Not so long ago, I rang the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music hopeful of getting in touch with Ali Akbar Khan Saheb. A musician of whom I had heard a lot from my own musical guide and teacher, Pandit Ashok Roy who is also sadly no more. Mrs Mary Khan sent me a prompt email apologising saying that Khan Saheb is not in a state to be able to take calls because of his ill health. Yet she reassured me that she will try and remind him of his visit to Sydney. Ali Akbar Khan Saheb sadly passed away at the age of 88 years on the 19 of June 2009 leaving an abyss in the world of Hindustani Classical Music.
His contribution to the world of music cannot be compared to any other for not only was he a great musician maestro but a genius, wonderful teacher who pioneered and formed the first Classical Hindustani School of Music in America, called the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music. His passing away marks the end of a distinct period in the history of music.
It is little known that the great Australian composer well known for composing over 40 opera ballets, Peggy Glanville Hicks, was greatly appreciative of and influenced by Indian Classical Music after listening to the great Ali Akbar Khan. Nancy Grover, an ardent follower and supporter of the Arts says “When Ali Akbar Khan Saheb came to Sydney I was fortunate enough to have him stay with me. We were right at Bondi beach and ofcourse his student Pandit Ashok Roy was also with us. At that time I recall Peggy Glanville Hicks wanting to get in touch with Ali Akbar Khan in Sydney. Those were great days and what a fantastic performance he gave here in Sydney in the late 1980’s, sadly the last performance that was held here in Sydney. The photograph seen here was taken during the legendary Ali Akbar Khan Saheb’s visit to Sydney with Pandit Ashok Roy at the residence of Nancy Grover. A rare and perhaps the only record of his visit to Sydney.
It took another legendary musician Yehudin Menuhin to launch Ali Akbar Khan’s international career at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1955. In a span of another 25 years Ali Akbar Khan’s establishment of Indian Classical music in the international arena grew to great heights. Today we see a new wave of musical archetype bringing Indian musicianship to international awareness through the medium of movies and more. Musicians like Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar however strived and grew to heights on their own mettle and belief in their own strength of creativity with
uncompromising detail and adherence to the purity of their instrumental classicism. Ali Akbar Khan is survived by eleven children and wife Mary Khan.
One of his famous quotes rings true to all classical forms of music: “If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist — then you may please even God.”