I recall with nostalgia my first hearing of Yehudi Menuhin’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar titled, “East Meets West”. I was in high school and had not yet heard the exotic sound of the sitar. Menuhin’s ability to grasp and communicate world music to an audience schooled in the Western European classical traditions is a treasured part of his legacy.
Along comes composer pianist John Pitts (1976- ) who encountered raga scales and Hindustani classical forms during a “gap year” in his musical studies in 1995. This encounter subsequently spurred him to write the present book, a seemingly obvious idea but one that has not been attempted in quite this way as far as I can determine. Pitts is a highly skilled pianist and composer.
This book assumes no more than a basic grounding in western classical music and at least a modicum of skill at the keyboard. With that and the present text the interested reader/player will be brought to a fine introduction to Hindustani scales and forms and have a method by which at least some of these ideas can be applied to the ubiquitous piano thereby providing another perspective.
Of course the microtonal aspects of this music cannot be reproduced on a piano but the basic concepts of the scales and the improvisational methodology will surely enhance the imagination and skills of any interested musician. The book introduces these concepts in a lucid manner and provides notation and methods enabling one to play a variety of ragas at the keyboard in a fairly short time.
I have lived with this book for several weeks now and find it endlessly fascinating. Even with my limited keyboard skills I have been able to scratch the surface and begin to explore some of the essence of this ancient musical system. Very likely this text will do much to enhance the compositional imagination as well as one’s keyboard skills. Some may recall, for example, that Philip Glass developed his mature compositional style after his encounter with this musical system in his work with the same Ravi Shankar whose mastery inspired Sir Yehudi Menuhin to bring this music to a western audience.
Recordings have made so much world music with its varied scales, rhythmic structures and tuning systems available to a much wider audience but much less has been done to provide interested musicians with a more hands on experience. This book does much to address this gap. It does not pretend to be a definitive exposition of this musical system nor does it attempt to create more than a basic pedagogy which will encourage further exploration. This book is very much a continuation of the interest begun by Menuhin, Glass and their followers.
Bravo, Mr. Pitts!
His very useful and interesting website can be accessed at: http://www.johnpitts.co.uk/