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Playing Music With Hands, From The Heart 

Sitar master Shahid Parvez gives insight into tradition

It takes discipline. It takes 8-10 hours per day, every day, learning and practicing for years to master one of the most difficult yet intoxicating of all musical instruments, the sitar.

"I do not believe it is possible to learn or teach Hindustani (North Indian classical) music properly unless the guru-shishya tradition is followed," sitar master Shahid Parvez said during a recent chat.

The ancient guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) technique of learning one-on-one that has passed down through generations of classical music training in India is still the preferred method of the masters.

"In this tradition, the shishya must immerse himself in the company of the guru for an extended period of time. The shishya should spend time observing the guru's actions watching how the guru explains, sings and plays his music. This immersion is necessary for the disciple. Until this happens, one cannot learn properly," Parvez explains further on his Web site.

Parvez believes one must first learn to sing and master vocal styles and then take the plunge and expand the knowledge into learning the sitar. This is the way to make the spiritual connection that musicians seek. The human voice and the drone of the sitar have a spiritual connection. "You play an instrument with your hands, but the sounds really emanate from your heart," Parvez said.

Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan hails from one of the most important Indian musical families. His uncle is the sitar legend Vilayat Khan. Guided by his father Ustad Aziz Khan, another master musician and composer of the Etawah Gharana, Parvez has created his own signature style of playing the sitar. By incorporating both the gayaki ang (vocal style of playing) and tantrakari ang (instrumental style), Parvez upholds tradition while creating an accessible, contemporary form.

After becoming accomplished in vocal techniques, Parvez became a sitar master with intense, disciplined training and, today, continues the legacy of the Etawah Gharana. A Gharana is a specific school or manner of playing and learning Indian classical music. There are several Gharanas in Hindustani music.

Legend has it the current incarnation of the sitar evolved from the first sitar designed by Amir Khusro in 13th century India. It is believed Khusro took the inspiration from the Persian instrument the Seh-Tar. This theory is not without controversy, but the contemporary version of the sitar is a completely Indian experience and could only have evolved in India.

Hindustani music is a melding of ancient Hindu Vedic music and Muslim influences from the Mughal era beginning around the 13th Century. It is all based on ragas, the melodic foundation of this timeless music. Carnatic (South Indian classical) music shares the foundation of the ragas but has its own distinct forms and has evolved mostly untouched by Muslim influence.

Parvez loves to teach. He is not only a master performer and torchbearer of his family's legacy, but he wants to pass on the music of the ages to others. In Indian classical music the title of Ustad (for Muslims) or Pandit (for Hindus) is acquired after years of performing and achieving a level of respect among their peers.

Parvez is tradition-bound, but he is not averse to enjoying "light classical" music or Western classical music, as long as the music makes a spiritual connection for the performer and the listener.

"Music is the door to spirituality. It is the best possible way to embrace spirituality. Sufis, ascetics, sadhus -- all spiritual people use music to meditate. Music is the only thing that will take your soul into a state of silence and peace. It makes a person more sensitive and receptive to the world. When a musician plays, music flows through him from another source. The musician reaches a certain level when it is not just he who is playing -- he is a vessel, a channel through which a higher being speaks," Parvez succinctly writes on his Web site.

Shahid Parvez has released numerous studio and live recordings over the years. He has also performed at prestigious classical festivals including the renowned Saptak Festival in Gujarat, India. Parvez comes to the United States a few months out of the year to teach and perform.

Shahid Parvez will perform at 6 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Tate Conference Hall, Overcash Performing Arts Center, CPCC, Central Campus. Tickets are $15-$40; IPAAC members free. For more information visit or call 704-846-4423.

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