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Ravi Shankar’s 96th birthday

7 Apr

Today’s Google Doodle reminds me that today is the birthday of the  incomparable Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar:

‘Today we celebrate Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was born 96 years ago today. Shankar evangelized the use of Indian instruments in Western music, introducing the atmospheric hum of the sitar to audiences worldwide. He performed frequently with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and composed a concerto with sitar for the London Symphony Orchestra. Shankar also taught George Harrison of the Beatles how to play the sitar, and widely influenced popular music in the 1960s and 70s.

Shankar’s music popularized the fundamentals of Indian music, including raga, a melodic form. Raga, as Shankar explained, has “its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave, or a series of six or five notes in a rising or falling structure.” The distinctive character of Shankar’s compositions attracted the attention of composer Philip Glass, with whom Shankar wrote the 1990 album Passages.’

Here is some amazing footage of his performance at Woodstock.

Philip Glass and the development of genius

4 Apr

I often find books by creative people disappointing. Strangely, those who excel in their work often seem inarticulate when it comes to explaining their own genius. For me, Charlie Chaplin is the paradigmatic case. An incomparable genius on the screen, yet his autobiography gives little insight into his talent.

But this is not the case with Words Without Music by Philip Glass. His account of his development as a musician is fascinating. I only wish I knew more about music and music theory. I was particularly interested in his encounters with yoga and Indian music.


Reminiscence bumps in popular music

4 Dec

The reminiscence bump is the phenomenon of the superior memory we have for events in late adolescence and the early twenties. Here is a chart showing our memory for different periods of life:




I came across this interesting paper about reminiscence bumps in popular music. Here is the abstract:

“Autobiographical memories are disproportionately recalled for events in late adolescence and early adulthood, a phenomenon called the reminiscence bump. Previous studies on music have found autobiographical memories and life-long preferences for music from this period. In the present study, we probed young adults’ personal memories associated with top hits over 5-and-a-half decades, as well as the context of their memories and their recognition of, preference for, quality judgments of, and emotional reactions to that music. All these measures showed the typical increase for music released during the two decades of their lives. Unexpectedly, we found that the same measures peaked for the music of participants’ parents’ generation. This finding points to the impact of music in childhood and suggests that these results reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment. An earlier peak occurred for 1960s music, which may be explained by its quality or by its transmission through two generations. We refer to this pattern of musical cultural transmission over generations as cascading reminiscence bumps.”


Man’s sings opera during brain surgery

19 Aug

From the YouTube description:

“I’m a professional opera, concert and choral singer that was diagnosed with a brain tumour (a GBM as it turned out). The neurosurgeon’s advice was to do an awake craniotomy so that I could sing during the surgery (on June13th 2014) in order to avoid deficits after the procedure. The music neuro team of the UMC in Utrecht was also involved in order to assist the surgery. There is no blood or exposed flesh in the video.
I sing two (first and last) couplets of Schubert’s lied “Gute Nacht”: the minor – major transition in order to see if I can still recognise the key change.
All is fine until min. 2:40 when things start to get very interesting…
It’s been more than a year since and I’m doing fine, continuing my professional singing career.”



Mike Love’s “Pisces Brother”

8 Aug

The Beach Boys performed at Chautauqua last night. They played this song, Pisces Brother,written in honor of George Harrison,:



I had never heard this song before, but was fascinated by its mention of Rishikesh, a city I will be visiting in December. I tried to order it on Amazon but discovered that it has never been released.

A window into the creative process

7 Jun

(Hat tip to my Steven)

Ravi Shankar’s collarboration with Philip Glass

24 May

A couple of years ago I found the CD Passages, a collaboration between Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass, for sale at a Newbury Comics store in Massachusetts.

You can listen here:


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