In the melody together

In the melody together

Unlike most Indian classical music protégés who come from musical dynasties, Lakshay and Aayush Mohan Gupta are first-generation maestros.

Aayush Mohan Gupta

Unlike most Indian classical music protégés who come from musical dynasties, Lakshay and Aayush Mohan Gupta are first-generation maestros. Their performances have won hearts at venues across the world, some of which include The Grammy Museum, The Abbey Theatre and Ramkrishna Mission Institure of Culture among others. 

Born to music lovers or ‘devotees’ as the boys call them, Lakshay and Aayush — sitar and sarod virtuosos respectively — warmed up to the art at a very young age. “Our father was an amateur sitarist during his younger days. We used to see him playing the sitar at home, listen to all the great masters, and go to concerts. For us, music began as early as when we were 3-4 years old. When we were around 11-12 years old, we began to feel that this music is going to be our life. It goes beyond joy and entertainment,” say the brothers who trained in vocal music and tabla before turning to the sitar. In case of Aayush, he went on to pick up the sarod of course. “When I listened to the sarod, I was attracted to the majestic and sonorous sound of the instrument. Thereafter, we modified the tuning of our instruments to suit the jugalbandi format and started practising together,” he says. 

Hailing from the Maihar Gharana, the brothers have been disciples of Padmabhushan Sharan Rani and Uma Shankar Mishra. Also, Balwant Rai Varma, the senior-most disciple of Ravi Shankar. In fact, it was after listening to their performance at the Ravi Shankar Centre in 2012 that Ravi Shankar decided to launch their USA tour under his foundation. 

Speaking of Maihar, Lakshay tells us that the school combines the elements of sitar, sarod, sursringar and rudra veena into the sitar and the sarod. “This is why our sitar and sarod look different as compared to the traditional version of the instuments. They have been modified by adding more strings and sound boxes,” he says, adding that just as biodiversity is important to maintain ecosystems, we must try to preserve the uniqueness and individuality of each style and gharana.

The brothers are known for their dazzling jugalbandis and attribute them to their similar sensibilities and principles. “After working together for so many years, we understand each other’s musical perspective. Our approach to improvisation matches to a large extent. Both of us have always been inclined towards maintaining  the simplicity and grace of the melodies we render. We do not believe in sacrificing the aesthetics and raga discipline for the sake of gimmickry in order to impress the audience,” adds Lakshay.

Having said that, like any creative collaboration, this one too has its glitches. “As classical musicians, the nature of our music encourages us to think endlessly, so naturally we come up with different choices. These are resolved by convincing each other, but there are heated discussions before coming to a decision!” 

Lakshay Mohan Gupta 

One of the Mohan brothers’ landmark collaborations includes playing with American cellist Barry Phillips, a student of Ravi Shankar, during a tribute to the latter at the Grammy Museum. “We have always loved collaborating with Western classical music as it is soft and has high aesthetic value. We have created a piece in which the base is the Indian classical raga Kirwani, but it has been rendered in the essence of Western classical music, and has drawn inspiration from cello suites and concertos without any percussion. We have been fortunate that musicians in the West have acknowledged it as a harmonious blend.”

A life of classical music calls for immense discipline. So a typical day for the brothers begins with riyaz and ends with one. 

Adds Lakshay, “The music has taught us to live an extremely disciplined life. The ragas are played and practised according to the specific time of the day. Apart from being a personal goal, this is something every musician owes to their audience.”

They hope that Indian classical music continues to find new patrons — young and old.

“For Indian classical music to strive in a healthy way, the foremost medium of propagation is for the musicians to pass it on to the next generation. The more people will know about it, the beauty of its intricacies, its sheer versatility, more will they feel connected to it in a meaningful manner.”

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