Writings about Music

Interviews with Indian Masters

An Email From Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar and Harihar Rao

Late last week, prior to an important appointment, I found myself going through old papers seeking something I didn’t find at this first attempt. Tonight, revisiting the mess I had made, I decided to take a peek into one rather mysterious looking envelope, and there it was – not what I had been looking for, but rather the text of an email Ravi Shankar sent me in January 1998, the only such message I ever received from him. There is no exact date on the page I typed out back then - it didn't occur to me to include the date at the time - making a hard copy of the email this way because the computer I was using was not attached to a printer.

Ravi and I exchanged emails during the glorious time I had housesitting for Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin. That computer broke, and after getting a new computer, I also began using a new email address, and subsequently forgot what and where the original email address was. Perhaps I will do some Columbo work and relocate it!

I had met Ravi and his wife, Sukanya, in December 1997 after a lecture he gave at UCSD, learning they had been dazzled by my recent album, Chinese Legend, including the title piece making use of a sitar timbre in previously unimagined ways. It was after this meeting that I wrote to Ravi, his response below.

Chinese Legend was even played on the notoriously conservative classical KUSC, the host, Martin Perlich, excited by what he found to be a new form of Western classical music using raga and other world music influences, including raving about the wide range of instrumental timbres from different cultures used to orchestrate Chinese Legend, and the cover art made from actual hand silkscreened paper from Japan.

Title track of Chinese Legend album

Hopefully, I will be able to find at least a copy of the email I first wrote to Ravi resulting in his favorable response. It was perhaps the most inspired and poetic email I ever composed, asking him to give me private lessons focusing on the melodic, rhythmic and expressive aspects of Hindustani music, including making reference to the mountains in the distance gleaming with fresh snow, something I had never seen before from where I was staying at the time, feeling like the Himalayas had magically appeared in California.

From Hills of Snow from the Chinese Legend album

Below is the text of Ravi Shankar’s January 1998 email to me that went missing for over twenty years, miraculously reappearing tonight.

Vinayaj refers to the humility a student has toward the guru. I colored Ravi's email font orange here because it felt like the right thing to do!

And this is what is most amazing. The past three days I have been listening almost constantly to several of Shankar's recordings, finding new details of technique, form and expression that evaded me previously. I even played improvised variations upon Ravi's melodies on the electric piano.* There is now a mystical sensation that he somehow said hello back.


Dear Michael,

Thank you for your letter dated December 22, 1997. Vinayaj is a rare quality in us. And I was touched by finding it in your letter!

Contact me after I come back from India about mid march ’98.

Best Wishes and blessings for the coming year.

Ravi Shankar


I only blame myself for not being persistent enough in pursuing the priceless opportunity of having lessons with Ravi Shankar. My recollection was how he was extremely busy, traveling a lot, plus he lived about three hours away in Encinitas, and I wasn't patient enough arranging to have our first lesson, not understanding the nature of such a famous person's scheduling, and how it wasn't personal if we had to wait a bit, or reschedule something already agreed upon.

But thank God I was able to study with Ravi's senior disciple, Harihar Rao. Other students of Rao included George Harrison, Brian Jones, Don Ellis, Lalo Schifrin, Ed Shaughnessy, John Densmore and Robby Krieger among Westerners together with myriad students from India.

Porcelain Nights from the Chinese Legend album

Harihar is so much a part of me that if I close my eyes and think of him, it's like he's right there seated in front of me ready to answer my questions about music. And if he's there you know Ravi is close by, too. They are both in my heart.

- Michael Robinson, December 2019, Los Angeles


© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


* Michael Robinson acquired his first acoustic piano during the summer of 2022. The Azure Miles Records Piano Improvisation Series began in 2018.


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.