Over the Hills and Valleys of Vocal Music with a Maestro


The intimate concert with Pandit Ashis Senguptaji on tabla, Torvi, Dr. Vinay Mishra on harmonium and Torvi’s disciple Shiddartha Belmannu was held at the Auburn Lakes Clubhouse in The Woodlands. Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

THE WOODLANDS: The fierce rainstorm last Friday afternoon, May 27, threatened to derail the much anticipated private concert of vocalist Pandit Vinayak Torvi but thankfully, it abated just in time for people to make the long voyage from the hinterlands to this community 45 miles north of central Houston. Though nervous at the prospect of driving through high waters to the Auburn Lakes Clubhouse, they still had to contend with a rising Willow Creek which had swallowed up Grosling Road making it unpassable by nightfall after two days of heavy thundershowers in the Montgomery County area.


Pt. Vinayak Torvi in front of a photo of Aruna Gupta, whom he remembered for her passion for Indian classical music. Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

But for those 80 or so people who came – mostly Woodlands residents – the hour-long musical session by Torvi was a treat that could not be replicated in any concert hall for its upclose and intimate appeal. The artist and his accompanying musicians Pandit Ashis Sengupta on the table and Dr. Vinay Mishra on the harmonium as well as his disciple the young 19 year-old Shiddartha Belmannu who sat close by and on a few occasions followed the maestro’s vocalizations. The four have been on a tour of 14 cities in the US and after this Houston stop were scheduled to head out to San Jose and then from there back to India.

That they came to perform to such an intimate audience was a testament to the esteem that Torvi had for the late Aruna Gupta who was a well-known classical music promoter and noted artist in her own right. She had often pulled together concerts in Delhi for Torvi and “I was always sure that she would be there in the front row,” said Torvi as he paid homage to Gupta, whose framed photo hung behind him on the fireplace. Visibly touched by Gupta’s appreciation of his art and the impact she had on the classical music scene in Delhi, Torvi said, with hands folded, that ”we could not pass up the chance to perform at her daughter’s invitation here in Houston, it is like having her here with us again.”


Deena Patil opened up with introductions of the artistes

It brought tears to the eyes of Gupta’s daughter, Rashmi Gupta who lives in The Woodlands and has also acquired her mother’s appreciation for good Indian classical music. Her mother was a Nritya and Sangeet Visharad (master’s degree in classical dance and singing) but could not perform herself as she was married into a conservative Banaras Business family yet managed to imbibe the same passion in her family. In turn, Rashmi has for past four years turned her home into a salon to showcase visiting Indian artistes like Padam Bhushan Pandit Rajan Sajan Mishra and Ustad Raza Ali Khan, the grandson of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan. “This has truly become my passion and I feel so connected to my mom through music,” said Rashmi of the avocation that she pursues while being a successful real estate agent. “I feel responsible in carrying out her mission of promoting Hindustani Classical music.”

The beneficiaries of her passion are her group of friends and acquaintances who get a front row to musical events that she plans, usually in her home. This evening, a friend, Deena Patil gave the introductions to Torvi and the other musicians for the powerful concert in which the maestro showed his skill at navigating the highs, low and all the other subtle tones in between; Sengupta played a few incredible solo pieces on the table and both he and Mishra caught the taals and musical chords effortlessly, “since we know the grammar of the music,” Mishra quipped later after dinner!


Organizer Rashmi Gupta (left) was overcome with emotion at the concert

Pandit Vinayak Torvi is a gifted vocalist with a resonant voice, rich in melody and rhythm. Born to a family of keertanakars in Ranebennur, Karnataka, he developed a passion for music at a very early age and was a child prodigy. He received training in Hindustani classical vocal music in Gurukul system first from the legendary Gyanacharya Gururao Deshpande from Gwalior Gharana and later from Bharata Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi from Kirana Gharana. During his Post Graduate studies in music in Karnataka University Dharwad, he was influenced and musically reinforced by musical greats. He is an acclaimed All India Radio and Doordarshan artist and has participated in major music festivals and conferences nationally in India and all over the world, receiving many awards. He is the heir apparent to Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.

Pandit Ashis Senguptaji is a dynamic, versatile tabla mastero from Benaras Gharana. He trained initially under his father Ranjit Kumar Sengupta and later by Pt. Nanku Maharaj, Pt. Mahapurush Mishra and Krishna Kumar Ganguly. His high aesthetic perception of tabla enables him to express a range of emotions with his instrument. He is the recipient of Taalmani award and is one of the most sought after artiste both as a soloist and accompanist but above all he is a performing percussionist. He has also written books like “Facets of Tabla Playing” and “Mridangam to Tabla- A Journey”. He is a member of the faculty of music and fine arts  at the University of Delhi.

Dr. Vinay Mishra is an accomplished harmonium player born in Varanasi and trained at Benaras Hindu University and Delhi University. He was tutelaged under Ustad Mahtab Khan Saheb and Ustad Chand Khan Saheb and guided by gurus in Varanasi and Pt. Appasaheb Jalgoankar. He has accompanied many vocalists and is building a name as a soloist too. He is also a member of the faculty of music and fine arts  at the University of Delhi.

Credit: Deena Patil contributed to this story