University of Pittsburgh

Samir Chatterjee Inspires with Music of India

Whether performing with the legendary Ravi Shankar at Walt Disney Concert Hall or instructing music students at Pitt, virtuoso Tabla player Samir Chatterjee has a single-minded focus on cultivating the understanding and appreciation of Indian music. The Tabla is a pair of two drums that provides accompaniment to a wide variety of Hindustani classical music as well as popular and devotional music of India. He carries out this work as founder and director of Chhandayan, an organization dedicated to promoting Indian music through education and performance, and through a busy teaching schedule at many leading eastern universities, including Yale, Manhattan School of Music, and the University of Pittsburgh. His impressive list of credits includes not only performances with masters of the classical Indian tradition such as Shankar, but also collaborations with artists representing divergent genres such as contemporary composer Pauline Oliveros, avant-garde jazz masters Ned Rothenberg and Jerome Harris (as part of the jazz trio Sync) and many other leading performers and ensembles. A recent career highlight was Chatterjee’s performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in 2007.

Chatterjee first became a part of musical life in Pittsburgh through the invitation of Dr. Balwant Dixit who teaches in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy and directs the Center for the Performing Arts of India. Admiration of and gratitude to Dr. Dixit remains a powerful motivation to Chatterjee as he continues to promote Indian music in Pittsburgh.

“I couldn't start talking about my thoughts and mission without expressing my gratitude to him,” says Chatterjee. “In fact, it is not only me and Pittsburgh alone; Dr. Dixit's contribution to the spread of Indian music embraces a large group of visiting and residing Indian musicians respected as today's maestros, and covers most of the USA.”

Chatterjee continues Dixit's mission to foster the appreciation of Indian music in partnership with ethnomusicologist and Pitt Professor of music Andrew Weintraub, whom Chatterjee refers to as his “partner in crime.” Weintraub and Chatterjee are collaborating on a program that will launch the a new performance and lecture series at Pitt, focusing on world music (much the way Music on the Edge promotes contemporary composition or the Jazz Seminar and Concert fosters the appreciation of jazz). 

The first installment of World Music at Pitt will be a program titled Rabi-Sashtriya: A Musical Celebration of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. The program will feature a presentation of Hindustani vocal and instrumental music and a powerpoint presentation about the life of Rabindra Nath Thakur (Rabindranath Tagore). Tagore (or Thakur) (1861-1941) was a Bengali poet, playwright, philosopher, educator, composer, and artist. He became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913 Prize for Literature.

About Thakur, Chatterjee says,

“His creativity covered four major modes of expression — literature, music, theater and painting. He stood for a very different philosophy in education, nationalism and internationalism. He left this world with deep concern about the fate of human civilization seeing it in crisis. We are still not out of it. The unique thing about Tagore was that he would never identify a problem without giving us a solution, which would already exist in the resources of human nature.”

The upcoming celebration of Thakur’s life will cover his multi-faceted creative expression with what Chatterjee describes as,“a musical presentation covering many aspects of his thoughts and ideas, drawing parallel between his work and the tradition. It will be a realistic presentation not just looking at the black and white, but touching upon some gray areas as well.”

Rabi-Sashtryiah: A Musical Celebration of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore takes place at Frick Fine Arts Auditorium on Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. Visiting guest artists include Anirban Dasgupta (sarod), Samarth Nagarkar (vocalist), Nidrita Mitra-Sinha (vocalist), Trina Basu (violin), Stephen Cellucci (tabla), and Asish Sinha (tabla). The concert is Free to the public.

Students interested in studying Tabla may contact Andrew Weintraub (anwein@pitt.edu) or Samir Chatterjee (samir@tabla.org)

Correction: This article has been edited to show that Dr. Balwant Dixit continues to teach in Pitt's School of Pharmacy and actively direct the Center for the Performing Arts of India.

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