Joshua Feinberg, a New Yorker who started learning piano at age four, didn’t expect his musical journey would lead to the faraway land of India. However, drawn to music improvisation and composition, he found his love for sitar and Hindustani music in his teenage years and since describes himself as a musical immigrant.
“Indian classical music and jazz are the two most highly regarded improvised music traditions in the world,” Feinberg says, explaining why he made a shift to Hindustani music.
A leading minority sitarist
After years of learning with leading Hindustani music maestros and performing with top tabla artists in the world, Feinberg now is considered as one of the very few non-Indian sitarists to be accepted as a leading performer of Indian classical music.
“At the end of the day, if you perform well and you represent the tradition respectfully, then you are accepted,” says Feinberg. “Learning about the context is very important. I had to learn it more explicitly than a native Indian would have. I think it is as much about being a respectful practitioner of the art form as the art form itself. You don’t want to get into cultural appropriation.”
To master the difficult instrument – sitar – Feinberg credits pure handwork, where he used to practice a minimum 4 to 6 hours a day and sometimes up to 12 hours a day.
The musician says he feels fortunate that he has found excellent teachers in the United States for this kind of music, as it is mostly based on oral traditions. He has also been to India many times to further his study, with the first trip as a Fulbright scholar.
Since 2014, Feinberg has launched three albums, collaborating with leading tabla players who are his childhood music idols. He also just debuted his fourth album this month, which was his first international release, by an Australian record company that approached him while he was on tour.
“The album is called Time does not exist for light. The title is a reference to relativity as I am very interested in science and physics. Time stops when you travel at the speed of light and photons are emitted at the speed of light. So it could be billions of years from our perspective, but from the photon’s perspective it is the same instant. It is a metaphor for the timelessness of creation, things that bring light to people are timeless,” Feinberg explains.
He adds that music at this point for him is closer to meditation or a path of self-realization.
“I use music to try to go within myself and discover about my own mind and my own world; music has just become a medium for that,” he says.
Hindustani music in a brief
Feinberg says that Indian classical music, like many aspects of Indian culture, also finds its roots in religion and spirituality.
According to Feinberg, Hindustani music, the North Indian music tradition, is a hybrid of South Indian music and Persian Music, with many practitioners traditionally being Muslims. South Indian classical music, namely Carnatic music, has always had a strong association with Hinduism.
Straddling religions since the 16th century, Hindustani music has had a special royal place. Feinberg says it was previously kept in the courts for kings, guarded by family traditions and passed on from father to son and was not available widely to the general public until around 100 years ago.
Familiar with both the eastern and the western classical music traditions, Feinberg adds that a lot can be learned from each other.
“I think western musicians can learn things about mathematics and depths of spirituality from Indian music. Indian classical musicians can learn about orchestration, dynamics, sound volume and maybe elements of harmony in ensemble playing,” he says.
As a universal language, Feinberg believes that music in this moment of global crisis can help to bridge our differences.
“Music has the capacity to reach across cultures and unite people, and I think that is priceless and incredibly needed right now in the world,” he explains. “I encourage readers to do a bit of exploring musically and check out all the amazing music traditions around the world.”
Feinberg was scheduled to perform at the Surrey Arts Centre on May 30, 2020, however, due to COVID-19 his performance has been delayed until May 2021.
To learn more about Feinberg, please visit www.joshsitar.com.