North Indian classical music is one of the oldest forms of music on the planet. During its 5,000-plus years of history, it has developed a strong tradition in various forms of its presentation, vocal as well as instrumental. And yet, in every generation there are a few who through their sheer genius take this tradition many steps further.
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee was one such brilliant sitarist in the rich tradition known as Senia Maihar gharana. Banerjee studied with Baba Allauddin Khan, the doyen of Senia Maihar gharana, and later with Khan’s son, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
In later years, Banerjee was influenced by the great Hindustani vocalist Amir Khan, whose music inspired him to give a new dimension to the form and style of sitar playing. Overall, Banerjee absorbed the best of his gurus as well as the excellence of his predecessors and contemporaries and spun a texture of music, which is unique and comprehensive.
Banerjee passed away in 1986 at the prime of his musical career. He was absorbed in his own saadhna and had very few disciples.
One of his fortunate senior disciples is Pandit Partha Chatterjee, whose association with Nikhil Banerjee resulted in more than 12 years of intensive training on sitar in the unique style and tradition that Banerjee developed. After the passing of his guruji, Chatterjee continued his musical training under Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Chatterjee has been visiting the Bay Area regularly since 1999 and teaching music to a dedicated group of students. He is guided by the simple and yet unerring philosophy of music of Banerjee.
Great emphasis is placed on teaching in the traditional guru-shishya interaction, where nuances of the music are taught orally by teacher to student. In the course of this training, students derive, imbibe, and slowly generate all technical and artistic details as they hear them from their Guru. Without mechanical academic pressure, the student learns in a natural way.
To create a proper atmosphere and generate in the students skill and artistic feeling about performance, house concerts have been organized by the students since 2003 at least once each year. For the past two years the concerts have been dedicated to the memory of Pandit Banerjee. The concert features students of various levels, comprised of not only sitar players, but also practitioners of Indian slide guitar, cello, vocal, and bansuri, the Indian bamboo flute.
The month of July/August coincides with Indian lunar calendar month Aashaadh. The full moon night in that month is celebrated as Guru Purnima when students offer their tribute to their guru, often through the presentation of the art form they learned from the Guru.
Partha Chatterjee’s students will hold the third annual Nikhil Banerjee Memorial Concert where they pay their tributes to the great maestro and to their guru.