Ashok Roy

“when you play music together you should feel something in your heart, the feeling and the love is what matters the most”

Ashok Roy

In 2014 I produced a radio feature and short film on the life of the late North Indian Sarod Virtuoso Pandit Ashok Roy.

Ashok Roy was born into a musical family in Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh in 1936. Disciple of the great Sarod Player Ali Akbar Khan, Roy emigrated to Australia in 1987 where he taught at Monash and Melbourne Universities before settling in Sydney to become the artistic director of the Australian Institute of Eastern Music. Roy was a prodigious performer and inspiring teacher, quietly sharing his musical treasure and gentle wisdom with all who crossed his path.

His fame in Australia never equaled his talent, but for those who heard him play the experience could be transcendent. Tabla player Bobby Singh: “I was there. I knew what happened. I felt the magic.”

I was fortunate enough to be guided to Ashok Roy as a student in the mid nineties. Over several years I sat with Ashok many times as he sung and explained to me the intricacies of the improvisation system of north Indian (Hindustani) classical music, while I attempted to copy his melodies on the cello. From him I learnt to listen and allow a melody to reveal itself. The melody is there, you just have to hear it…Over the course of time, I realised this was one of the greatest musical gifts I had been given.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to tell his story as a radio feature I produced for ABC Radio National’s Into the Music, made possible by generous contributions and support from Shanta and Sumit Roy, Adrian McNeil, Sumi Krishnan, Ram Chandra Suman, Richard Letts, Peter Parkhill and The National Library of Australia, Nancy Grover, Cathy Falk, Reis Flora, John Napier, Music Archive of Monash University, Bronia Kornhauser, Australian Institute of Eastern Music, David Walker, Robbie Varga, Peter Kennard, Gladwin Charles, Aneesh Pradhan and Kale Ram.

Following the Radio Feature, I was commissioned by Parramasala Film Festival to produce a short documentary film on Ashok Roy. The film was cut from archival VHS footage of concerts and workshops Ashok gave in Australia in the 80s and 90s, interviews recorded by Peter Parkhill, a short documentary on the musical group “Slivanje” by Fabio Cavadini and Amanda King and interviews recorded for the ABC Radio National documentary feature with Ashok’s students Adrian McNeil, Bobby Singh, John Napier, Sumathi Krishnan and Nancy Grover who first brought Ashok to Australia in 1973. The film was screened at Parramasala’s South Asian Film Festival, Parramatta, Sydney in October 2014.

Hindustani music, the classical tradition of north India to which Ashok Roy belonged, draws not only on Hindu put also Afghan, Persian and Arabic musics, which were woven into its fabric as different empires invaded and settled in north India over the centuries. The Sarod, Ashok Roy’s instrument, is a twenty-five string lute thought to have had its origins in Afghanistan with the Rabab, where it was used to inspire those in battle. Sarod is a Persian word, translated as “beautiful sound” or “melody”.

Ashok Roy was born in 1936 in Dehra Doon, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, in the Himalayan foothills north of Delhi. His father, Shri Ananta Roy was a Sarod player who studied with Ustad Allauddin Khan, revered as an elder of one of India’s most respected musical lineages, the Maihar Gharana. To be a serious musician in India one needs a guru, and Allaudin Khan had a host of well known disciples including Ravi Shankar.  His son Ali Akbar Khan, was to become a much loved Sarod player in the west and the guru of Ashok Roy.

Music echoed day and night through the Roy home in Dehra Doon, which doubled as a music academy and a venue for house concerts which took place every evening. A revolving circuit of Allaudin Khan’s students as well as other renowned musicians from all over India would come and play into the early hours of the morning. Ashok recalls that he would sometimes fall asleep on his fathers lap while he practised through the night, and that his uncle would come and sit on his bed and play to him while he fell asleep. Though his father refused to teach him at first, Ashok learnt through osmosis, picking up the Sarod when no-one was around and recreating the sounds that he had heard others play. As Ashok said “listening is very important to a musicians training”.

Ashok Roy toured extensively in India, Europe, and South-East Asia before settling in Australia in 1987. He taught at Monash and Melbourne Universities and in Sydney was Artistic Director of the Australian Institute of Eastern Music for seventeen years, performing, collaborating across cultures and teaching; bringing international quality world music to Australia before people were aware of the name.

In loving memory of an inspiring musician and teacher who brought another world to Australia, Pandit Ashok Roy (1936 – 2007).