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25 Years of Ali Akbar College of Music Switzerland

Tribute by Yogendra
(January 2011)

"Spread this music as far as the sun and moon are shining!" - a long time ago the deceased sarod master Ali Akbar Khan received this mission from his father and guru, the legendary Allauddin Khan, teacher of Ravi Shankar and many other great Indian musicians. Ali Akbar Khan internalized this mission so much that he spent most of his life teaching classical Indian raga music to thousands of students all over the world. In 1956 he founded the first Ali Akbar College of Music (AACM) in Calcutta and in 1967 the second in the vicinity of San Francisco, where he led classes continuously for the next 42 years until his death in 2009. A third school, the Ali Akbar College of Music Switzerland, was founded by one of Ali Akbar Khan's master students, Ken Zuckerman, in 1985 in Basel. Last November, the AACM Switzerland celebrated its 25th anniversary - time for a tribute!

From the beginning, Ken Zuckerman had Ali Akbar Khan's full support. From 1985 until the turn of the millennium, the doyen made it a point to spend a week or two every year in the fall to teach personally at the AACM Switzerland. From the outset, tabla virtuoso Swapan Chaudhuri, Ali Akbar Khan's regular accompanist for many years, was part of that arrangement, too. The charisma, the openness and the commitment of these two artists drew students from all over Europe to the annual seminars - each time crowned with a joint concert by Ali Akbar Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri. Basel thus became one of the most important European centers for Indian music. For health reasons, Ali Akbar Khan had to stop his regular visits in recent years, but even without him, Ken Zuckerman's tireless efforts ensured that the tradition of the fall seminars continued year after year with an excellent team of teachers at a high musical level.

While the seminars are the highlights of the AACM's work, it is also organising ongoing classes, individual lessons, workshops with invited guest artists and concerts with classical Indian music all year round. Over the years, more than 1,500 students were taught and more than 180 concerts were arranged by the AACM Switzerland. Guest lecturers included Lakshmi Shankar, Alla Rakha, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Sultan Khan, Pandit Jasraj, George Ruckert and the Gundecha brothers. Concerts were given, amongst others, by Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Nikhil Banerjee, Mohiuddin Dagar, V.G. Jog, Alla Rakha, Kishori Amonkar, Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ram Narayan, Sultan Khan, Zakir Hussain, Anindo Chatterjee, Ajoy Chakraborty, Buddhaditya Mukherjee, Parween Sultana, Ronu Mazumdar, Ken Zuckerman and the Gundecha Brothers - and, of course by Ali Akbar Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri.

Important for the success of the AACM was the generous support of the Music Academy in Basel. Ken Zuckerman had been a teacher of improvisation in medieval music at the renowned Schola Cantorum Bsiliensis, the medieval music center of the Music Academy, since 1980. Thanks to his good reputation and contacts, the Music Academy provided the facilities for the seminars on its campus right from the start. Later on, Indian music became part of the Music Academy's regular curriculum as part of the Studio for Music of the Cultures.

I personally pilgrimaged consistently every autumn to the seminar with Ali Akbar Khan in Basel from 1987 to 2000. Not only did I find ever new musical treasures there, I also got an invitation for further studies at the AACM in California, and I had many personal encounters of lasting impact. I could tell many anecdotes from those years: How I was playing sitar in place of Ravi Shankar at the soundcheck for his concert. How I sat on stage with Ali Akbar Khan as a tanpura accompanist. How I was shaken by coughing in one of his concerts but simply couldn't leave the hall, because I was not willing to miss a single moment of his performance. How several student were competing on who could touch the other's feet in a more humble gesture, which resulted in us crawling on the floor of the seminar room. But this probably belongs somewhere else.

What definetely belongs here, though, is a praise and thank you to Ken Zuckerman. Without his seemingly tireless energy, the AACM Switzerland would have been a short-lived phenomenon. When Ali Akbar Khan is the AACM's his spiritual father, then Ken Zuckerman is something of its spiritual mother: Always nurturing, encouraging, striving to ensure the physical basics, concerned about the welfare of pupils and teachers alike, always approachable, always supportive and always an inspiration to others with his exemplary open and sensitive humaneness and great musicality. Ken, the Indian music in Europe owes you a lot - and me personally, too! I congratulate you to 25 years of AACM Switzerland and wish the AACM at least another 25 more successful years to come!