By John Philip Wagner
My story starts with the moon raga and Khansahib’s recording of this most wonderful piece of music. His performance of the raga Chandranadan on connoisseur records was my introduction to genius on the sarod.
During the summer of 1968, our country was burning with the horror of the Vietnam war. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated and there was rioting in our major cities.
And then there was Ali Akbar Khan and his music.
The contrast could not be greater. It was the flower placed in the barrel of the rifle during a war.
As a student of the sitar, I had friends who were taking classes with Khansahib in New York City. On meeting him I shared my artwork, which showed a strong influence of Eastern themes and mandalas with tantra imagery.
I was blown away—that’s hippie, for excited—when the Great Master not only liked my work but asked me to illustrate the book he was planning to write on the classical music of North India. Later that summer, I was invited to share an evening with three brilliant individuals at the penthouse of the producer of connoisseur records in midtown Manhattan.
There was the master musician, the poet of the maharajas, the record maker, and myself—a young pup with a bit of talent and little experience.
A highlight of the evening was when Khansahib was asked to rate some of the greatest musicians for their ability to play in tune. Portions of each performer, all violinists, were played and judged by Khansahib using his ear to detect the slightest imperfections.
I remained silent for most of the evening, maybe hoping to conceal my ignorance of all things artistic, but now—54 years later—I see I was blessed as a witness and spectator to something wonderful.
I have included my painting, titled “Time Traveler,” which might have been an illustration for Khansahib’s book. It is a lunar nocturne set in an exotic harbor which only exists in one’s imagination.
The frigate in the center floats inside a circular Moonscape, at peace after the journey. Winged hearts fly from their nest, turning into the sparkle of distant Stars. A Venetian lamp lights the way as a sea serpent quietly passes unnoticed, for all is at peace in this form of universe.
For those wishing more, go to my website: johnphilipwagner.com
Thank you, enjoy.