The Story of Raag-Rung Music Circle
Beginnings in a new country
Dr. Inderjit & Mrs. Usha Nirdosh immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, in the mid 70’s, bringing with them a genuine love for the classical music and performing arts of their homeland. To share their love and appreciation of their arts and music heritage with their children, the Nirdosh parents invited Shri Gopal Das Garg, a skilled music teacher from India, for an extended visit.
Over the ensuing two years, Shri Garg provided incredibly rich sessions of instruction and education, inspiring several community members to learn Indian Classical Music. As well, the Nirdosh family opened their home to any who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to learn these traditions. To showcase the achievements of Shri Garg’s students, Dr. Nirdosh produced several music programs that appeared on Shan Chandershekhar’s Asian Horizons program, which was later carried on The Asian Television Network, ATN.
In these years, the seeds of what would become the Raag-Rung Music Circle were planted.
East Indian Music and Arts in Northwestern Ontario
In 1981, the Nirdosh family moved to Thunder Bay, away from the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of Toronto. Here, they met Dr. Som & Mrs. Sudha Naimpally, who were also keen music lovers. The two families forged a harmonious partnership, and worked together to extend the pleasures of Indian Classical dance and music to the Thunder Bay community. Though the Naimpally family eventually moved from Thunder Bay, the Nirdosh family continued sharing East Indian music and art forms. In 1983, they spearheaded the formation of the Raag-Rung Music Circle, to further enhance their mission of sharing their artistic heritage with their adopted community.
In a unique piece of serendipity, Inder Nirdosh happened to have a large number of artistic contacts in India, from which he could draw talent for proposed public concerts. In typical Northwestern Ontario “do it yourself” fashion, Inder renovated the basement of their family home to accommodate as many people as possible for the first of many Raag-Rung concerts. Thanks to Inder's impressive contact list, Raag-Rung was able to secure intimate “living room” concerts by some of the biggest names in Subcontinental music. As well, Usha Nirdosh cooked luxurious vegetarian dinners, enjoyed by artists and guests alike. Eventually, the popularity of the concerts outgrew the Nirdosh family's basement auditorium (maximum 50 people!), so Raag-Rung concerts, along with the tradition of serving Indian vegetarian cuisine, moved to much larger venues.
Bringing A-List Artists to a Small, Isolated City
To understand the accomplishments of Raag-Rung over the years, we have to look at the context of the organization. Thunder Bay is a city of just over 100,000 people, of whom less than 1/10 of 1% are of East Indian heritage. Culturally, there is overwhelming competition for people's attention from western music artists and styles. East Indian art forms stood a very poor chance of existing in Thunder Bay, let alone thriving.
East Indian artists, often living legends, tour North America on occasion, playing very large venues where populations and ticket sales can support their performances. With surprising regularity, these A-List performers made a stop in a relatively-isolated city of just over 100,000 for a concert with as few as 50 people in attendance.
We are talking about winners of Grammys, Bill Board’s Top Ten and Music, Juno, Order of Canada, Governor General of Canada’s Performing Arts Award, in North America, and the prestigious President of India and the Padma awards (Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padmashree, three of the four highest honours given by the Government of India to artists and individuals who have made exceptional contributions in their fields). In fact, from every report, these virtuosi have been delighted to drop in on Thunder Bay during a North American tour.
How did this happen?
Inder Nirdosh, himself a published poet and lyricist in the Subcontinental Urdu language, had developed relationships with many of these artists during his years in India. In corresponding with them, he would learn of their itinerary and suggest, if logistically possible, a stop in Thunder Bay. Many have happily complied. In fact, Raag-Rung was honoured that Indian musical superstars Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan (sitar) and Pandit Vijay Ghate (tabla) chose to launch their maiden North American Performance Tour in the 1980s from Thunder Bay.
Who They Are and What they Bring
Like North American music, Indian classical music sports a variety of styles and influences. In its concert series, Raag-Rung has showcased five of the six most popular classical dance styles of India (Bharatanatayam, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi and Manipuri) with solo performers as well as troupes of 15 or more dancers.
Raag-Rung has also arranged dance performances of indigenous and East Indian folk troupes from Saskatchewan and Ontario, even bringing a performance to the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre on one occasion.
In the music field, Raag-Rung has arranged concerts for a wide range of Indian vocal styles and stringed musical instruments such as sitar, sarod, santoor, sarangi, israj, and the unique Mohan Veena (modified electric slide guitar with sympathetic strings). The rare Jaltarang, as well as bansuri (bamboo flute), tabla, harmonium, and the South Indian percussion instruments such as Mrdangam (a precursor of Tabla), Kanjira and Ghatam, have all been performed in Thunder Bay. Some artists have returned multiple times by popular demand. In addition, Raag-Rung has pushed the envelope with fusion performances between Eastern and Western musicians.
Raag-Rung Community Involvement
Over a 30-year period, Raag-Rung organized three to four events every year. In addition to presentations in various performance halls in town, some of these were also held in venues such as the Intercity Shopping Centre, Lakehead University and the area high schools. This has now changed to only one or two concerts per year, but all such are dedicated to raising funds for post-secondary student scholarships and bursaries at Lakehead University and Confederation College for helping students in perpetuity and for the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. As well, Raag-Rung has also raised funds for the Northern Cancer Research Foundation and the Thunder Bay Disaster Relief Fund. Response from both the community and the artists has been wonderful.
Alongside inviting artists from India, Raag-Rung has also organized concerts of very talented Aboriginal and young Canadian artists representing a diversity of global art forms. In addition to the cultural events, Raag-Rung also arranges public lectures on matters of importance to life (philosophy, wellness and motivation) for the benefit of the community.
Raag-Rung runs a free school of classical Indian music and has been nominated for the award of Education of the Thunder Bay Regional Arts Council first time in 2003, followed by three subsequent similar nominations.
After operating for nearly 20 years or so, Raag-Rung was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. Mazhar Laldin and Satish Verma joined Inderjit Nirdosh as members of the Executive Council. Later, it was registered as a charitable organization. The current Raag-Rung Music Circle Team consists of Carl Goodwin, Tammy Holmes, Inderjit Nirdosh, Kevin Sidlar and Rajesh Talpade. Raag-Rung operates solely through volunteers. There are no paid employees of the organization.