Spiritual Immersion

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For a brief few hours, I was immersed into a musical culture quite foreign to me. I attended a concert by a Indian sitar star, Alif Laila. Alif born in Dahka, Bangladesh came to the United States in 1981. Her career has taken her to prestigious venues including UNESCO World Heritage sites. Accompanied by Suryahshah Deshpande playing the tabla, which is something like a two-headed bongo drum, and Meem Haque who played a drone instrument called the tanpura. Each beautifully complemented the resonating sounds of the sitar. The tabla musician is a grade A artist, who has been well-endorsed by the Department of Culture in the Indian Government. Meem Haque is one of Alif’s leading students.

The Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air, Maryland where the concert was held is proving to be an arts venue attracting very high quality musicians both of national and international acclaim.

Quickly I learned in the first opening composition why sitar music is very spiritual. The sixteen beat rhythmic pattern was trance-like but the beat matched the mood as it was peaceful and pensive.The second Alaap was mixed tempo going from medium to fast to a very quick, almost urgent to my way of thinking, finale. It was energetic and celebratory-like the arrival of a long-awaited spring (or basant.)

“Pahadi,” meaning from the mountains, came the third composition. This light classical composition originated in the Himalayas. Although light, it was complex mix of sounds, which Alif compared to different colored pigments mixing with water. A visual artist as well, her medium of choice is watercolors.

As the musicians wrapped up the concert, Alif stated she was saturated with devotion to those who enjoy her music and attend her concerts and she was going to “dance with that. Why not?” she asked.

Just as interesting as the music was, I was struck by Alif’s expressions while playing and there was no doubt in my mind, she was deeply engaged, heart and soul, with the music. At times she appeared to be in a trance-like state, at other times, you could see the joyfulness and playfulness on her facial countenance.

Do visit Alif Laila’s website. Her musical accomplishments and venues where she has performed is impressive. Her mission is to keep this ancient form of music alive by teaching her students at a music school she founded in Washington, DC.

It was another enjoyable musical evening at The Liriodendron Mansion. The sponsors – the Maryland State Arts Council, Harford County Cultural Arts Board, a grant from Harford County and contributions from Music Land made the evening possible.

Cultural diversity in all art forms is good and art enriches our inner world in so many ways. Do return to our next post, which will be brought to you from the same venue. Music from the Mansion on the Sunday afternoon of Palm Sunday was as invigorating in nature as the surroundings of the venue.

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