Tagore on Soul and Strings


YPSILANTI, MI – A single spotlight flickered through the small auditorium, illuminating the speaker. It cast a dim light upon the audience, a diverse group dressed in everything from sleek black suits to sparkling saris. It was the beginning of a night years in the making: the April 18 Western premiere of “Tagore on Soul and Strings.”

Though the Ann Arbor, Mich. non-profit Tagore Beyond Boundaries and the musicians of Pioneer High School’s Concert Orchestra only began the collaboration in late 2016, the music goes much further back. The performance was a Westernization of the music of Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet and songwriter who was the first non-European person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature — an event which took place in 1913.

“It has been a tremendous east-west collaboration,” said Dr. Mousumi Banerjee, an Indian vocalist featured in the Tagore on Soul and Strings performance.

Banerjee and other speakers described Tagore as an important part of their childhood, with memories of summer nights in family member’s gardens, Tagore’s melodies drifting through the air, and school projects detailing Tagore’s many studies.

Pioneer’s orchestras performed 12 songs, all pieces which had been transformed to fit the instrumentation of a Western orchestra. Because of this, many Indian musicians worked with Pioneer’s director, Jonathan Glawe, to ensure the true spirit of Tagore remained present despite the changing instruments. The concert featured Indian vocalists in addition to a traditional Indian instrument — the Sarod, a 17 to 25-stringed instrument played by world famous musician Dr. Rajeeb Chakraborty.

With 113 high school musicians and an auditorium so packed that folding chairs were lined up in back of the audience, Tagore Beyond Boundaries seems to be well on its way to achieving its goal of introducing Tagore’s music to Western cultures. They hope to bring Tagore’s music to American schools all throughout the nation. Tagore’s Aanondoloke, the closing piece at Tagore on Soul and Strings, speaks of the earth singing glory to Tagore’s loved ones, but Tagore Beyond Boundaries hopes to allow the students of America to sing glory to Tagore, connecting continents and cultures with the power of music.