Monday, 6 February 2017

Learning from Dinuk Wijeratne

My big indulgence last week was the New Found Music Festival XIV, which was held at the Memorial University School of Music here in St. John's February 1-3, 2017.  I find it always worth my time to listen to composers and musicians speak about their creations and feel lucky when they illustrate their points by playing snippets of music.  It is a whole lot more satisfying than looking at slides of visual art.  Anyhow, it is a peek behind the scenes or inside the creative brain.

Dinuk Wijerante
From 12:30 to 5 p.m. on Thursday I was in sessions that ranged from performances of Meng Jian to an interactive Deep Listening event.  There is no better way of learning than by doing.  And even lowly, little old me can be persuaded to sing in public. It was all rewarding but the cherry on top was Dinuk Wijeratne's Keynote Address that was really a rehearsal of Polyphonic Lively with the MUN Chamber Orchestra. 

It made me smile when Dinuk told the audience that the inspiration for the piece was a painting by Paul Klee.  He said that he couldn't remember what the painting looked like or the title of the book where Wijeratne discovered the image.  It was the title that struck him.  And Dinuk likes to use the symphony as a metaphor for a community based on diversity.

Wijeratne's music has always held my attention in part because it is a fusion of east and west.  He was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Dubai but lives and works in Canada, when he's not playing in places like Carnegie Hall.  I was surprised to learn that he had been raised on western music and that his artistic vision was largely formed in New York City and the global music scene.  Back in the dark ages when I was a teenager, I developed a taste for Ravi Shankar and classical Indian music.  Zakir Hussain was my favourite tabla player.  I was thrilled to learn that Wijeratne had had the opportunity to play with Hussain and he shared this little story with the audience.

Tabla compositions usually end on a light treble stroke (nah) but when Hussain played the piece they were rehearsing, he would end the piece on a heavy base stroke (dah).  Wijeratne noticed the sheet music still said nah.  Finally, someone in the group screwed up the courage to ask maestro Hussain about it.  Hussain studied the sheet music and then pronounced, "Well there is tradition and then there's show business".  Clearly, the emphatic dah ending was an audience-satisfying flourish.  Now, that's a lesson you can take to the bank.
One of my favourite instruments the tabla.

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