Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Sitar Next Door

Usually people bring home trinkets like carved elephants, silks, and a new appreciation for whether to add ice to their soft drink when visiting India. Not this neighbor who decided to bring home a Sitar, this week’s Guitar (Sitar) Next Door.

Most of us over 50 associate the Sitar with Ravi Shankar (his is the closing performance from the Monterey Pop concert film) and the Beatles (think Norwegian Wood). The Sitar is a stringed instrument that gets its tone from resonating chambers made from gourds, a long hollow neck, and sympathetic strings. I saw Michael Hedges playing a Harp Guitar in concert before his death and that is the closest thing I know to a Sitar in the world of guitars.

While Sitars are commonly available here in the U.S. (just search on Amazon) this example was purchased ‘in situ’ in India itself. Purchases of this type (almost any type) involve some high-pressure negotiation and hype “the last one we sold was to Paul McCartney.” I will hand it to them that they were not willing to part with the instrument without also including the case (it looks like a case for a shoulder launched weapon for the uninitiated). This was probably a reverse negotiation tactic, as I cannot envision trudging this through the airport without a case. Strange looking case or not, the Sitar is an incredible sounding instrument in the right hands. Take a look at this video for an idea of Sitar playing (note the pedal board!).

You can bring home a variety of souvenirs from any foreign land but I would say this one is a better conversation piece that a carved elephant or silk scarf!