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RODERIC: Hasu G as I call her, uh, affectionately and respectively is a wonderful, uh, vivacious person. She’s, um, she looks at you directly and, uh, people relate to her immediately. I think, uh, the students, um, liked her for that reason. The other wonderful thing is that she’s very strict as a teacher and there were, you know, people are very casual these days but she was very formal about certain things and they appreciated that too once they knew why.
RODERIC: She taught, um, sitar, her... her specialty and tubla and voice. So, um, she taught through a program called, Experimental College. It’s run mostly by students, it’s, um, it was an experiment, it’s a permanent fixture of the college now. Um, it was set up as an opportunity for anyone who knew something to teach a course on it and, uh, to their fellow students in many cases. But, it... it has also served us in the conservatory and, um, the music world, you might say more widely, um, um, to invite people who would volunteer their time to teach a course that they knew something about and that was how, uh, Hasu Patel came to Oberlin. She taught through the Experimental College or Exco as it’s called and, um, the students who enrolled were, um, anyone who was interested and, uh, they, uh...
She taught through a program called the Experimental College. It was set up, uh, as an experiment, um, 30 years ago probably, uh, but it’s a permanent fixture of the college now. It’s an opportunity... it gives an opportunity to, uh, people who have knowledge on a subject to teach a course on it and the students who enroll get a credit, um, and there are a certain number of Exco credits can count towards (CAR NOISE) your graduation.
Uh, students who take the course can get, uh, credit for it, one credit and a certain number of credits, uh, Exco credits count towards graduations, a small number. So, we... we... we use the Exco as a vehicle for Hasu Patel to come as a visitor, uh, she did so on a voluntary basis and, uh, students in the class with her ran the program basically, kept track of attendance and, and, uh, uh, she attracted people from the college and the conservatory, some of whom already played instruments, others of whom didn’t but this is one of her skills, you know, she was able to, uh, to get people rolling with her... her music, uh, on sitar if they were able and interested or on voice, uh, or on tubla, the pair of drums. She was good at all of those.
RODERIC: The sitar is a very demanding instrument. I think, uh, guitarists will feel quite natural with it in their hand but it’s still very different, um, you, uh, you have frets as on a guitar but the strings are very flexible and so you... you don’t only get tones by touching the frets, you pull the string which gives a, uh, wa, wa effect or a trombone effect, you know, a slide and you pluck it with only your forefinger and so all the techniques that, uh, we, uh, we know about from, uh, classical Indian music being popular in this country, uh, all done with the forefinger, uh, the plectrum across the forefinger but, yeah.
RODERIC: Yes, um, first of all, the sitar as an instrument is, uh, played almost exclusively by men (BACKGROUND VOICES)
The sitar is primarily a men’s instrument in, uh, in Indian culture as are most of the, uh, the melodic instruments and the drums for that matter. Um, in South India the veno which is a plucked lute like the sitar is played very commonly by women but in the north it’s very unusual. I would say, uh, uh, it’s... it’s about as rare as you can make it, to see a woman playing the sitar. And, so we’re incredibly fortunate to have that woman living in Cleveland and, uh, also not just performing but teaching, this is the real value I think.
RODERIC: I think that she, um, was raised in a... in a, um, a family with music around her, um, people in India love to be, uh, involved musically. So, even if they have a profession that’s not in the music world they may be amateur musicians, they may study privately, uh, in her case she took it upon herself to, to educate herself with, uh, in the traditional style, with, uh, uh, private study under a guru, uh, and since she was good at it, uh, decided to make a go rather than just... well, you know, this is the interesting thing, I mean, she had a day job in Cleveland, right, but she... she was one of these people who wanted to be a musician too and I think in her... in her mind the music is far more important than whatever her day job, uh, involved her in.
RODERIC: Well, this is the thing about, um, all music really, uh, we know performers because they come and give concerts and we... we, uh, if we’re non-musicians we appreciate the music, if we’re musicians we’re looking at technique and expression and... and all of this to learn from it but if... if that musician isn’t available to us to teach us something that they are doing then it’s merely an observation. Uh, so teaching is vital to, uh, the, the, um, the progression of any musical style and, uh, Hasu G is actually very passionate about this regarding it as a kind of mission, uh, a lifestyle that she can’t escape basically, uh, to teach her tradition. Um, and music is regarded as a... a very, um, uh, almost sacred kind of activity in India. Um, it’s... it’s got a concert hall life today but all of the music, uh, has a devotional, uh, background, in other words, the things you play on an instrument are often songs, um, that, um, were devotional songs.
Teaching any music tradition is important to... to the advancement of it, uh, but, uh, in India music has kind of religious undertone even though it’s performed on concert stages and to, to wow audiences, uh, um, it has a devotional background, uh, many of the things that are played on an instrument are in fact songs, devotional songs and, uh, to play them on the instrument is to remind people of the words of that song, um, and so to perform is... is a, uh, a devotional activity and, uh, Hasu, in particular, regards it as almost a mission, something she can’t avoid, she... she just must, uh, uh, this music so that it continues.
RODERIC: Um, Hasu G’s playing is a style called Gi-a-kee Ong (sp?), it means singing style. So, I was just talking about how songs are behind a lot of the music. Uh, she plays (CAR SOUND)
Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows
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Roderic Knight interview, part 2 of 4
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Raw interview with Roderic Knight, professor of ethnomusicology, emeritus, discussing Hasu Patel, classical sitar performer, composer, and educator. Part 2 of 4.
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Identifier: Roderic_Knight_interview_re_Hasu_Patel_part_2_of_4 (ThinkTV)
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Chicago: “Traditions: Ohio Heritage Fellows; 301; Roderic Knight interview, part 2 of 4,” ThinkTV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 27, 2023,
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