Ken Zuckerman, a Grammy-nominated sarod (a fretless string instrument in Indian classical music) player and musicologist who has dedicated his life to the study and performance of Indian classical music, performed in Moyer Hall’s Miller Forum on Wed. Apr. 5 alongside Nimit Mitta, a highly accomplished Tabla player and percussionist, for an evening of Raga music.
A raga is a melodic framework used in classical Indian music. It is a series of musical notes arranged in a specific sequence that forms a basis for improvisation and composition. A raga is not just a scale or a mode, but a complex structure that encompasses specific rules for how to use certain notes, which notes to emphasize and which notes to avoid. Each raga has a distinct mood, emotion and personality that can be expressed through different musical phrases, rhythms and ornamentations. Indian ragas are typically associated with specific times of the day, seasons or emotions and are often used to create a particular ambiance or atmosphere in a musical performance. There are hundreds of ragas in Indian classical music, each with its unique characteristics, and the genre continues to evolve as more adaptations reintroduce the raga stylings into contemporary Indian music.
“Both artists onstage were extremely skilled in their ability to create ideas and converse with one another through their playing. It was also a great expansion of the material we’ve covered in my World Music class.”-Joe Grisanzio ’23
Born in New York City in 1949, Zuckerman began his musical studies at a young age. Starting out in the 1970s, he became interested in Indian classical music and began studying under the legendary sarod player Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Zuckerman studied under Khan for over 30 years, becoming one of his most accomplished disciples. He is particularly interested in the history and evolution of the sarod and has written several articles and books on the subject. In 1997, Zuckerman founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Basel, Switzerland, which offers classes in Indian classical music and hosts concerts and performances by Zuckerman and other musicians.
“I feel that Muhlenberg is very privileged to have had Ken Zuckerman come to perform for us,” said Dylan DeMagistris ‘24. “He is a master of his craft and has learned from the best Raga players in the world so I have been very fortunate to have experienced Indian classical musical traditions and culture at such an advanced level.”
Zuckerman’s performance on Friday evening was characterized by his deep understanding of the intricate rhythms and melodies of Indian classical music. His ability to bring out the nuances and subtleties of the music and the calming tone of his speaking voice added a deeply meditative and introspective experience for the campus audience.
Music department chair Ted Conner, PhD., described Zuckerman as “the Miles Davis of Hindustani Ragas,” and explained at the event that “Whenever Ken Zuckerman performs on our campus, Muhlenberg College is the center of the music world. Tonight, Muhlenberg College is the center of the music world.”
Earlier this year, Ken was honored by the Prime Minister of India for his dedication to Indian classical music and significant cultural contributions.
“I thought the performance was captivating,” said Joe Grisanzio ‘23. “Both artists onstage were extremely skilled in their ability to create ideas and converse with one another through their playing. It was also a great expansion of the material we’ve covered in my World Music class.”