I had the great good fortune this evening to observe legendary innovator Pt Ravi Shankar create music with his sitar. Back in April, on the occasion of his 91st birthday, he was interviewed here by George Varga.
“The only big difference I feel at this age is a little more anxiety,” he noted. “Once I start and get into it, I forget the age. I feel so much richer, in depth and new ideas, then I ever have before. Mentally, I sometimes feel like: ‘How can I start? I’m getting old!’ But then I forget everything and it comes much easier. Of course, (regarding) the speed and virtuosity, I may not be able to run as fast as I could (before). But I feel so much more richer in my playing.”
His quest to remain musically and intellectually engaged is a key reason he still welcomes students to his home several times each year. They travel from around the world to study with him, some for a few days, others for weeks.
“When I teach, new things come,” Shankar said.
“When I say ‘new,’ it’s based on tradition, but new ideas. I’m bombarded by so much (stimuli) that it becomes very painful sometimes! I’m amazed how, by the press of a button on a computer, you can learn about anything you want today. But if people could go deeper into things, and not just skim the surface, that would be a great thing.”
I’m reminded of another endless well of creativity, Michelangelo. An old headline here from The Independent announced, “Workaholic Michelangelo was a martyr to gout, say scientists”. Yes, Michelangelo worked all the time. He worked until 6 days before his death at almost 90 years old. But he wasn’t a “workaholic”! He was as productive as it gets.
A workaholic, according to Edwin Bliss, is “concerned with activities (staying busy) rather than achievements (getting things done)”. As I wrote in “Busy bee”
The laziest people are “busy bees” who distract themselves with frantic activity from the hard work of thinking, questioning and understanding.
Aside: It’s likely that Michelangelo did suffer from gout, probably caused by lead poisoning, although not as severe as Beethoven’s lead poisoning. For a fuller version of the Michelangelo medical sleuthing, including pictures, see this.