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'Madhyahana,' or Music for the Afternoon

Vocalist Chandrakantha Courtney, flanked by Samhita Sunya on dilruba (L) and Rashida Parmer on tanpura (R) on Dec. 5, 2009. (Jeff Fantich Photography)
by Jeff Tompkins
5 December 2009

HOUSTON, December 5, 2009 — Intricately textured classical music of India filled the Rothko Chapel when David Courtney, a Houston-based musician and teacher, led a five-member ensemble in Madhyahana: A Program of Afternoon Ragas.

An audience of more than 150 was on hand for the performance, which took place beneath the towering black-canvas paintings by American master Mark Rothko that line the walls of the small non-denominational Chapel. Asia Society Texas Center sponsored the event in conjunction with Rothko Chapel and The Menil Collection.

Courtney, a tabla player, treated the concert as a teaching experience as well as a performance, stopping to describe the instruments and to explain how classical Indian music differs from Western music. The term "rag," he said, is linked to the Sanskrit "ranj," which means "to color." The mind of the listener is thus "like a blank canvas on which the artist will paint."  Traditionally ragas have been associated with particular times of the day; Courtney chose work evocative of the late afternoon.

Highlights included sitarist Srinivas Koumounduri’s stirring performance of Rag Bhimpilasi and the soaring vocals of Chandrakantha Courtney, David Courtney’s wife, on Rag Multani. The other performers were Samhita Sunya (dilruba), Rashida Parmer (tanpura), and Sonny Mehta (harmonium).

Reported by Fritz Lanham, Asia Society Texas Center


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