By Nandini Ramani
Arjun Verma is a brilliant young sitar player trained by sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan. Arjun was nurtured in the serene ashram of scholar-spiritualist Sri Ram Murthi Sharma in Monroe, New York, where his father Roop Verma is a resident musician-teacher and mother Tracy is a yoga instructor. Roop Verma, a disciple of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, is a well known sitarist. It was Pandit Ravi Shankar who named the child Arjun. The boy showed signs of musical talent even as a three-year-old and started learning from his father. While in his early teens, Arjun was deeply inspired by sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, so he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to directly learn from the great teacher for eight years.
Arjun received a Shenson Fellowship from the San Francisco Foundation which enabled him to study at the Ali Akbar College of Music. His training continued under the able guidance of Alam Khan, son of Ali Akbar Khan, after the maestro passed away in 2009.
Arjun quit his regular job after graduating from college to become a full-time musician, devoting all his energy to intense practice and performance. He has an innate skill and passion and has equipped himself well in methodology, all of which he combines to bring out the best in the Ali Akbar Khan style with its different methods of practice, focus on purity of raga, compositional excellence and the overall exquisite quality of the Maihar Senia gharana.
Inspired by his guru, Arjun has introduced innovations in sitar techniques. He acknowledges the influence of another preeminent sitarist, Nikhil Banerjee. Incorporating a rich measure of musical elements drawn from Roop Verma, Arjun plays on the sitar presented to his father as a wedding gift by Ravi Shankar.
Arjun has a brilliant performance record; his concerts have received wide acclaim. His talent was recognised even at the age of seven when he began playing in concerts in the U.S., Europe, and India. Some of his noteworthy performances with his father include the one at Prague Castle in the Czech Republic, and the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Arjun has performed with his guru Alam Khan, as well as with renowned tabla players like Sharada Sahai and Shabbir Nisar.
Arjun is a member of the faculty at the Ali Akbar College of Music, where he teaches and performs, and at the Jazz School Institute in Berkeley, CA, where he teaches north Indian ensemble music, focusing on its rhythmic, melodic and harmonic elements. Arjun recently composed one of Ali Akbar Khan’s musical pieces for a Western instrumental ensemble in Western musical notation. Apart from this, he has experimented with using the sitar in other musical genres such as Western classical, Celtic and Jazz music. He has performed with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Fareed Haque, Celso Alberti and Kai Eckhardt.
Arjun’s passion and drive have made him a star musician-performer of the sitar. The future is bright for this torchbearer of the rich musical tradition of the maestro Ali Akbar Khan.