The word nishani means “keepsake” in Hindi — and this piece was just that. I wrote it on the floor of my empty apartment in New Haven in the weeks before I finally left the East Coast in 2014 to move back to my hometown of Los Angeles. Those thirteen years away from home, whether in New York, New Haven, or New Delhi, had formed the backbone of my musical identity — and as I felt the connection to those places slipping away, I wrote this piece to make sure I never forgot the memories they held.
Have you ever heard a few seconds of a song through a speaker at a drug store that suddenly flooded your mind with the most vivid, tangible memories? That is what Nishani is for me. Each little ‘pakad’, or ‘catch phrase’ from some of my favorite raags (including Ahir Bhairav, Bihag, Jog and others) instantly bring years of memories flooding back into my mind.
This was my first and only time writing for viola d’amore — but I was instantly struck by how similar it is in feeling to one of my favorite Hindustani instruments: the sarangi. The warmth of the gut strings, the resonance of the sympathetic strings — the instrument instantly immerses you in a beautiful cocoon of overtones. I’m grateful to violist Matthew Dane for inviting me into the exploration of this incredible instrument.
(see video above)
This piece was commissioned by Matthew Dane. It was premiered on July 27, 2014 at the Friends of Chamber Music series in Rochester, VT.
Episode of Centennial Sounds, a podcast by Colorado Public Radio, dedicated entirely to Nishani.