Following Father’s Footsteps, Noted Sitarist Returns to Oneonta

Following Father’s Footsteps,
Noted Sitarist Returns to Oneonta

Photo from arjun-verma.com

By IAN KENYON

ONEONTA – At the early age of 5, a young Arjun Verma embarked on the tutelage that would ultimately shape his life. Verma, son of world-renown sitarist Roop Verma, fondly recalled the initial experiences that impressed upon him not only a curiosity but an affection for the sitar—that quickly advanced him from young enthusiast to joining his father on stage before the Yoga Society of New York in 1992 at a mere 7 years old.

Arjun recalled. “The sitar has always been part of the fabric of my life and really took off when a student of my father’s had conveniently gifted a child-size sitar to him at just the opportune moment.”

While Roop—an Oneonta resident since 1987—passed away in March of 2017 after giving his final concert for the Oneonta Concert Association, the mastery and spirit of his talent continued on in Arjun. In a return to Oneonta last week, Arjun delivered two performances to the community: first on Wednesday, November 2 at SUNY Oneonta, followed by a full performance last Friday evening at the First United Methodist Church, as part of the OCA’s 2022-23 season. In both performances, Arjun was accompanied by noted tabla player Naren Budhakar.

“My father would always encourage me to find and express the ‘soul quality’ in the music, as he put it. The music was not just to entertain, but to feed the hearts and souls of the listeners—that quite possibly being one of the most valuable teachings he gave me,” Arjun noted.

Arjun’s appearance at SUNY Oneonta was part of a lecture presentation, “Northern Indian Classical Music: The Spontaneity of Creation,” supported by the university’s music department, OCA and the Catskill Conservatory. A musical advocate for North Indian classical music and Hindustani classical music, Arjun stressed the significance and impact of engaging with students on campus.

“I always love presenting for university-age students, as it is the perfect moment in their lives to be able to introduce this music with some complexity, and before students are set in their musical tastes and ideas,” he explained. “In general, it is personally important to introduce this music to new listeners across all age groups, as it is still a nice genre and cultivating a strong listenership will ensure its flourishing in the next century and beyond.”

Arjun’s performances are snapshots of the musician’s lifelong dedication to the sitar. Talking about his journey as a musician, Arjun emphasized that the sitar—a “really unforgiving and demanding instrument”—proved equal parts easy and difficult over the years. He credited his father’s careful and diligent training for the natural adoption of techniques and approaches to mastering the instrument.

Further following in his father, Roop’s, footsteps, Arjun honed his talent and ultimately found himself under the instruction of his father’s teacher, Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, at the Ali Akbar College of Music. Arjun emphasized the extreme challenge in working to meet the musical demands under the direction of a world-ranking maestro.

“The greatest fortune of my life was to study with Maestro Khan for eight years until his death in 2009. He solidified and radically deepened my approach to music and I continue to study his teachings,” Arjun said.

Arjun credits not only the Maestro Khan for his development as a sitarist, but also the Maestro’s son, Alam Khan, who he considers a lifelong “older brother” that has not only served as a mentor but a personal influence in further acquainting with the tradition. Arjun himself continues to share his talents and teachings around the world, having previously performed in places including the United Nations in Geneva, at the Rainbow Festival of Light at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, the Fillmore in San Francisco, the Global Healing Foundation, and numerous live and online events across North America and Europe.

Asked about the year ahead, Arjun’s mission to continue sharing music with as many people as he can will take him throughout North and South America, Europe, and India. When not on the road, 2023 will be a year of producing new work including multiple albums, music videos and several singles. When asked about his time back in Oneonta, the hometown sentiment is undeniable.

“Oneonta is my home and it’s always great to see longtime friends when I return, and share this most important part of my life with the community. I look forward to my next return home to perform again,” he said.

Now a resident of San Francisco, Arjun added one last truth known to all locals: “And of course, we don’t see these beautiful fall colors in San Francisco.”

Arjun’s work can be found on major social media platforms and music sites including Spotify and Amazon at “@sitarify.”


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