Dr. Allyn Miner Performs in Lahore and the Hunza Valley

Dr. Allyn Miner traveled to Lahore and the Hunza Valley to perform and give workshops. Below is a summary of her trip and experiences in Pakistan. Photos will be added shortly!


I’m pleased to share here some images and a short account of my recent visit to Lahore and the Hunza valley. I was invited to Pakistan by the National College of Arts, Lahore, where I gave a series of workshops and a concert. The trip was sponsored by the NCA’s Department of Musicology. I was hosted in the home of Sadaf Habib and her family in the cantonment section of Lahore. Sadaf had taken my classes at Penn. She had mentioned to Professor Sarwat Ali, Head of the Musicology Department, that I was interested in visiting, and the two-week trip was arranged.

Lahore was sunny and mild. From the quiet cantonment area in the east of the city it was about a half hour drive up the broad Mall Road to the NCA in the center of colonial-era Lahore. Punjab University, the Lahore Museum, the High Court and the other nineteenth-century red stone structures are all here. Nearby are Anarkali and Urdu bazaar, lined with small shops. The walled city with its expansive parks and Mughal structures is a little farther north. [Photos Lahore 1-5]

The NCA was founded in 1878 as the Mayo School of Industrial Arts. Pakistan’s premier arts institution, it produces visual artists, architects and designers working all over the world. NCA students are from all over Pakistan. On these beautiful spring days students sat on the grassy lawns and courtyards. A boom box played. Styles ranged from salwar to green-spiked hair. The Musicology Department is one of the more recent additions to the College. Students take a spread of courses ideally preparing them for work in various music-related fields. Their final theses, listed on the NCA website, should be a starting point for international research on Pakistani regional, popular and classical music. [Photos NCA 6]

Pakistan is well known for qawwali music and other genres of the shrine and concert stage. Regional musics from Sindh to Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab are very much alive, and popular music is thriving nationally and internationally. The position of classical music in Pakistan, however, according to most reports, is relatively bleak. Performers and teachers told me that institutional, public, and private sponsorship is scarce. There are few venues to perform. Members of lineage families have left the field and student interest is weak.

My experience in Lahore, however, left me with a quite different impression. I might have gotten the best possible exposure, but I found a fascinating scene of professional musicians and spirited audiences. The modern Al Hamra complex was the venue for two concerts that I attended. Sponsors were the All Pakistan Music Conference, Hast-o-Neest Centre for Traditional Art and Culture, and the Lahore Music Forum. A performance by sitarist Ashraf Sharif Khan was received with lively responses from the audience. Ashraf, the son of Lahore’s late sitarist Ustad Muhammad Sharif Khan Poonchwale is settled in Germany but returns to Lahore frequently and is thoroughly celebrated. This March he received the Pride of Performance Award from the President of Pakistan in Islamabad. Another concert celebrated three late Lahore musicians, singer Fateh Ali Khan, sitarist Sharif Khan and tabla player Miyan Shoukat Hussain. In that concert, a tabla solo stirred a rival player in the audience to stand up and say “that is not correct!” evoking a range of other  responses from the audience. Classical music in Lahore is indeed alive. I came to know of various schools and teachers in the city while I was there. [Photos concerts 7]

Sadaf had heard about a music school in the Hunza Valley and she arranged for us to visit it. It was a four-hour bus trip to Islamabad and a one-hour flight to Gilgit, the largest city in the Gilgit-Baltistan administrative territory. Shina, Burushaski and Balit are predominant languages in Gilgit. The rugged, steep Karakoram mountains surround it on all sides. [Photos Gilgit 8-9]

It was a five-hour drive up the Karakoram Highway to Karimabad, the capital of the Hunza Valley. Just across the Hunza river one can see parts of the original silk route cut into the steep sides of the dry hills. The Hunza Valley has a sizeable Ismaili population, and schools and hospitals sponsored by the Aga Khan foundation are visible everywhere. The Chinese presence around the Karakoram Highway is noticeable. Karimabad attracts tourists from Pakistan and Asia during the summer when cherry and apricot trees cover the valley and unbelievably high terraces. The spectacular Karakoram range still had deep snow in the higher elevations in early March. [Photos Karimabad & Hunza 10-11]

A couple of hours above Karimabad is the Bulbulik Heritage Centre in the village of Gulmit. We had not contacted the school ahead of time, but the Program Director and students and instructors soon began to gather. Bulbulik was set up by a one-year grant from the USAID Pakistan as the last of various development projects in the region. The students, male and female, learn from local musicians. For the several hours we were there they sang and played for us on setar, rabab, ghachak, flute, and drums. The atmosphere was warm and relaxed. We had tea and the local stuffed flat bread. The program Project Manager, Abdul Waheed, told us that the response from people in the region surpassed expectations. To us it seemed that this model of a locally run, locally focused gathering place for music was one to emulate. [Photos Bulbulik 12-13]

Back in Lahore my concert at the NCA, accompanied by tabla player and instructor Sajjad Hussain was received warmly. My deep appreciation to Dr. Murtaza Jafri, Principal of the NCA, Professor Sarwat Ali, Head of Musicology, Ali Habib, Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib and Sadaf Habib and the many new friends that I made on this visit.  My experiences have left me with indelible impressions of the layers of cultural history alive in Pakistan today. [Photos Concert 14]