There's a Sanskrit proverb that represents what drew Steve Gorn from his jazz background to Indian music: "The universe hangs on sound."
Gorn is a Grammy-winning player of the bansuri, a traditional Indian flute whose whimsical sound betrays its humble construction: a single hollow bamboo reed. While studying jazz composition at Penn State, he learned about the Indian influences involved in music by John Coltrane and Charles Lloyd.
As the artist-in-residence at SUNY Ulster for the spring semester, Gorn will conduct two concerts and two workshops that hone in on the spirit of nada yoga, or "yoga of sound," using a combination of the bansuri and meditation. "I would like [the first workshop] to be much more experiential, in that I'm going to talk about this music in a way that allows people to really experience it through a call-and-response singing," he says. "I don't want to call it an exercise; it's actually an experience."
For 10 to 15 minutes, the audience will be led on a journey through the music as a kind of spiritual and mental yoga, traveling note by note to a state of conscious presence, which is what Gorn aims to accomplish with his music each day.
"It's like I get up in the morning, I make a cup of coffee, I sit down and it's a meditation. It's a way to not get seduced into looking at e-mails right away," he says. "This music is just a way to just fall...just letting it settle."
Another North Indian performer will perform during his residency, one he's known for more than 25 years, though they won't have the opportunity to grace the same stage.
Janaki Patrik is artistic director and co-founder of the Kathak Ensemble & Friends. She holds a master of arts from Columbia University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures.
Kathak (CUT-tuhk) dance combines the art of storytelling with high-speed footwork, emphasized by bells wrapped around the dancers' ankles. These bells are used percussively and to act out scenes in the story or poem being performed. With Patrik's level of mastery, she can mimic the harsh smack of a ball in a glove or the soft delicacy of rippling water.
"Our feet can articulate better than anything," she says. Her performances always express "tremendous lyricism, the beauty of the body."
Kathak performances involve the theatrical and the traditional: Glitzy ornate costumes and impressive pyrotechnics merge with historic poems and stories that have been told for hundreds of years.
"All of these elements are just part of the glorious underpinnings of what on the surface just looks exotic, but when you know a little bit more, becomes fascinating cultural history besides just entertainment," she said.
Patrik will hold both a performance and program that acts as a kind of "illumination," in her words, in which she'll be "shining a light on the inspiration for three different dances." These inspirations range from the comparison of 18th-century music and dance styles in European and Indian courts to the need to create a short piece for a quick costume change.
Without giving too much away, the number borne from that simple staging accommodation became a favorite number of her entire company. The dance was eventually dedicated to the late 23-year-old son of their sitar player, whose name is the sixth note in the Indian music scale: Da. As Patrik says, "Music can come from the simplest kernel."
Patrik's workshop and performance will be held this March; Gorn's will span from the end of March to mid-April. For dates and information, see our online events calendar. Sunyulster.edu.