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December 05, 2016
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It’s a family affair

“Playing out of tune is like poison to the ear,” according to sarode player Aashish Khan.

While we desperately need the rain, wet weather does tend to impact family fun over the weekend here in the Upper Delaware valley. While the folks at Bethel Woods (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) have it covered—sponsoring indoor, kid-friendly events in the form of their World Stage Series—the moisture can affect the music, even with a roof overhead.

Such was the case this past Sunday, when Ray Spiegel and Aashish Khan appeared, alongside fellow musicians Ted Morano and Melanie Richeson, to introduce both adults and children to the music of India.

Families are encouraged to come early to the many concerts in the series, and participate in a variety of craft projects, which are coordinated with the culture being showcased. I arrived early in order to observe the kids making Rangoli door ornaments, which are colorful, textured and symmetrical. The literature provided indicated that these ornaments, often made with colored rice and sand, are usually placed in an open space inside, or in front of a doorway, and are intended to create a “welcome place for Hindu gods.” Stopping to chat with some young ladies who were busily gluing their crepe paper ornaments, all were in agreement that this aspect of the World Stage Series is “always fun.”

Having attended a number of these family-oriented events in the past, I nodded in agreement and took my seat with the others who had braved the nasty weather to take advantage of this concert series, designed to offer free events for people of all ages who might be seeking both educational and entertaining afternoons.

Khan explained to the audience that the instruments being showcased (tabla, tanpura and sarode) are “very, very sensitive to moisture in the air” and must be tuned repeatedly when rain is on the horizon. Demonstrating how the exotic, 25-stringed tabla is tuned, he shared his belief that playing out of tune is “poison to the ear” and asked for indulgence, as the rain pelted the grounds outside, resulting in laborious and time-consuming efforts to keep the music playing.

I’m not sure if it was the rain or the program, but this particular show (IMHO) somehow missed the mark. Although Khan touched on a few salient points regarding the instruments, the music and its origins, the constant tuning and his low-key approach did not seem to engage the audience as much as some of the past shows.

Having the opportunity to be exposed to such a wonderful variety of world cultures is amazing and usually, the kids are rapt with attention while learning and participating. The musicians themselves are all clearly gifted and Khan is “considered among the handful of India’s greatest living sarode players,” but (for whatever reason) this show failed to engage the younger set (and, to be honest, me) as it played out.

There were many adults in the Event Gallery who were clearly aficionados of traditional Indian music, and they could be seen throughout the room, eyes closed and swaying gently to the meditative music washing over them as the kids fidgeted or slept—while I scanned the program for future shows that might be better suited to the entire family, thinking that this one may have been a little too sophisticated for the little ones. Noting that Chinese lute player Yihan Chen is on the bill, along with a show titled “Big Drum, Small World,” I made a mental note to make room in my schedule for another day. While this particular show may not have been my cup of tea, my mother would remind me that personal taste is “what makes the world go ‘round” and she was, as always, correct.

The World Stage Series at Bethel Woods provides an opportunity for everyone in the region to experience the music and culture of locales that we might never have been exposed to, were it not for the efforts of this organization and its mission “to empower youth to be positive, engaged members of their community and the world, by fostering a respect for themselves and their talents, as well as exploring the diversity of the world.”

For more information on these and other events, visit the website or call 866/781-2922.