As we gather across the globe to commemorate this Centennial Year of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, I am overwhelmed with joy, humbled and honored that I am blessed to be a part of this magical moment in the history of Indian classical music. I look at the list of names for this year’s many musical tributes and I see old friends, guru brothers and sisters, and so many outstanding artists of the storied gharana that was birthed in Maihar by Acharya Allaudin Khan and carried forward with brilliance and devotion by his illustrious son, Swara Samrat Ali Akbar Khan.
When we encounter a power of such transcendent beauty and depth as Khansahib’s music, it is very natural to be overwhelmed by the transformation that occurs in the heart, soul and mind of the recipient of such a rare gift. And, to think that one not only witnessed this divine artistry but was given the rare privilege of studying at the feet of such a master, is an indelible and priceless experience that will be treasured by all who were blessed to experience his darshan.
Everyone who encountered his music, whether it was through a chance concert attendance or a lifetime of commitment as a disciple, was positively and profoundly changed by the sheer force of his creative genius and the depth of his knowledge. There really are no exceptions: if you heard him, you were never quite the same. That’s why it always feels like family to me, and family is everything. I see myself as a small and insignificant musician when I think of all the great artists and teachers that populate the upper echelons of his cadre of students, and yet, I’m still part of that family, and it is a deep privilege – and responsibility.
I spent many years studying directly with him at The Ali Akbar College of Music, and though it was a relatively short span in the larger scheme of this classical tradition, still he molded me into a solid and dedicated musician, and, I like to imagine, a better person as well. The essential lesson that I learned from Khansahib is that music is a path to the divine – however that may express itself in one’s personal life. It is about creating joy and peace and reveling in the beauty of the heart; being the fullest embodiment of love and devotion that one’s human potential can allow.
I strive to express my gratitude and awareness through all of the music I have learned and created since I began my journey with Baba and the sarode more than 40 years ago. I’m still learning how to do it better every day, and though I accept that this lifetime will certainly not be enough to even begin to grasp the depth and nuance of his ocean of music, I embrace the gift he has shared with all of us.
It is a unique honor to have studied at the Ali Akbar College of music and I would also like to express my gratitude to the many elder students who helped guide me when I was a just another “fresh face” and had no clue of what I was getting involved in – and that it would engage me so deeply for the rest of my life! There was (and is) such a diverse group of talented musicians and ardent supporters who helped to keep the college up and running through good times and bad – thank you for your constant diligence and hard work!
And, very appropriately, the final word of gratitude goes to Mary Khan and her family: Alam, Manik & Madina, for doing so much to sustain and nurture this priceless tradition and keep this beautiful and inspired music alive and moving forward. The timeless music of Ali Akbar Khan will always be valued as a source of solace and inspiration in this world and a path to completion of the human spirit.
Jai Guru Dev
Richard Russell (AKA Rick Henderson)
March 28th, 2022