Every week for the past three years, Mark Reczkiewicz has been making the long trek from Toronto to Thornhill where he goes to learn the sarangi, a North Indian stringed instrument of classical Hindustani music.
His music teacher is Aruna Narayan Kalle, daughter of renowned sarangi maestro Pandit Ram Narayan. In India, where music traditions move from generation to generation and music is practically learned from the mother's womb, Ms. Kalle began the training process rather late, at the age of 18. Initially, it was like a full-time job: She practised eight hours a day for at least six to seven years.
Ms. Kalle is the first female musician to play the bowed instrument, the origins of which can be traced to 5th and 6th century sculptures, professionally and she has performed all over the world. She has also presented the works of new composers with the Endymion Ensemble of the UK, the San Francisco East Bay Symphony and at the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London.
"I don't like to harp on the fact that women have never played this instrument professionally before, as this is technically one of the most difficult instruments to play," says Ms. Kalle, who has lived in Toronto for the past 20 years. She is performing in the Harbourfront Summer in the Garden series July 25 in Toronto Music Garden, 475 Queens Quay West.
She's been featured in several international and Hollywood films and she regularly teaches in the school system.
Trained in western classical music, Mr. Reczkiewicz has visited India three times, and first began to learn to play the sarangi with Rajasthani musicians from the Musafir (traveller) group when he travelled to India in 2007.
"My own family background is Romani and I was of course very interested in hearing about Indian gypsies and how they travel around especially to Eastern Europe. I was curious to see what the musicians do and found that many of the musicians on the road performing this Rajasthani folk music are classically trained musicians working in Jaipur. Part of that has been to understand that stereotype of the gypsy and how it travels through music. But the other part of it has been a love of music. I simply love music and learning the Rajasthani folk tradition and learning the Hindustani classical has just been an enjoyable part of doing this research."
The musician found his teacher by fluke.
"I was actually on the Internet looking to buy one of her father's recordings. Instead, I found Aruna Narayan in Toronto. I attended her concert at the lakefront and watched her play; it was so kind and gentle and sincere on stage. It wasn't arrogant in the slightest. I was so nervous when I approached her, but she said 'Come, we'll see what we can do.' I couldn't tell you how lucky, how fortunate I am to have such a great teacher."
"And the same for me," says Ms. Kalle. "To have Mark as a friend, as a student, but more than that, to teach the music that I love."
"What better place than to promote this in Toronto, the cultural capital of Canada," she says sitting cross-legged on the floor as she tunes her Sarangi.
"I want to promote this by teaching more, playing more not just for Indian audiences, but to play as a classical musician in the mainstream. Unfortunately, music audiences here are only aware of couple of classical musicians from India," says Ms. Kalle.
"It's just as vital to be creative, as it is to study. There should be increased exposure to music at the school level, in universities and colleges. When the young minds grow and develop, they would have listened to all kinds of diverse music and different types of culture and it will not seem such an alien concept," she says.
Special to The Globe and Mail