical music concerts and teaching music.

Alam Khan playing Sarod. Photo: Courtesy Artist Website

In an exclusive interview with News India Times, Khan spoke of the impact of this great tradition of music in their lives. Khan said he recalls his parents being supportive of all his decisions and nurturing his talent. He said he started with vocal music at 6-years of age, and started playing Sarod at the age of 7. Diverging to guitar in his teenage years, he soon came back to Sarod and began playing it in concert tours with his father.

“Being the torch-bearer of my grandfather Allauddin Khan’s legacy became a tremendous pressure, as I began to realize the magnitude of this lineage,” Khan said. “For my father, I was the hope. I was expected to carry forward the tradition,” he said. Khan’s other brothers also play. His younger brother Manek plays and travels with him to India.

Arjun Verma, Sitarist Roop Verma’s son, told News India Times, “It is said that I began music even before my birth as my pregnant mother used to play Tanpura with my father.” Verma said he began to learn to play the Tabla, but wanted to learn the Sitar when he was 5-years old. “That was the most important decision of my life,” he said.

Verma said his father was always encouraging. “He introduced me to Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar when I was a child. At 15, we came to live in California so I could train under them,” he said. Verma said he continued to learn from them.

In the last decade and a half, he has been involved in spreading their music, Verma said. “We did not invent this music. We are only stewards of this music. If we take good care of it, it would live long,” he said.

Khan described the sound of Sarod as a warmer sound, and a sliding sound as opposed to a pulling sound which is created by plucking a string instrument. It is also a sustained sound, reverberating with resonance, Khan said. Some people identify the Sarod as the male and the Sitar as the female sound, he said.

“Playing was effortless for my father Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar who played together,” Khan said. “They popularized Indian classical music in the world. Their duets were iconic and they immortalized,” he said.

Speaking of the traditional style of the ‘Maihar Gharana’, Verma said Maihar Gharana, combining various sub styles, has its grounding in Raga Dhrupad which is the raga of contemplation.  “It is a combination of serious and meditative styles, and involves both Thumari and Khayal,” Verma said. He said Ali Akbar Khan merged them into the traditional style.

Arjun Verma playing Sitar. Photo: Courtesy Artist Website

Khan said he is trying to carry forward the vision for music that his father had. “I am also trying to fill the space of a torch bearer. But it is like carrying the torch and running,” Khan said.

Music for their fathers was very important. Verma said he remembers his father telling him in childhood to ‘Never lose the soul in your music’. “He told me ‘Never look for wowing people. People should say they felt something. They should they feel healed,” Verma said.

“This is what music was for Khan Sahab (Ali Akbar Khan). He touched people with his music. We try to offer the same music,” Verma said.

Verma said he is attempting to be the ambassador of Indian classical music. “Alam and I feel this genre should be known to people and appreciated, and be an inspiration. That is what we are trying to do as Indian Americans based here,” Verma said.

An important part of the classical music tradition is teaching music and passing it on to the students in the Guru-Shishya tradition. Ali Akbar Khan had founded the Ali Akbar Khan (AAK) College of Music in 1967, located in the Bay area on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Khan is also keeping the tradition of teaching music alive, teaching for the past 12 years.

AAK College of Music accepts any students without any bars. The college teaches students of all ages and caliber, including children, adults, senior citizens, novices, and students with advanced knowledge who have been learning music for years.

Verma said he likes teaching. “Teaching is a very important part of our tradition of Guru Shishya tradition. All of us who are involved in teaching feel the importance of the role of teaching, of knowledge being passed on,” he said.

Khan and Verma teach along with distinguished guest teachers like Sapan Chaudhari. “Together we have made the Bay area the Mecca of Indian classical music,” Khan said.



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