Meet Dutch cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas playing Hindustani music – The New Indian Express | Start Classified

Some compelling stories in the realm of Hindu classical music are born outside of India. One of them is the Dutch cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas. The 51-year-old musician, who has lived in culturally rich Delhi for decades, has seamlessly integrated the cello – an Italian stringed instrument from the violin family – into Hindu music since her Indian concert debut in 1999. Over the past two decades, her journey has been enriched by several collaborations, including a duet with world-renowned sitarist and husband Pandit Shubhendra Rao.

Her music has hit a different audience in the last decade – the world of education. They looked at music as an element of education to make learning richer. They also brought music into schools. For both, they have developed books, notation, activities, lessons, interactions and performances in music as part of Sangeet4All, a music curriculum program conceived by the Shubhendra & Saskia Rao Foundation in Delhi. Haas has written 10 books about Indian music for children at Sangeet4All. Her latest book, Shastra, deals with India’s rich musical history and explores the contemporary scenario of classical and world music.

The cellist’s vision of bringing a music curriculum to Indian schools involves an ambitious and carefully woven plan that encompasses listening, learning and reading. The Sangeet4All program, which she launched in 2014, provides access to classical music for everyone, even outside the confines of the concert or a traditional classroom. Haas says: “Shastra is written for middle and high school children, the young adult range, but also for all musicians, music lovers and teachers who want to learn more about the basics of the classical music traditions of India and want to know how to teach it appealing to that knowledge.” Creating a cross-generational musical experience through orchestration and a multidisciplinary approach comes naturally to her, whose gurus were Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Music and musicality are the subject of deep investigation and questioning in Indian sacred texts. Normally these treasures can only be tapped through or during a formal music education. children need
a link between learning and the visual experience to understand the legacy in terms of what they want to hear at a concert or what they want to learn in a music classroom. Shastra, like other Haas books, builds that connection. The 96-page book is intended to be read to children by a musically inclined storyteller. The text is laid out over conversation illustrations. Fusing multiple elements of music and musical instruments from different eras of Indian cultural history, Haas covers the past and present of music throughout the book.

How did she strike a balance in presenting information, history and deeper nuances of the music? She says: “Although research and dialogue between art scholars promotes a deeper understanding, it is equally important to disseminate this knowledge to a wider audience. I believe if we can explain complicated information to a child, we have captured the essence ourselves.”

Haas noted that the space for education through music in India was largely unfilled. With some support from artists and her audience, she amassed insights aimed at helping children understand and create music. Her books contain musical notation that can be used to learn various instruments, including percussion, non-percussion, and wind instruments.

The Indianization of a Western instrument is a challenging process. Haas, described as a “rebel” by her listeners and peers, put them into practice and persuaded her cello to engage with the ragas. A concert in Amsterdam in the 1990s changed their musical language. Legendary singers Dagar Bandhus performed at Tropical Institute. Haas, a Western classical musician of the time, was in the audience. She was attracted to dhrupad, Indian musicality, the breadth of improvisation in Indian classical music and other aspects. She decided to learn and practice the genre. To do this, Haas had to make changes to her cello, sitting style, and playing techniques. In her evolving practice, she encountered challenges that allowed the cello to explore new levels of sound and character. Now she’s building an educated audience and redefining travel.


page turner:
Illustrations by Colin Campbell
Breaking the norm: Stalwarts introduced in postage stamp format
Text strengths: musicologists, gharanas, music and valley notations
Thought Drive: Chitrasena’s Mission

Leave a Comment