♪♪ -Coming up, on "Great Performances"...
I'm Scott Yoo.
For the first time ever on "Now Hear This," we'll meet composers who are alive.
Reena Esmail is an Indian-American composer.
-♪ Ahhhh ♪ -Sérgio Assad is Brazilian-American.
Two generations of successful new American composers... ♪♪ ...who draw on their heritages and immigrant experiences to create new American music.
♪♪ -Oh, this looks great.
-Fitting since most of us, if you go back one generation or many, are immigrants.
-In a sense, one makes their identity in the in-between to create a new place to belong, a new way to be.
-Next on "Now Hear This," you'll hear new American voices.
♪♪ Major funding for "Great Performances" is provided by... ...and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
-Chopin once said, "There's nothing more beautiful than a guitar.
Except, perhaps, two."
[ "Farewell" playing ] Now, Chopin never wrote for the guitar.
But he did draw from the music of his home country to revolutionize piano composition.
Sérgio Assad is doing the same for the guitar, influenced by the music of Brazil.
Sérgio is with another Brazilian guitarist, Joao Luís Resende, in a studio in his adopted hometown of Chicago.
When did you start playing a guitar?
-I was 12.
But it's contrary to what I wanted, because my father was a great musician, but amateur musician, but he didn't think that playing guitar or music was something for children.
So, he avoided teaching me.
But then eventually he gave up and said, "Okay, play this chord."
And he saw that I could actually do it.
So, the same day a second guitar appeared in our home.
-Oh, that's nice.
So your father encouraged you?
-Oh, yeah, a lot.
-That's sort of the key to life, isn't it, to be encouraged at a young age.
I think it was his dream to be a musician.
He saw the possibilities of having his children going into the world, it just didn't measure any efforts.
He just moved with the family to Rio de Janeiro and he left everything behind and just started a new life.
-You mean, for you?
-He went from not letting you touch the guitar to, "Okay, we're going to move the whole family Rio"?
I thought he was crazy but, you know, it turned out that it worked.
-Were you playing classical music, or were you playing traditional music?
-We learned first the Brazilian choro, which is traditional type of music that my father played really well.
-But it's Brazilian?
It's specific to Brazil?
-That's specific to Brazil.
-It's folk music.
-It's traditional music.
-Yeah, traditional music.
-So, your grammar was rooted in traditional music rather than classical?
-That's correct, yes.
-That's so different from most composers.
-It gives you a certain kind of aesthetics with music.
So, when we moved from this style to classical music, it was when we met our teacher in Rio.
And she told us, "Everything you are doing, forget about it."
And she wouldn't actually allow us to play the old, traditional repertoire.
After I stopped working with her, I went back to my roots and just merged the two things that I was familiar with.
-And sometime in this training, you started writing music?
And you were writing classical music, or traditional music, or something in between?
-Something in between, yeah.
-Everybody who is a guitarist plays Sérgio's music, right?
And then if you go on YouTube, so you type "Sérgio Assad," you see, like, hundreds of videos.
And it's not only solo guitar.
It's everything related to guitar.
It's really incredible, the amount of ground that Sérgio covers.
But also he's kind of like pushing the envelope.
So, as a consequence, you see the technique of the instrument changes as, like, the demands of his writing are such that people start to -- it's difficult music.
But it's more interesting because it uses the whole instrument.
-And do you feel that Sérgio has changed how other composers write for the guitar?
-He's the Paganini of the guitar.
-He's the Paganini of the guitar.
For sure the most played composer that we have in our instrument.
[ Down-tempo piano music plays ] [ Woman vocalizing ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -Across the country, I'm in San Francisco.
I'm here to meet Reena Esmail, a young Indian-American composer who's also been living between two worlds.
With her is Hindustani singer Saili Oak.
-[ Vocalizing ] -[ Repeats vocalization ] -[ Vocalizing ] -[ Repeats vocalization ] -If that's what I think it is, that's the world's hardest game of Simon Says.
-It absolutely is.
[ Laughs ] -You're some kind of a genius.
-[ Laughs ] Well, yes, she's the genius.
I'm just the imitator of genius.
[ Laughs ] -That's incredible.
So, where are you from, Saili?
-I'm originally from Mumbai, but now I'm based here in the U.S., in the Bay Area.
I grew up learning this music since I was three years old.
-So, she's kind of your teacher.
-Saili is my teacher.
I started studying with her in 2014, and we've been working together ever since.
-Are you trying to become a vocalist?
-I'm absolutely not.
I'm a Western classical composer.
But I study Hindustani music because I love it and because I just love the feeling of singing.
But then I also love it because I can go deep into these structures of Hindustani music called raag.
-So, a raag, I think, is closest to a Western scale, but I like to call it a scale with personality.
It has a time of day that's associated with it.
It has sometimes a season.
Sometimes just a feeling.
-So, can I hear a raag?
Can you give me an example?
So, this is Raag Bihag, which is one of my absolute favorite raags.
Here's how it sounds going up.
Here are the notes.
And then here's how it actually sounds when you sing it.
-[ Singing scale in Hindi ] -And then it comes down differently than it went up.
So... -[ Singing scale in Hindi ] -And this is the building block of Hindustani music?
There are over 1,000 different raags.
They are so many different ways to navigate up and down, and they each have really different nuances about them.
-So, you incorporate raag in your music sometimes?
I love the way that Indian and Western listeners listen so differently, and there's a way that I can kind of use some Western ideas and raag in dialogue with one another to bring those listeners a little bit closer together, and complementary in their conception of things.
And so the piece we're going to play now is called "Chuti Hui Jagah," and it means "the space between."
-[ Singing in Hindi ] [ Music stops ] [ Music resumes ] [ Silva's "Se Você Jurar" plays ] ♪♪ -Back in Chicago, Sérgio wanted to show me some of the traditional Brazilian music he grew up with.
His daughter, Clarice, joined us in the studio.
-[ Singing in Brazilian Portuguese ] -Hey, that was great.
-What was that?
-This song was called "Se Você Jurar," which in English means, "If you swear to be good to me."
And it was a samba.
-So, what is a samba?
-Samba is just a syncopated rhythm that was brought from Africa to Brazil.
And we can give an example.
Let's do it.
Three, four... [ Playing samba music ] -It's kind of the exact opposite of a march, isn't it?
I mean, all of the strong beats are not represented.
-Yes, it's true, I think.
That's what actually is very difficult for foreigners to follow, because they can't feel the downbeats.
Everything is in the air.
And even the percussion's not really playing the downbeats much, right?
It's very much all in the air.
Can you just...?
-He's playing everywhere but the... -Yeah.
So, you have to be a good accountant to play that kind of music.
[ Laughter ] Where did that come from?
Where did the samba come from?
-It comes from another dance that was called maxixe.
It sounds Indian.
-Yeah, but it's Brazilian.
-It's Brazilian, okay.
-So that evolved actually from the cross of batuque, that was the rhythm played by the slaves, and under the influence of European dances.
When the Court of Portugal moved to Brazil, this merge started to happen.
Through the 19th century.
-So, maxixe is Portugal plus African slaves.
-Can I hear that?
[ Playing maxixe music ] -It's amazing with three instruments you can make me feel like I'm in Brazil and not in Chicago.
-This has a special flavor, doesn't it?
It's good to dance.
-What is the bossa nova?
Tell me about that.
-It's a natural evolution of all this, but we move many years later.
So, at the end of the '50s, beginning of the '60s, they slowed it down, the rhythm, and inserted jazz harmonies.
-Can I hear that?
[ Playing bossa nova music ] -I like that too.
-So, it seems like all of these pieces are sort of unified by this African dance rhythm?
They are all connected.
What changes really is the amount of, like -- the time in which they were written, and the people who decided to throw in different instrumentations, different harmonies.
But the basis, the one thing that unifies them, is that they are dance rhythms, right?
And they really kind of make the listener want to sway and move.
It makes you happy, even when it's singing sad things, people sing it with a smile on their face.
And this is samba, really, to the heart of it.
-In San Francisco, Reena introduced me to traditional Indian classical music, and two of the leading players -- Abhijit Banerjee playing the tabla... ...and violinist Kala Ramnath.
I love sitting right next to you when you play.
You can feel the music.
-So, are they also playing the raags that you showed me earlier?
-So, the rhythm element isn't raag.
It's called taal.
So Taal is a rhythmic cycle in Hindustani music, similar to a group of measures, or a single measure in Western classical music.
And each one, just like raag, also have these beautiful sound profiles.
There are lower beats.
There are higher beats.
There are beats that are a little more sharp.
Beats that are a little kind of more open.
And so just in the same way that raag is very poetic, taal is also very poetic.
So, can you show me a taal?
But before that, I just want to show you what makes the taal.
-The syllables of tabla.
If I say na.
[ Plays note ] If I say tun.
[ Plays note ] If I say te-te.
[ Plays notes ] Ke.
[ Plays note ] Then both-handed ta... [ Plays note ] Ta-ti-ta.
[ Plays notes ] [ Speaking and playing notes ] -[ Laughs ] -And so it's kind of the way to talk, you know?
You speak with this.
-So you can express with this language because every taal has a language which fits into the rhythmic cycle, which is seven beats or 10 beats or 16 beats.
For example, this composition.
[ Vocalizing ] That's the "one."
So, he can count the one, and I can show you how I play the composition and come back to the one.
-13, 14, 15, 16... One.
-It's stunning to me how vocal a percussion instrument can be.
-Just like you were saying about singing.
-I would say Indian classical music is totally based on vocal music.
Whether it be a melodic instrument, whether it be the voice, or whether it be the tabla, a percussion instrument.
So... [ Vocalizing ] [ Imitates vocalizing ] -It's amazing to me how easy it is for you to do with your left hand that you do with your vocal cords.
That's very impressive.
-You want to teach me?
-Maybe easier ones.
-Yeah, easy ones.
-[ Laughs ] -[ Laughs ] That's too hard.
[ Both laugh ] Next lesson.
I got to study.
-Can we hear a real piece?
-Now I get it.
Raag is the scale.
Taal is the rhythm.
They're the Indian versions of key and time signature, shaped by Indian vocal music.
Reena draws from these to give her music its unique sound.
In Chicago, Sérgio took me to Guarneri Hall, where they were filming a world premiere of a piece he wrote with Greg Beyer, who plays the Brazilian musical bow, the berimbau.
You are an American.
-Yeah, I'm from Wisconsin.
-What are you doing playing a Brazilian instrument?
-It kind of found me in New York City about 20, 22 years ago.
I was a graduate student at the time at the Manhattan School of Music, and I was down at a place called Drummers World.
I heard this really amazing sound coming from the back of the shop.
And a gentleman was playing with real virtuosic flair.
I fell in love with the sound.
So, I call all of my teachers and said, "Well, who do I study with?"
And everyone, to the person, said, "You have to go study with Mestre Cabello."
I took my first lesson.
And he looked at me and he said, "Listen, Greg.
So, what are you going to do with this instrument to give something back to the world?"
-That's a really profound statement.
That's kind of something that the universe asks of all of us, "What are you going to give back?"
-I think so.
-That's a wonderful lesson for us all.
-He was a really good teacher.
-So, what are you going to play?
-We're going to play a piece that we worked together.
Actually, I haven't ever heard a group of berimbaus playing this way.
Not in the way they integrated the instruments.
So, shall we play it?
-Let's do it.
-Let's go do it.
♪♪ Greg told me this is the only piece in existence for classical guitar and berimbau trio.
Through his own Brazilian experience, he's keeping his word, to introduce something new to the world.
Back on the West Coast, to really understand Reena's vision, I needed to play her music.
So I called up pianist John Novacek, and cellist Sophie Shao.
So, when you wrote this piano trio, were you modeling this after a certain composer?
Or what were you thinking about when you wrote this?
-Yeah, I think, you know, I have a longer history in Western classical music than I do in Indian classical music.
So certainly, I'm thinking about so much of the history of piano trios.
I mean, that's the reason why the piece is just called "Piano Trio" -- just like Schubert or just like Mendelssohn or just like Brahms.
In this case, I'm really thinking deeply about the sound of French music.
-That's really interesting.
John, does it feel like playing Fauré when you're playing this?
-Yeah, I mean, I definitely sense that kind of French connection.
But I am someone that's totally ignorant about Indian music.
Can you tell me what the Indian influence on this movement actually is?
-I think the Indian influence is in the melody.
And you know, you would think of -- Western melody, I think, is much more direct than Indian melody.
So, a Western melody that sounds like [Vocalizing] But in Indian music, it might sound a little more like [Vocalizing wavers] And it's also in a raag.
It's in Raag Bhairavi.
-I remember Kala playing that music and it feeling very effortless.
Of course, she was holding the violin down here, and she's really good at it, and I'm certainly not.
But do you have any tips for us on how to play those notes in between the notes?
-You know, in Indian classical music, they wouldn't even think of them as separate notes.
They'd think of them just as part of the main note.
And so when you play them, you don't want to be so uniquely focused on every single little ba-ba-da-ba.
It has to be like badada.
-So, would you say that we should drop some of our fingerings, like just playing things with one finger versus three or four?
-Well, my music is actually designed to work at any place on the spectrum that you are between Indian and Western classical music.
So, the question is, where do you sit and what do you want to bring to the music?
I'm also asking you to bring who you are into this music.
-Let's give it a try.
It's amazing to hear how Reena applies her Western and Eastern training to this very classical form, the piano trio, to create a work that feels both familiar and new.
My slides still need a little work, but I like the new voice it brings to the format.
[ Music continues ] ♪♪ My Indian cultural education wasn't quite done.
Reena asked me to a traditional Goan shrimp curry with her parents, Alda and Ozair.
♪♪ -So, with the tomatoes we are going to go very fine.
Very fine this way.
And once you get it all cut that way, then very fine this way.
-Give it a try.
-I'll pop that over.
-I didn't practice my mise en place beforehand.
-Oh, you're doing a better job than I would.
-No, I don't think so.
Your mother is so encouraging.
[ Laughs ] I come from a lineage of very good cooks.
It's a lot to live up to.
-My creative skills are in other areas I think.
[ Laughs ] -That's great.
-Okay, so I'm going to put some oil in the pot, then we're just going to put all these onions in here.
So, I come from a part of India, my parents were from Goa, which was settled by the Portuguese many centuries ago.
So, we have a very Portuguese slant to some of our cooking.
In the chilies go.
-So, who are the Castellinos?
-Castellino is Alda's family name.
Because as she said, she is from Goa and Portuguese influence.
-So, it's a Portuguese name.
-Is this your wife's parents?
These are Alda's parents.
And this is their wedding picture.
-They're so young.
And I think they were married in 1936.
Now, see, the interesting thing about this one -- Alda and I come from different religions.
I'm a Muslim and she's a Catholic.
And so we actually had two separate weddings.
We had a Catholic wedding and then we had a Muslim wedding.
And this is the picture of what we were dressed in, in a Muslim wedding.
-So, this was a marriage made in heaven and in the U.S. -This was a marriage made of love, and made of something that was completely acceptable in this country because there were no restrictions, if you would.
-So, when your only daughter decided that she was going to become a musician, what did you think?
-I loved it.
What we wanted to do, both my wife and I wanted to do was make sure that Reena does what she wants to do.
We did not force her into doing anything.
I would have liked to see if she would be in business for some reason because I am in business.
But that's not what she wanted.
-That's a very enlightened point of view.
I mean, I don't know, most parents would be -- My parents were certainly very afraid of me becoming a musician.
Especially becoming a composer.
I mean, it's almost -- it's like winning the lottery to be able to support yourself as a composer.
It's almost impossible.
-What Reena has done, just very few people are able to do something like that.
-There's also this.
That'll do it.
-Let's do it.
So if you can do that... -Okay.
-Reena's husband and collaborator, the violinist Vijay Gupta, was also here to help.
Where are you from?
-So, I grew up in New York.
My parents emigrated from Bengal in the 1970s.
And they first came to Jackson Heights, Queens, which is a pretty famous place for immigrant families to land for the first time.
But I went to school in New York City.
And it was kind of this dual world, of feeling like I really belonged at music school, and then in the town that I grew up in, I was like the only Indian kid there.
And so, really understanding identity, for me, was such an interesting conversation, because, in a sense, you're an outsider in the native land of your parents, and you are perceived as an outsider, maybe, in America as well.
But in a sense, one makes their identity in the in-between.
We are constantly serving, through our craft, especially as artists, to find and create a new place to belong, a new way to be in the world.
-And so that could only happen here.
-Here's the food.
-Wow, I feel very honored that I'm getting to try your food.
-Oh, I'm glad.
And you helped cook it, so that's great, you know.
I cut one vegetable.
[ Laughter ] -Oh, no.
You did pretty good, actually, with all those potatoes that you had to chop up for this.
-When I was growing up, I was told, "Oh, don't eat that food" -- Indian food.
"It's going to hurt your stomach."
-And, in college, my friends were going to an Indian restaurant.
They said, "Oh, Scott, come along.
We're going to go to an Indian restaurant."
I tried it for the first time, and I thought -- I felt sad actually.
I had missed out on that food for, whatever, 19 years.
-[ Laughing ] Wow, yes.
-What a pity.
And how life-changing that is.
You know, one thing I love about music, learning about a new piece of Brahms, or learning a new composer, is you're making that kind of friendship with something that you've missed out on your whole life.
-We're eating Indian food, but we also love American food.
Hamburgers, American barbecue, you know, all that stuff.
So, I think the point about food is, food brings people together.
-I think that's one of the best things about being an American, actually, is you can -- you know, if you're in New York, there are probably 50 Ethiopian restaurants in New York City.
-You know, 200 Indian restaurants.
-I work in Mexico City, and there isn't the variety that -- Americans kind of demand that.
We demand that as a culture.
We demand diversity.
We demand variety.
[ Indistinct conversations ] -Greg invited us to see capoeira, a martial art that, being Brazilian, is danced to music.
Here we met one of Chicago's most respected masters, Marisa Cordeiro.
-Capoeira is a lot more than a martial art.
Capoeira is dance, it's music, it's history.
-Where did it come from?
-It comes from Africa, but it developed in Brazil.
So enslaved Africans developed and disguised and used capoeira to defend themselves, to liberate themselves from slavery in Brazil.
-So they disguised the martial art in a dance?
They could not really engage and develop anything that somebody would see as a threat.
-So it's not just the music that's been influenced by Africa.
Well, Brazil is this melting pot of different cultures.
It's pretty much like in the U.S., but with the difference that there's much more mixture over there.
-But we draw a lot from what they do.
For instance, if you consider that most of classical composers in Brazil have written music based on this form of dance.
-Yeah, oh, yeah.
-Including me, yes.
-Can we see some capoeira?
We've been waiting for this.
-Come on, guys.
Let's do it.
[ All singing in Brazilian Portuguese ] -Marisa has been doing capoeira for over 50 years.
Clearly, this is a dance that will keep you in shape.
On my last day in San Francisco, Reena and Vijay took me to the Asian Art Museum to play a violin work they created together.
-So, this is actually the old library.
-And it was built in 1916.
Of course, it is now housing an incredible collection of Asian art, and we're going to go see some amazing old ancient Indian art.
Apparently, this is the most earthquake-safe building in all of San Francisco.
It's built on this interlocking system of tectonic plates and stuff.
It's really, really cool.
This is the Hindu god Shiva.
And you know, one thing that's really beautiful about Shiva, one of the forms of Shiva is the dancing god, Nataraja.
Actually, the lord of dance.
And this is a really sacred image to me, that I actually have a tattoo of the dancing god, of Nataraja.
These are all of his serpents, the snakes that dance with Shiva.
And so, this is Shiva dancing a dance to end the whole cosmos, a dance called the Tandava.
So, Shiva is the destroyer, but Shiva is also the deity that brings new life, new understanding.
-The title of the piece that Vijay's going to play is called "Darshan."
And Darshan means "seeing."
And it has this connotation of seeing a god, paying your respects to a god.
But I think it also means so much more.
It can be about kind of seeing that god in one another.
-Appreciating each other's godliness.
-Really seeing each other, right?
Well, why don't we go play some of it.
-Yeah, see how it works.
-So, this piece is actually based on a specific Hindustani raga.
It's called Raag Charukeshi.
And it's really, really gorgeous.
Reena, would you sing a little bit?
♪♪ -[ Vocalizing ] ♪♪ ♪♪ -And the way that she's notated it here.
♪♪ ♪♪ -So, all of these little -- this... ...you're -- you're simulating the incense and the percussion, and you're kind of filling in all the blanks.
-In a sense.
At the same time, I'm also filling in, at least from my Western mind, the harmonic structure.
Especially as violinists, playing Bach, or even, like, playing Corelli, for example.
Corelli didn't write in what should be in between those big chords.
He left it up to the performer.
So, in a sense, it's kind of like really very much like playing Baroque music.
So, how would you, without preparation, just how would you play that particular phrase, that letter A?
Right, so you played it in third position across two strings, right?
[ Plays notes ] But now let's listen to Reena sing that.
♪♪ -[ Vocalizing ] -Right?
So what would it be like to try to avoid, you know, string crossings, try to avoid anything that got in the way and play it all on one string?
Which is just like what she's doing, right?
Right, you want to give that a try?
-Okay, well, I want to hear you play it.
I would love to play it for you.
-Okay, let's go.
-Reena said darshan means "seeing."
Seeing the god in one another, in oneself.
Isn't that what great music can do?
It's the art form above all others that can express the spiritual within us.
I've been playing music my whole life, but I never would have thought to merge Western classical and Indian music.
Now that I hear what Reena and Vijay have done, my mind can clearly see it.
For my last stop in Chicago, I went with Sérgio to Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University, so he could show me how to play some of his Brazilian-inspired music.
What do I, as a non-Brazilian, need to know when I approach Mangabeira?
This is not a samba, right?
The rhythm is called baiao.
-And what is that?
-That's a rhythm where you actually don't have the downbeats.
You know, you have the upbeats in anticipation of the downbeat.
-And that feels awkward, because instead of being "one, two," we have "one, ta, ta, ta."
So that provokes something interesting, because if you dance to this rhythm, you move here, the upper body.
It's not grounded, so...
Contrary to what you have here in America.
-So, the upbeats give the music sort of lift?
-What you're looking for.
-That's right, yeah.
-Can you imagine if you were born in Peru or in South Africa or in China, how different your music would be?
It would be based on Peruvian music or somewhere else.
But, you know, my background is Brazilian and no matter what I do, I will be bringing my Brazilian heritage.
-It's kind of a fusion music, isn't it?
-It is, yeah.
-And your music, of course, is classical music but also Brazilian music... -Completely based upon the traditional things.
-So, it's kind of fusion of fusion.
-Fusion of a fusion, that's right!
That's a nice way of putting it.
-Well, let me give it a try.
Let's do it.
-Like Reena's violin work, I had never heard or played anything quite like this.
By interpreting Brazilian dance rhythms and Indian vocal influences through their own personal visions, these composers are creating something groundbreaking and new.
Sérgio and Reena are working between cultures.
They bring those worlds together to create a new one right here in American classical music.
I'm Scott Yoo, hoping you will now hear this.
-That was good!
-It was very good.
-[ Conversing in Brazilian Portuguese ] ♪ ♪ -To order this program on DVD, visit ShopPBS or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.
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♪ ♪ -To find out more about this and other "Great Performances" programs, visit pbs.org/greatperformances.
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ -Nice.
[ Laughs ]