“It was my sitar and Indian music which connected me to George in the beginning, but very soon our relationship went beyond that.”
said Pandit Ravi Shankar about his friend George Harrison. Panditji, a legendary sitar player, had collaborated and even taught Harrsion, who was a part of the legendary band The Beatles. This collaboration helped the sitar attain popularity in the western world. With its soothing sound the sitar attracted a diverse audience and still finds adulation not only among the Indian diaspora but also the natives.
A native of Portland, United States who was learning jazz got introduced to Hindustani Classical Music. That young man, Josh Feinberg is now not only an acclaimed sitar player but also teaches the sitar.
Josh was raised in a musical family. He was introduced to music through the classical piano when he was four. His first choice of instrument was the bass. He bought his first sitar when he was 15 but took it up seriously only when he was learning Hindustani vocals.
“I was attracted to Hindustani music for its beauty, depth, complexity and spontaneity. I am blessed I had the opportunity to learn with some wonderful teachers,” quipped Josh.
Learning the sitar
The music of Ust. Ali Akbar Khan and Pt. Nikhil Banerjee had a strong influence on Josh. He began learning the sitar under Vijaya Sundaram. He studied sitar with Dr. Peter Row and Dr. George Ruckert, and khyal and raga theory with Sri Warren Senders at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston. He also trained under his idol Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Josh also learnt the tabla from Pt. Anindo Chatterjee.
“Apart from the sitar, I like sarod, tabla, and sarangi,” said Josh.
An internationally renowned sitar player, he is a star performer of Indian music from foreign lands. Josh regularly performs in Europe, America and India. He has performed with acclaimed sarod player Alam Khan, at prestigious festivals such as Dover Lane and Saptak. Pt. Anindo Chatterjee, Sri Alam Khan, Pt. Samir Chatterjee, and Sri Anindya Banerjee are some of the other renowned names he has performed with. Josh has also been featured on several TV and radio programs in U.S, Canada and India.
Josh is also a dedicated teacher and holds regular classes in Portland. He reaches out to his students across the world through online lessons.
“It is fine being a Hindustani music teacher in America. My students are about 60-70 South Asian and the rest are from outside of the region,” quipped Josh.
The state of Indian classical music abroad
Josh is a faculty member at Lewis and Clark College, Reed College and Marylhurst University. He has served as a faculty advisor at Prescott College. Josh is closely associated with the Indian classical music scene in the U.S. According to him all is not rosy with the classical music scene as it is perceived.
“The main issue I see for Hindustani music is that the majority of the organisers do not know much about the music. This is dangerous for the art form because they are the gate keepers. Some of them have big budget organisations. Without knowledgeable organisers good musicians are kept out. The decisions are made based on politics, convenience, or at random,” said Josh.
“I know many good musicians who are not given the platform they deserve. At least in the USA there is a little bit of funding, but nowhere near enough. In Europe practically all the funding is gone, and unfortunately the concert scene has dried up,” he added.
A soloist open to collaborations
Josh released his debut CD, Homage featuring Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri on the tabla. His second album, One Evening in Spring featured tabla player Pt. Anindo Chatterjee. Having performed with some of the acclaimed musicians of our time, Josh still prefers to be a solo musician.
“I do not believe in collaborating just for the sake of it. There has to be an artistic statement. So with the lack of good options I tend to play mostly solo,” asserted Josh.
Although Josh is open for collaborations, he has found it difficult to find non egoistic musicians. He recently did a project with Afghani rubab maestro Homayoun Sakhi. Josh has an upcoming project with the sarangi maestro Sabir Khan, from Mumbai.
“If we are going to play together we have to both be willing to create something together and not just try to compete with each other in front of the audience,” believes the young sitar player.