Peter Row
About Peter Row

Peter is a performer on sitar and rudra vina. He is a member of the faculty of New England Conservatory where he served as Dean (1983-1990) and Provost (1990-1996 and 2000-2004). Peter studied sitar and rudra vina in Kolkata, India (1965-1973) with Pandit Gokul Nag of the Vishnupur Gharana and obtained the Bachelor of Music, Master of Music and Doctor of Music (Sangitacharya), from the Prayag Sangit Samiti in Allahabad, India. Peter has performed in concert throughout North America and India and has made numerous radio and television appearances. A former president of the Northeast Chapter of the Society of Ethnomusicology, he is widely published and has lectured about Indian music across the U.S. He was the recipient of a JDR Third Fund Fellowship for Doctoral Studies in India and has been a research associate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has also served as a consultant on Asian music for the Smithsonian Institute. B.M., M.M., D.M., Prayag Sangit Samiti, Allahabad, India, where he received the gold medal in the Instrumental Music Division B.M. Merit list exams and the silver medal in the Instrumental Music Division M.M. Merit list exams. Studies at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. Graduate of Harvard University's Management Development Program. Recipient of JDR Third Fund Fellowship for Doctoral Studies. Former research associate at Harvard Graduate School of Education. For more details about Peter see below.

EARLY YEARS

Peter was introduced to music as a young boy by his parents and paternal grandfather, an amateur organist. At age eight he started with trumpet and at ten began violin studies. Two years later, when his family moved to Philadelphia and to a much richer musical environment, Peter pursued music theory and composition as well as performing chamber music and playing in orchestras and band. An interest in folk guitar burgeoned a few years later, yet despite all the formal disciplines he worked with, free, though disciplined improvisation was the most intoxicating. And it was in his junior year in high school that he first learned of North Indian music, one of the world’s greatest improvisational traditions.

One afternoon in the spring of 1964, Peter first listened closely to a recording of Ravi Shankar’s sitar. As the music cascaded into Peter’s ear his life was forever changed. He began to dream obsessively about going to India to study the sitar, though he had not the slightest idea how he might do that. One day a year later he returned to his Boston apartment to find a letter from his father announcing that he had received a two year contract with the Ford Foundation in India and did Peter wish to join the family’s sojourn there. The only condition was that Peter had to attend college in India. Less than six weeks later, Peter left with his family for Kolkata.

EIGHT YEARS IN INDIA

Peter Row on sitar with Nitin Mitta on tabla performing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Peter Row on sitar with Nitin Mitta on tabla
Performing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Shortly after arriving in Kolkata, Peter enrolled as a music major at Rabindra Bharati University where he began his sitar studies with Gokul Nag, an important Bengali sitarist of the Vishnupur gharana. After a year of very serious study and considerable progress he was advised to enroll in the program of the Prayag Sangit Samiti (a national conservatory of music with several branches throughout the country). After four years of study, he took the sixth year, Bachelor of Music examinations and received the highest marks in the country. (Over 1,000 instrumentalists took the same exam.) For this Peter was awarded a Gold Medal and much honor at graduation ceremonies in Allahabad.

Two years later he won a silver medal for his marks (second highest in the country) in the Master of Music examinations and immediately began the work leading to his Doctor of Music degree (Sangitacharya), supported by a grant from the JDR III Fund. While doing his doctoral research on the historical evolution of raga theory he began to pay close attention to performances on the rudra vina by such masters as Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Asad Ali Khan. (This instrument is associated with the old Dhrupad tradition, the major classical musical medium in North India from the 16th through the 19th centuries, and is rarely heard nowadays). Peter’s guru, Gokul Nag (who had studied the rudra vina from his guru, Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay), at first refused to teach the instrument to him. But after some persuasion and the acquisition of a beautiful instrument made by Morari Adhikari, Gokul Nag relented and agreed to teach. Peter studied the instrument rigorously from 1970-1973 while simultaneously writing his doctoral dissertation.

Between 1967 and 1973 Peter did a great deal of performing in North India, including several major performances in Kolkata, Allahabad and Bombay, as well as tours of Orissa, Bihar, Assam, North Bengal and Nepal. In the spring of 1973 Peter successfully defended his dissertation, returned to Kolkata and prepared for his return to the United States. Peter left India in June of 1973, precisely eight years after his arrival.

BACK IN THE UNITED STATES

Peter Row on sitarPeter returned to Boston in the summer of 1973 and immediately began performing and teaching sitar. He also was fortunate to receive a two-year appointment as a Research Associate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, which provided the opportunity to become acquainted with American academia and the discipline of ethnomusicology. In January 1974, he was offered a part-time position at New England Conservatory to teach a course on Indian music. Gunther Schuller, NEC’s president from 1967-1977, commanded an extraordinarily broad vision, which included the study of some of the great music of the world within the curriculum of the institution. He backed up his conviction by personally providing the financial means for the Conservatory to purchase five sitars.

Performances in concert, on television and radio, throughout much of the US and Canada with tabla accompanists Sarda Sahai (tabla master of Benares) and his disciple, Bob Becker (of the Nexus Percussion Ensemble), brought Peter considerable attention with the press and with ethnomusicologists. At the same time he was developing an increasing interest in teaching at New England Conservatory. Between 1974 and 1980, when he began teaching full-time, he had introduced courses in Indian music, Ethnomusicology, Asian Modal Systems, Hindu Musical Thought, Indian Modal Improvisation and a required freshman Introduction to Music.

Peter also served as President of the Northeast Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology from 1978-1980 and received a Smithsonian Institution travel grant to New Delhi India to read a paper at the Xth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Winter 1979/80. During this trip to India he was able to spend several weeks in Kolkata with his guru, Gokul Nag. It turned out to be their last time together as Gokul Babu died in 1983.

ADMINISTRATOR AND FACULTY MEMBER OF NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY

Peter Row on Rudra VinaAppointed to a search committee to identify a new Dean for New England Conservatory, Peter found himself to be a candidate proposed by the search committee. Peter was appointed to the position in the summer of 1983.

He served as Dean until 1990, when he was promoted to the newly created position of Provost. During his tenure as Dean and Provost Peter undertook substantial curriculum reform of both undergraduate and graduate schools, reorganized and strengthened programs, restructured faculty teaching loads to be equivalent to national norms, established a Doctor of Musical Arts degree program and designed the curriculum for and helped establish the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory.

In the fall of 1996, Peter returned to the faculty and began once again to perform on sitar and on a variety of modified fretted instruments. He also began formal work with keyboardist/composer Marc Rossi in composing new repertoire that explores the convergence of North Indian ragas and the language of modern jazz, combined with the latest in music technology. Intrigued by the potential for innovative improvisational opportunities with Turkish musicians, Peter undertook collaborative performances with Turkish kemence master Ihsan Ozgen, ceng artist Robert Labaree and bowed tambourist Beth Cohen, exploring the commonalities and contrasts in Turkish makam and Indian raga.

In June 2000, Peter again agreed to serve as Provost for four years under the presidency of Daniel Steiner. He returned to the faculty in fall 2004.

Since 2004, Peter has been directing most of his musical focus to the Rudra Vina, performing and giving lecture-performances, both as soloist and with tabla accompaniment.

GOKUL NAG AND THE VISHNUPUR GHARANA OF BENGAL

Pandit Gokul Nag (1908-1983) was a pre-eminent sitarist of the Vishnupur Gharana of Bengal. This musical tradition was founded by Bahadur Khan, an 18th century Seni dhrupad singer (and reputed descendent of Tan Sen of Akbar’s Court in the late 16th century), who was invited from Delhi to to be principal court musician at Vishnupur. Gokul Nag’s guru, Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay, was a descendent of gharana musicians dating back to the founding of the gharana. His father and grandfather were also distinguished sitarists of the tradition in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. His son, Pandit Manilal Nag, is a major performer of sitar with an international reputation.

Pandit Gokul Nag
Pandit Gokul Nag
Gokul Nag (center) with Ustad Allauddin Khan, and Ravi Shankar
Gokul Nag (center) with
Ustad Allauddin Khan & Ravi Shankar
Gokul Nag's guru - Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay
Gokul Nag’s guru -
Ramprasanna Bandyopadhyay

Copyright © 2010 Peter Row | Photos: © 2005 by Carol Reck

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