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Travels with the Lute

A wonderful session with three very different musicians, Bassam Shahouk, Aditya Verma and John Edwards, for Dr. Mairi Cowan’s Travels With the Lute webcast project.

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Left to right: Bassam Shahouk, Aditya Verma and John Edwards.


Through a connection with Schola Magdalena member, Julia Armstrong, I became involved with this project under the leadership of Dr. Mairi Cowan of the U. of Toronto, Mississauga. The idea is to teach history through a series of podcasts tracing the musical, geographical and cultural history of the Lute from the late middle ages until its twilight in the middle eighteenth century.

I was joined in the production team by videographers Andrew Hamilton-Smith and Asad Ansari. We set up in St. Olave’s Anglican Church on Friday, June 15, to capture discussion, commentary and performances from three uniquely talented musicians:
John Edwards playing Renaissance Lute, Bassam Bishara Shahouk playing Oud and Aditya Verma playing Sarod. These three musicians, well known and respected in their own cultural circles, were excited to compare and explain their instruments and history (both personal and cultural) to trace the history that started in Asia with the Chinese Pipa, through the Arab world with the Oud, then brought into Europe by the Moors which culminated with the development of the Lute.

I had met John Edwards, well known for his work with The Musicians In Ordinary, earlier the week prior, to consult on the choice of a recording venue but I had never met the other musicians. Bassam Shahouk has been teaching middle eastern music at York University for some years and is the musical director of the Arabesque Dance Company, and Adi Verma is a well known Indian Classical musician based in Montreal. It turns out that one of Adi’s gurus is my former Indian Music guru, Aashish Khan Debsharma (small world, ain’t it).

Each of these musicians is a passionate advocate for their musical culture and their instrument, so there was no problem getting them to speak at length about their musical traditions as well as their personal feelings and what attracted them to the instrument in the first place. Following this discussion, we recorded two short pieces by each musician to demonstrate the diverse sounds and playing techniques. I’m hoping that this is just the first of a series of productions for this project, as it was a fascinating session for me.

The picture above is a screen grab from the video shot by
Andrew Hamilton-Smith and Asad Ansari.