Ravi Shankar tribute concert in Woodstock

Barun Kumar Pal (above) plays the slack key Hawaiian slide guitar. Ravi Shankar christened this “Indianized” version of the slide guitar with the name “Hansa Veena” or “Swan Lute.”

June 8. A child prodigy, Barun Pal debuted at the age of 6 in a performance for Prime Minister Nehru and became a disciple of Shankar’s in 1978.

Barun, who resides in New Delhi, will play Shankar’s compositions, along with ragas and talas, on a hybrid instrument that he constructed himself. According to Julian Lines, organizer of the concert, which benefits the Matagiri Sri Aurobindo Center in Mount Tremper, the instrument literally bridges the East/West divide: The neck was taken from a Hawaiian-style slack-key guitar, which is attached to a sound chamber fashioned out of a gourd. Played with a steel bar, which creates sliding notes that imitate the human voice, the instrument “has a softer and more delicate sound than the twang of a sitar,” said Lines.

Spiegel, a disciple of the late Ustad Alla Rakha, who was Shankar’s accompanist on tabla for many years, has previously toured with Kumar Pal in the US and India. Given their extraordinary backgrounds, the two musicians perfectly parallel the legendary Shankar/Rakha collaboration.

Spiegel, a resident of West Hurley, said that one of the most magnificent concerts that he and Baron performed together was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Swami Vivekananda in the small village of the Swami’s birth, where a gigantic temple had been erected on the site of his modest home. The concert was an example of the more spiritual context of some of their Indian performances, he said.

Many of us grew up exposed to the influence of Shankar listening to pop music, but for Spiegel, the Eastern twangs and rhythms heard in albums by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were life-changing. As a teen growing up in Westchester, he took lessons on both the tabla and sitar and picked out records of Indian classical music that his mother bought for him at the mall. Some of the records he selected at Sam Goody’s record store were by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who played the sarod, an Indian lute; Khan was considered to be the other reigning Indian classical music genius of the time. (Khan’s father was Shankar’s teacher.)

The first time Spiegel actually saw the music played was while watching the movie Monterey Pop. He was hooked, studying at Khan’s college in San Raphael, California, while still a teen and spending a year in India after graduating from high school in 1970. He formed a band with Zakir Hussain, Akbar’s son (now the most famous classical Indian musician alive, according to Spiegel). It was called the East West Chamber Ensemble, and opened for the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Spiegel also plays jazz and fusion and performs Indian music locally with the Woodstock Music Circle, an informal group of friends. His two recordings with Barun are issued under his label, Simla House.

Shankar’s music was a spiritual influence on America and met an important need, said Lines, who was particularly inspired at one all-night concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. “Ravi was in that guru tradition. He early honored his teachers and burst onto the scene in America as a great virtuosic player.” Lines, who also owns the shop Pondicherry with his wife Wendy, noted that many of Indian’s top musicians have played at the ashram, but this concert – a reunion of two musical brothers who last played together five years ago – promises to be special.

Barun Kumar Pal & Ray Spiegel, “Ravi Shankar Remembered” benefit concert for Matagiri, Saturday, June 8, 8 p.m., $40/$20, Kleinert/James Arts Center, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-2926; info@pondi.biz.

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