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Rhythm and Ouds

Class Is in Session for World Music in Highland Park

October 06, 2002|NELSON HANDEL

Walk down the main drag in the mostly Latino, working-class neighborhood of Highland Park on a quiet night, and you might hear a most incongruous sound: the droning of an Indian sitar. Or a strum on a Middle Eastern oud. Or the breathy call of the Bulgarian kaval flute. Follow the music and you'll discover the rehabilitated storefront that houses one of L.A.'s most unusual and inspired grass-roots endeavors, the Sangeet School of World Music and Dance. "We're committed to making creative world music--the music of India, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America--available to everyone," says founder and artistic director Paul Livingstone. "This is world music in the 'hood."

They speak their own secret language at Sangeet. When the melody from an Armenian duduk meets the rhythmic strumming of a Bolivian charango, you have what the gang at Sangeet like to call a "shplang." "Shplang is the sound of instruments from different cultures coming together in one place at the same time," Livingstone explains with a mischievous smile. And if that sound reaches a transcendent place where musician and audience get lost together for a sublime moment, well, then, they say at Sangeet, "that crowd be glangin'."

Livingston, a sitarist and player of various "world" guitars with an MFA from CalArts, founded Sangeet nearly five years ago to provide classes in traditional music and dance. Instructors include L.A.-based master musicians from around the world along with homegrown artists, some of them veterans of programs such as that offered by CalArts' world music department. Like any idealistic young nonprofit arts group, Sangeet struggles to survive, subsisting on fund-raisers, $25 membership fees and contributions from private foundations. The space is decorated with Oriental rugs and Indian wall hangings. There is also a dazzling panoply of instruments whose names make their own music--surdo, darabukka, tanpura, djembe--and an ambience that shouts that life lived within sound is glangin' good fun.

Classes (and periodic concerts) run from classical Indian modalities to Brazilian percussion to Guinean kora. In World Drumming for Youth and Children, kids ages 3-12 converge on Saturday mornings to learn the rhythms of the planet. "My 7-year-old son loves it," says psychotherapist Brenda Varda. "It's the joy of drumming, but it's also about listening, and how a group works together. And he's getting a truly L.A. experience, the cultures and rhythms of the city."

"Sangeet's a treasure for this area," says Highland Park resident Julia Hernandez. "It's something you'd expect to find on the Westside or in Hollywood." Neighbor Patricia Parra agrees. "Sangeet adds to the wide range of cultural diversity here. It's a part of our family now."

"We all live on the same planet," says Livingstone, by way of explaining the philosophy that guides the school and its bonds with Highland Park. "There is nothing 'not mine' or 'not yours' about music from another culture. We're finding the commonalities where music can just be music."

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