Pandit Pran Nath, the world renowned north Indian vocal master and the teacher of important western new music composers, particularly Terry Riley and La Monte Young, died in Berkeley, California, on Thursday, June 13th. Pran Nath was the last in a long line of classical Indian singers originating in the 13th century court of Allauddin Khilji, a Mughul ruler of the Yadava dynasty. The legendary singer and saint, Gopal Nayak, a worshiper of Lord Krishna, was taken by Allauddin Khilji to Delhi, where, through the influence of the Sufi saints Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia, he embraced the traditions of Islam as well. Gopal Nayak eventually moved to the nearby village of Kirana where, through the efforts of two of his disciples, the Kirana school of Indian classical music was established.

Pran Nath's teacher, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, who died in 1950, was the acknowledged master of the Kirana style in the 20th century, and, through his performances on All India Radio, was chiefly responsible for making it the most influential and popular classical style of its time. Beginning in the late 1930's Pran Nath too was hired to perform on All India Radio and quickly gained fame as the new young master of the style. After a long career in India, in 1970 Pran Nath met the American composers Terry Riley and La Monte Young and Young's wife, the visual artist Marian Zazeela, all of whom became his disciples. Mainly through their devotion and effort Pran Nath was able to begin a new career in the West as a teacher and performer.

Throughout his life Pandit Pran Nath resisted every opportunity to advance his career commercially by acceding to the popular appetite for technical display, very common among audiences at concerts of Indian classical music, including vocal music. His work always involved a search for purity of expression, finding the exact nuance of pitch and tonal quality, in his words, "in between the notes," to fit perfectly the mood and nature of the raga being performed.

We are especially saddened by Pran Nath's passing. He was the founding spirit behind the California College of Performing Arts, the parent organization that spawned Other Minds.

There is a beautifully written and extensive piece on Pran Nath and his followers by Alexander Keefe in the online magazine Bidoun. Read it here.