Home » Feature » The sarod is my lightsaber – California based sarod player Stephen Day

The sarod is my lightsaber – California based sarod player Stephen Day

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In a quest to understand the world and his inner self, Stephen Day found solace in the sarod. Indian classical music is tied in with an ardent search to find the meaning of life for the sarod player.

“Indian classical music, with its subtle appreciation of the moods of nature and tie to timeless stories of the deities, creates an ambiance for understanding the beauty of each moment in our lives. One example lies in my recent experience of recording Rag Malkauns,” said Stephen.

 

 

The sarod player travelled to India to learn the Indian slide guitar. He discovered that the sarod is tuned in 4ths and 5ths which is the type of tuning, called ‘DADGAD’, that he had been experimenting with on the guitar in the year prior to coming to India. The sarod has between 19 and 23 strings. 11 or more of them are sympathetic strings that are tuned to the notes of the raga being played. The melody is played by sliding the fingernail up and down on a stainless steel neck.

“The slide is called ‘MEEND’. It involves playing with one’s heart to feel the notes rather than try to use the mind to play or manipulate them,” explained Stephen.

The California based sarod player was born to play the sarod according to him. After a couple of lessons, on the Indian slide guitar, the director of the school advised Stephen to try the sarod.

“As soon as I did, it was magic and everybody knew it. People commented that the sarod was a perfect fit for me,” recalled Stephen.

Adding an interesting anecdote, Stephen said,

“The initials of my name S.R.D. (Stephen Rodney Day) match the consonants of the word SaRoD. You may or may not believe that these connections are significant. But they were all part of providing overwhelming evidence that I was now on my destined path in life.”

The Star Wars Connection

To guide him on this path, the sarod player sought tutelage under the great Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Under him, Stephen learnt that music is an extension of a good life. Ustadji not only taught him the nuances of the instrument but also introduced him to the spiritual values that a sarod player should have in his life.

“Understanding the subtle vibrations of the Divine through compassion, love, and peace is great in theory. The ultimate test is to manifest them on a daily basis amidst the challenges and pressures,” quipped Stephen.

 

(pic : Ustad Amjad Ali Khan tying the sacred thread to Stephen Day in the Ganda Ceremony)

Ustadji has tied the sacred thread to his family lineage of seven generations of sarod players in a ‘Ganda Ceremony’ to Stephen. Commenting on his meeting with Ustadji, Stephen draws parallel with the epic saga ‘Star Wars’. He paints the picture as similar to Luke meeting Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan helped connect Luke to his past while revealing the significance of his life. He laid out the challenges he will face in becoming the Jedi warrior he is destined to be. Obi-Wan then gives Luke a lightsaber to protect him.

“Like Luke, I was given a weapon to protect myself with. The sarod in that sense is the lightsaber. I have used it while dealing with the dragons of my dark side,” gleamed Stephen.

Though he is partial towards his lightsaber, Stephen has a liking for other Indian classical music instruments. He listens to morning raga played on the flute. Sometimes he would like to hear it on a sarangi.

“I love all Indian classical instruments! They convey the beauty of God through sound. They have different connections to the chakras within us which makes us feel different at different times,” said Stephan.

A global sarod player

The Californian sarod player has performed in twenty-one countries throughout Europe, North America and Asia. His audience spectrum is spread across nations, castes and creeds. He has shared the stage with some of the legends of Indian classical music. These include his teacher Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash (sarod), Nishat Khan (sitar), Sukivinder Singh (tabla) among others.

When Stephen started playing the sarod very few people in the West had seen or heard of it. Due to the internet, the use of other Indian instruments by composers in film and TV scores, and the popularity of World Music the knowledge of other Indian instruments has grown.

“Now there are people who have had a few different listening experiences. People are able to hear the difference between a Sarod and a Sitar. There is still a long way to go but a gradual change has been taking place,” feels Stephen.

In recent years there has been a growing interest and distinction between physical yoga and meditation. People in the West are reaching for a deeper understanding of themselves through meditation. The distinction between different Indian ragas and Indian instruments is growing. Understanding Indian classical music and its effect on our body is like learning the language of meditation.

 

Music and Meditation – a unique combination

Stephen has incorporated his music with meditation through singing. His latest album ‘One Heart Highway’ features a track called ‘Meditation Journey’. It is vocal track that follows the 7 chakras through the central energy channel called the ‘Sushumna Nadi’.

“Combining music and meditation is a synthesis of my own experience. I have practiced ‘Sahaja Yoga’ meditation since my early twenties. I have learnt how to combine it with music while I was studying in India,” quipped Stephen.

‘Sahaja Yoga’ is a unique method of meditation developed by renowned spiritual leader Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. It is based on an experience of Self-Realisation, also known as ‘Kundalini Awakening’, which can occur within each human being.

Stephen is currently working on a couple of different performance and recording projects. One is with a violinist from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The other combines Indian classical vocals with Sarod and Bansuri. Stephen is also writing a book about travel, seeking, music and meditation. The book is based on his experiences growing up in the West, living in India and touring around the world.

“My book will pass on my experience with legends of Indian Classical Music. It will also relate to some of the many miraculous moments I have had. Not only with musicians but also people around the world whenever we stage a concert,” said Stephen.

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