Champaign-Urbana has no shortage of events to catch some live music, but some types of music are a bit more rare than others. Any night of the week there are guitars pumping through PAs in more than one place here in town, but it’s not every day that a master of Bansuri flute is performing. Steve Gorn, the renowned master of the Indian carved wooden Bansuri flute, is visiting Champaign-Urbana this February for a residency supported by the Center for World Music and the Center for Advanced Studies.
Gorn has gained acclaim as a classical Indian musician, but has received the most attention for his experiments with fusing music from different parts of the world, and has worked with mainstream musicians like Paul Simon. Gorn will be featured in a series of events including performances, a lecture, and a workshop. I interviewed Gorn and asked him about his upcoming events, his history with jazz, classical Indian, and fusion music, his upcoming projects, and what motivates him as a musician. Scroll down for a full list of events from Gorn’s residency.
Smile Politely: You’ve said before that you thrive on having a diverse concert schedule. Can you tell me about the diversity in the variety of public events that are scheduled for your residency here in Champaign-Urbana?
Steve Gorn: I came to Indian classical music from a background in jazz, improvised music and electronic music. Years of travel and extensive study in India have all shaped my musical interests. Indian classical music, and how it can merge with contemporary western improvised music will be explored in the ‘improvisors exchange’ sessions and concert. My concert of classical Indian music, and a session playing contemplative music for a yoga class will further diversify my week.
SP: You spent many years learning jazz music but you said you felt like you never found your individual voice until you began playing Indian classical music. Now that your career in Indian music has spanned decades, how do you think your relationship to jazz and the role jazz plays in your voice has changed over the years?
Gorn: It is still a mystery to me that study in India opened up a personal “musical authenticity;” over the years this continues to ripen and bring up questions and realisations about the relationship with jazz. As a westerner, my curiosity and the pursuit of emotional and meaningful music fluidly encompasses it all.
SP: Some of the highest accolades you’ve received are for your work with Indian fusion music, combining elements from different music traditions into a new cohesive sound. What yet-to-be-explored combinations are most interesting to you?
Gorn: Some exciting projects in the future. I’m a soloist in an opera, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” based on the book by Khaled Hosseini. Very challenging to bring the style/ intonation of eastern music into a western music ensemble. The opera will premiere at the Seattle Opera Company in 2020.
SP: Your life’s work is Indian classical music and you have said you are a Buddhist. Are there other ways in which Indian culture has become an integral and enriching part of your life?
Gorn: Tibetan Buddhist practice continues to profoundly influence my music. The meditative or contemplative experience has drawn my music further into what I’d call “the healing arts;” the way in which music work on us. Far more than entertainment, music can be a portal, a synchronisation of mind and body. The talk I’ll give on Tuesday, in Spurlock Museum, “The Transformative Power of Muisc” addresses this issue culturally.
SP: You also teach Bansuri flute and have described your experience of playing Indian classical music as meditation and contemplation. When teaching people who are new to Indian classical music, how do you teach your students to connect to the music on that deeper level?
Gorn: When teaching privately I try to guide a student to find their “authentic voice,” be it in the context of Indian classical music or more directly in the sound of one note. To awaken awareness of sound is my goal.
Below is a list of Steve Gorn’s events during his residency here in Champaign-Urbana
FEBRUARY 3, 2018 – 2:00PM
Sunday, February 4, 2018 – 9:30-11:30 AM
Allen Hall, Main Lounge
FEBRUARY 6, 2018 – 4:00PM
FEBRUARY 8, 2018 – 7:30PM
Krannert Art Museum
This interview is part of a Smile Politely series on world music in Champaign-Urbana.