Lisa Sangita Moskow – Healing Sarod Music is what can best describe her mesmerizing instrumental performances. Lisa’s sarod playing is soothing and inspiring in a meditative way, that creates a fluid connection with the subconscious mind. This subconsciously flowing style of music, is typical of many types of Indian classical music.
This interview jumps right into our conversation and proceeds as Sangita shares her experiences with Ali Akbar Khan and the process of how she learned Sarod, its a fascinating conversation. Lisa shares with me that the spiritual nature of classical North Indian music forms a foundation for her songs which cover themes of nature, mythic characters from many cultures, and stories from her travels.
Here are some of Lisa’s responses to the questions I wanted to ask her. In our interview, we go a lot deeper, and go into more improv 🙂 This is not a transcript, the live interview is downloadable on my Podcast link.
How did you first come to realize that your music is healing?
I was a visual artist and always listened to music while painting. More and more I would choose classical Indian music for this as it expressed in sound what I wanted my paintings to express.
At a very young age I realized that all artistic processes were healing for me. When my teacher Ali Akbar Khan started coming to the Bay Area to teach.
I took advantage of that right away. In those early days his performances were amazing as he had such a huge background in raga expression but also was freed by being in this different culture and was quite avant garde in his expression and mingling of musical influences.
After one of his exceptional concerts I had a dream that I was in a hospital bed and Ali Akbar came to see me and said that this music (North Indian classical) would heal me. That dream was very influential in my decision to start playing that music.
Don’t know who Ali Akbar Khan is? Check it out!
My main instrument, the sarod, has 25 strings which are mostly for resonance. There are 4 playing strings, 15 sympathetic strings, 4 jawari strings tuned to the main notes of the raga, and 2 rhythm strings on top. One healing aspect of this arrangement is that the overtones are based on the natural overtone series. (In contrast, “Western“ music is tempered—the notes are spaced to accommodate chordal modulation.)
There is a purity of sound that comes from notes being supported by natural overtones in classical North Indian music. The use of a drone tonic in this music also has a healing effect—since all the notes are played next to the drone sound, the preciseness of pitch becomes more obvious–which contributes to focus, and that focus is a kind of deep meditation.
What are some examples of your music that have been received as healing?
My recording with electronic soundscape artist Robert Rich on Hearts of Space called “Yearning” did very well. Yoga Journal picked it as one of the most influential recordings of the 20th Century. It is still played a lot on meditative radio stations and for yoga classes and I still get royalties from it. My Yakshi Cd with guitarist Mihai Manoliu also has a very healing energy but it is more melodically song-like. My Cd with Genji Ito combining sarod with shakuhachi and hischiriki is also very deep and healing.
How do you typically perform? Where, what musicians, instruments…
These days I mostly perform on electric sarod and sing originals. I commissioned a guitar maker to convert my traditional sarod into an electric model that allows me to sit up straight for singing. I mostly compose songs and invent sarod techniques that work well with vocals.
I prefer to play with another musician when doing instrumentals— usually one musician is the best as it is easier to deal with just one other person. I tend to prefer improvisation when working with another instrumentalist.
I perform with electronic Moog guitarist Guillermo Galindo and with piano player Patrick Fitzgerald. I am also trained as a tabla player—the Indian drums—and have used that skill to play percussion in bands using the Hand Sonic. I play the Irish drum, the bodhran, with Irish music.
My songs are often played with Paul Eastburn on bass, mandolin and violin. I often play solo when traveling out of town. I play with traditional kirtan quite often and teach chanting classes too—sarod and vocal. I also love to be part of avant garde groups and worked with 8 others musicians in a John Cage piece last year.
I performed with the Tubes (rock group) drummer Prairie Prince last year. I played sacred songs for a benefit for Nepal. Guillermo and I have played several years in the “Garden of Memory” event involving about 40 musicians playing in a beautiful Julia Morgan building. I also performed in a Santa Cruz festival combining music and technology. I also provided background for a spiritual art show.
What is your favorite type of performance to do?
I like variety and I like to be playing for serious listeners because their energy brings out the best in me. For me it is important to have a good relationship with the producer or venue. I like to feel that the music involves everyone in the space.
Tell us how you got started doing your live performances?
I needed to support myself during my long studies with Ali Akbar Khan so I played music in Indian restaurants for many years during that time. I also performed several seasons on a cruise ship–I played concerts for meditation.
How have your performances progressed or evolved?
I am lucky enough to play in serious listening situations most of the time. I try to do more restorative yoga classes these days because of the healing energy that is created in that situation. Music can be healing in all kinds of situations but since a yoga class is specifically set up for healing, it brings out that aspect of the music more powerfully.
For sound samples:
P.S. Love the music of the intro and outro for my podcast? The instrumental piece is Walt’s Waltz, composed and arranged by Randy Masters, PH.D. It is published by Masters Publishing House (ASCAP ). Walt’s Waltz is about the magical child in us all.