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Eden Prairie Sun Review

EPHS students introduced to classical music from India



The sounds emanating from Sandip Burman's instruments may have offered a sustained tone of familiarity to those who have heard "Within You, Without You" from the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.

But, as about 100 Eden Prairie High School music students learned April 25, classical music in India entails tonal patterns, rhythms and teaching methods that contrast with those of Western or European music.

Burman is a virtuoso on several instruments, including those that he and two of his pupils, Matt Berger and Nick Kokonas, demonstrated at EPHS - tabla, a multi-tonal goatskin drum, and sitar, a 20-string instrument that Beatle George Harrison introduced to the Western ear in songs such as "Norwegian Wood."

Kokonas said it's taken him six months of practicing two to three hours per day on the tabla to achieve the skills he utilized to play at EPHS with Burman.

It started, he said, when he answered a classified ad to learn the tabla. He soon learned that the instrument was far more precise than he had realized - and that learning to play it required not just sight-reading notes on a staff, but also connecting with the oral tradition that has been the means of conveying Indian music through almost 4,000 years.

EPHS students got a taste of how that happened.

It began with clapping and counting as Burman played.

"Don't drag, don't drag - because I am improvising over you," he said.

The basics of Indian music, Burman said, come down to the rhythmic pattern, or tala, and the melodic mode, or raga.

For the EPHS students, participation entailed handclaps finger-snaps and repetition of tone, plus some direction assistance from EPHS Band Director Rich Berggren.

The playing of the instruments was left to Burman and his pupils.

Kokonas said the tabla emits distinct sounds, depending on where it is struck on the goatskin head, and how.

"I practiced [methods of hand-striking the drum] four months with a towel over the drum head," he said, "before I even got a sound out of the instrument."

The sitar's strings - made with unwound wire, which is one reason for their long-sustained sound - must be precisely tuned, Burman said.

When an EPHS student asked how long Burman had played his music, he replied, "Definitely not from yesterday."

He said he began learning at age 6, despite his family's poverty and his parents' ambitions for him that didn't include music. (His mother wanted him to be a doctor.)

Burman said he came to the United States in 1988, and made his living working in motels, while introducing himself and his music at universities.

"Without having connections in your Rolodex," he told the students, "you can make it happen. If I can make it happen coming from a village where I learned by candlelight, you can do it, too."

But even people who do not aspire to be professional musicians can gain much from learning about music from throughout the world, Burman said.

"No matter what you do," he said, "it makes you more humble, more experienced, 

more aware of what is going on."

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