“One time in Springtime God made a perfect day,
He woke me in the morning and hid my cares away,
He woke me with a thrush’s song and with the linnet’s trills,
And he took me in His hands and set me on the hills.”
From a poem by John Steven McGroarty
When the Arohi Ensemble performs this Sunday in the shade of the majestic oak trees at McGroarty Arts Center, the mood the musicians create will be one similar to the one created by poet John Steven McGroarty in his book "California: Its History and Romance" published ninety-nine years ago.
It will be an uplifting mood, full of tranquility and inspiration.
Appropriately the center's natural setting is befitting the music of the ensemble, for "Arohi" means "ascending melody."
Founder of the group, Paul Z. Livingstone calls the music ragajazz because it incorporates elements of classical Indian music "interpreted in the spirit of jazz" through improvisation and original compositions by Livingstone. Sunday's performance will include musicians Livingstone (sitar), Dave Lewis (drums), Peter Jacobson (cello), and Javad Butah (tabla-an Indian percussive instrument, often a pair of different-sized hand drums).
Livingstone has been playing Indian music for about twenty-five years now. Although he is American, he took a deep interest in Indian music early on in life. When he was 12, Livingstone heard the music of Ravi Shankar and was so emotionally moved that he became captivated. He describes his experience as "being under a waterfall of music." At the age of 15, Livingstone had the opportunity to go to study in India. From that point on in his life, he began to study Indian music, immersing himself in the study of the sitar, as well as the tabla. Likewise, over the years, he studied under some of the most learned teachers of classical Indian music, both here and abroad, including Shankar himself. It is with the utmost reverence that Livingstone talks about his experiences with Shankar, explaining that Shankar's commitment to every aspect of the music has indeed kept it viable throughout the world.
As one of the few Western musicians with a bonafide dedication and expertise in Indian classical music, Livingstone has taught at Cal Arts, presented a variety of workshops on Indian music, composed music for theater productions and documentaries, and traveled the world performing at concerts and festivals, amongst other professional engagements. He recently returned from performing in Mexico, and this fall he and fellow musicians will be on a west coast tour, followed by a concert series in India in December.
Livingstone credits a variety of world cultures with influencing his music and enriching it. As to the future of music, he foresees a continuing global influence in which distinct cultural motifs remain evident. Yet, beyond man's earthly imprint, Livingstone is keenly aware of music's spiritual dimension.
"Music at it's absolute best is an expression of God's creative power."
(The Arohi Ensemble will perform on Sunday, August 29 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. at the McGroarty Arts Center, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga 91042. For additional information call (818) 352-5285.)