Globalization and Indian Classical Music
Balwant N. Dixit, Ph. D.
In the late fifties and early sixties, Yehudi Menuhin, the world famous violin virtuoso introduced Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar to Western audiences. This was the beginning of a new era for Hindustani classical music (HCM). George Harrison’s association with Ravi Shankar, and his efforts to incorporate the sounds of the sitar in some of his music, generated much interest with younger Americans. Performances by Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha in the Monterey Pop Festival (1967) and in the heavily promoted Woodstock Festival (1969) brought HCM to the attention of even larger number of younger fans. The Concert for Bangladesh (1971), to raise funds for UNESCO's humanitarian programs in Bangladesh, was promoted by George Harrison. A performance by Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan with Alla Rakha in this concert was a media success. The United Nation’s Human Rights Day Concert, featuring Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha also brought wider acclaim to HCM.
During this period, very few exponents of Carnatic music performed in North America. One notable exception was M. S. Subbulakshmi, who in 1966 gave sterling performances at the United Nations and at the Carnegie Music Hall in New York City; these were followed by a very successful concert tour, thus making Carnatic music known to some of the music aficionados in North America. Up until the early seventies however, Hindustani vocal music remained essentially unnoticed.
In 1968 the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music was established in Northern California. Ali Akbar Khan (President and Principal) and Swapan Chaudhuri (Director of Percussion) are the current principal instructors. However, over the past years several distinguished musicians have been on the faculty of this college. It certainly has played a major role in teaching Hindustani classical music to thousands of students.
Mention must be made of the unique contribution Professor Jon B. Higgins of Wesleyan University made in presenting Carnatic vocal music to the audiences in U.S.A. Under Fulbright scholarship, Higgins studied Carnatic music at Chennai from 1964-67 and made his debut, quite fittingly, at the Tiruvaiyaru Tyagaraja Festival, in 1965. He became known in South India as Higgins Bhagavatar. When he returned to Wesleyan, he brought with him his vocal teacher, T. Vishwanathan. Others who came with him were V. Tyagarajan, V. Nagarajan and T, Ranganathan as visiting lecturers. After his return to U.S.A., he established a program in Carnatic music at Wesleyan and gave a number of concerts in several places in U.S.A. This program still continues at Wesleyan and is probably the longest lasting university-based program in Carnatic music in U.S.A. During 1981-82, Higgins returned to India as Senior Research Fellow of the American Institute of Indian studies. This cultural link between the West and the East was lost, when Professor Higgins died prematurely as a victim of a hit and run automobile accident.
With philanthropic support from the Walt Disney Foundation, the California Institute of Arts was established in 1973 near Los Angeles, California. Ravi Shankar was named the Head of the Division of Hindustani classical music and T. Vishwanathan was selected the leader of the Division of Carnatic music. It continues to provide instruction in Indian classical music today.
Beginning in the early sixties, a few faculty members from various American universities and colleges developed an interest in ICM. Many of them went to India to learn ICM and conduct research in various aspects of ICM. Upon their return, they became parts of the ethnomusicology or world music programs, and continued to teach courses in ICM and conduct research in ICM. Their efforts have resulted in several scholarly publications. Wesleyan University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Amherst College and University of Texas at Austin come to mind.
In spite of these efforts, interest in ICM was usually restricted to those in the large cities of the West Coast and the Northeast. Performances of ICM by other well-known musicians from India were not very common. This situation started changing very rapidly in the early seventies. In 1969, U.S. Immigration Law underwent drastic change. Under the new provisions, persons with outstanding qualifications in the fields of engineering, medicine, sciences and other areas were given preference and were allowed to immigrate to U.S.A. Prior to 1969, only about 100 persons from South Asia were given permanent residence status each year. By one estimate, in 1968, the total number of persons of Indian origin in U. S. A., with permanent residence status, were less than 10,000. Between 1970 and 1980 that number jumped to over 300,000. Simultaneously, a large number of professionals from India also immigrated to Canada. These immigrants to U.S.A. and Canada were highly educated. After a few years of working and becoming professionally and financially successful, these immigrants decided to import their cultural heritage to U. S. A. and to Canada. They also raised funds to build more than 150 temples in U.S.A. and Canada.
In U.S.A. and Canada, a few of these immigrants started inviting musicians from India for performances. But these efforts were sporadic and they lacked professional organization and efficient networking. In the early eighties, the RAGAMALA of Canada was founded in Calgary and, almost at the same time, the Amir Khusro Society of America (AKSA) was established in Chicago. RAGAMALA established a loose network by forming RAGAMALA chapters in various cities of Canada and U. S. A. For the next four to five years, both organizations were successful in bringing ranking classical musicians from India and arranging their concerts throughout North America. After a few years, both organizations ceased their work, principally because of financial difficulties and a change in the priorities of the individuals who had formed these organizations. Additionally, some blame excessive fees of the visiting musicians as contributing to the organizations’ failure. During the same period a few concert tours were organized by the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (ITC-SRA) of Calcutta, and AKSA had, on occasions, collaborated with the ITC-SRA.
An important event-perhaps even a landmark-was the 1985 Festival of India, an year-long multifaceted celebration of Indian culture in USA. This festival was conceived and undertaken by the highest levels of the Governments of U.S.A. and India. Presentations of ICM were among the many core activities that were scheduled during this festival. At the request of the Festival of India Committee, this became a joint effort between the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) of India, the ITC-SRA and the University of Pittsburgh. Over 20 top ranking musicians, representing Hindustani and Carnatic styles, were invited, and they presented over 90 individual concerts, three two-day festivals and 25 to 30 workshops in ICM across USA. With the co-sponsorship of the University of Pittsburgh, it was possible to schedule many of these concerts and workshops at various American colleges and universities. Were it not for this joint effort many of these academic institutions would have never had an opportunity to hear many of the top- notch musicians from India.
After this festival was over, the University of Pittsburgh was requested by ICCR to formulate a bilateral cultural exchange program, the “University Circuit for Indian Classical Music.” After two years of intensive negotiations such a circuit was established. This circuit started inviting at least four groups of classical musicians from India each year, and, as much as possible, have them perform and present workshops and lecture demonstrations in ICM at participating universities and colleges. Over the next few years a loose consortium of some 75 universities and colleges was formed. With its successful programming for five years, the program was expanded and renamed the Center for the Performing Arts of India (CPAI). Since then it has grown and is essentially recognized as the principal organization outside India that systematically organizes Hindustani classical music concerts and lecture demonstrations for diverse audiences. It is the only university based organization in U.S.A. that is involved in promoting ICM. Through this Center, between 70 to120 concerts of Hindustani music are presented annually to audiences throughout U.S.A. Since its inception, it has raised over 1.7 million American dollars to support its activities. It receives no direct funding from the University of Pittsburgh. Each concert tour, in other words, is self-supporting. During the past 18 years, it has organized over 70 concert tours, and has presented over 1,600 concerts and some 300 workshops and lecture demonstrations in Hindustani Music. Initially the Center used to sponsor both Hindustani and Carnatic musicians. In recent years, however, it has sponsored only Hindustani musicians, because it has decided not to compete with other credible organizations that focus on Carnatic music.
The magnitude and the scope of the work done by CPAI is evident if one looks at the number of musicians that have been sponsored by CPAI for concert tours over the past 19 yrs (Appendix 1)
Among the organizations that have been sponsoring Carnatic musicians consistently is the Carnatic Music Association of North America (CMANA). It was founded in 1976 and has become probably the most important organization that sponsors concert tours of well-known Carnatic musicians. Other organizations such as Kalalaya (California) and Bhairavi (Cleveland, OH) have also sponsored concert tours of many prominent Carnatic musicians.
The national sponsors are responsible for preparing all the documentation necessary for securing proper visas, for making the international and domestic travel arrangements and for securing proper health insurance coverage for the visiting musicians. They are also responsible for making sure that visiting musicians comply with U.S. income tax laws. This involves a lot of work that requires special expertise in these matters. Unfortunately, at least some of the national sponsors have faced problems when dealing with visiting musicians regarding payment of taxes and immigration matters in U.S.A. and Canada. Moreover, the principal musician(s) have had difficulties with accompanists they bring from India. At times, such situations have created unnecessary difficulties for national sponsors. To overcome these types of problems it is advisable that the national sponsors sign separate contacts with each of the musicians, including each of the accompanists. That has been the policy of CPAI from the beginning, and it has worked very well.
None of the national organizations can function effectively without cooperation from numerous local organizations, most of which have been set up by interested non-resident Indians (NRIs) in almost all cities in U.S.A. and Canada. A few of them have been in existence for many years and receive financial support from state or city sponsored funding agencies. But most of them are supported by individual contributions and from the income they generate from ticket sale. Few can afford to hire professional help, so all essential work is done by volunteers, who provide lodging and boarding to the visiting musicians, make arrangements for transportation, sell tickets, publicize concerts, and perform all other chores that are necessary. Unfortunately, some of the visiting musicians make unreasonable demands, misuse telephones and expect “India type” services. At times, such behavior has created friction between the hosts and the visiting musicians. It is the experience of many local organizers that Carnatic musicians are much less demanding than Hindustani musicians. Because of their food habits, Carnatic musicians prefer to stay with Indian families and which becomes financially less taxing to the local organizers. More and more, Hindustani musicians prefer to stay in hotels/motels, thus increasing expenses of the local sponsors. Unfortunately, except in a few large cities, it is very difficult to get “sponsors” to underwrite expenses that are incurred by local organizers. This problem is becoming increasingly evident as expenses increase and financial demands of the visiting musicians continue to increase. Thus, in recent years several local organizations that have been sponsoring concerts have ceased to function. As the NRIs get older, the number of volunteers who are willing to undertake organizational work is expected to decline rapidly. In some large cities this has already become a reality. If these trends continue, it will have serious consequences on the promotion of ICM in North America.
Usually, the most appropriate period for organizing concerts in North America is from March through November, and opportunities for scheduling concerts at universities is even much shorter, usually a four-week period in March and April and a six-week period during the months of September through the middle of November. During March through November concerts are rare in India, therefore, it has become quite customary for a large number of musicians from India to travel to North America for concerts at that time. Financial gain is certainly an important objective in such efforts. It is not unusual to find 50 to 60 musicians on tour in U.S.A. during this period. The North American market for ICM is not large enough to schedule an adequate number of well-organized and well-financed ICM concerts for these many musicians during this relatively short period.
That brings up another important aspect of organizing concerts of ICM in North America, and that relates to U.S. Immigration and Income Tax Laws, as they apply to visiting performing artistes. Since it is rather difficult to find sponsors for such a large number of musicians, many musicians are coming to U.S.A. on visitors/business visa (i.e. B-1/B-2) and giving private and public performances, for which they receive variable amounts of fees. Most of the times the fees are small; somehow the musicians are under the assumption that their income is not subject to U.S. income tax. That is simply not true. There are serious implications of giving paid performances when one is on B-1/B-2 visa. So in this era of “Globalization of Indian Classical Music” it is necessary that musicians from India become aware of immigration and income tax matters. With the events of September 11, 2001, compliance with the immigration and tax laws has become even more important and both the sponsors and the visiting musicians should take these issues very seriously.
In North America, 250 to 300 well-organized concerts of Carnatic and/or Hindustani music are presented each year by 90 – 120 local organizers. These include universities, colleges, music societies or associations, temples as well as a few individual sponsors. Notable among these are the Music Circle (Los Angeles, CA), World Music Institute (New York, NY), Basant Bahar (San Jose, CA), Ragamala (Seattle, WA), Ragamala (Toronto, Canada), Ali Akbar College of Music (San Francisco, CA), Indian Music Society of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN), Kalakendra (Portland, OR), Kalavati (Boston, MA), India Classical Music Society (Dallas, TX), Thyagaraja Aradhana Committee (Cleveland, OH), India Music Society (Milwaukee, WI), Sangeeta (St. Louis, MO), Indian Music Society of Houston (Houston, TX), South Asia Program of University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA), Asia Society (New York, NY), Smithsonian (Washington, DC), Sruti (Philadelphia, PA). It is neither possible nor is it necessary to provide a comprehensive list of all organizations that are or have been active in presenting ICM in U.S.A. and Canada on a consistent basis. What is more important is to recognize that the presentation of some 300 concerts of ICM each year in North America is a very formidable task. There are some 1.6 million persons of Indian origin (i.e. NRIs) in U.S.A. and about another 1 million in Canada. Considering that the average attendance at ICM concerts is around 150 (ranges from 60 to 600), the total attendance comes to around 45,000. This is 2% of the total population of persons of Indian origin. The attendance of non-Indians at regular ICM concerts is very small, usually ranging from 1 to 5%. However, at concerts that take place in large cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and at university-sponsored concerts, the attendance of non-Indians could be as high as 80%. From these data it is safe to conclude that ICM, even after it was brought to the attention of audiences in North America some 40 years ago, has not entered main stream music.
Several prominent musicians who visit North America regularly have been taking credit for promoting ICM in North America. It is time to remove this misconception. Nothing can be further than the truth. Almost all musicians from India come to North America because of the earning potential and opportunities such visits provide, and not for promoting ICM. Other than the earlier efforts of Ravi Shankar, the continued efforts of Ali Akbar Khan through his college, and more recent efforts of Zakir Hussain there is hardly anyone else among the musicians who have made any significant contribution in promoting ICM in North America. Then who is responsible for promoting ICM in North America? Without a question, the major force in promoting ICM in North America is the numerous local organizations that have been established by NRIs, that have been funded by NRIs, and that are being run by a dedicated cadre of NRI volunteers. Several national sponsors, such the Center for the Performing Arts of India of the University of Pittsburgh, CMANA, KALALAYA, BHAIRAVI etc. have worked in collaboration with these local organizations to promote ICM in North America. It is this joint effort that must be recognized as the major factor in promoting ICM in North America.
Among the various styles of ICM, the audience generally prefers Hindustani instrumental music, particularly that involving sitar, sarod and tabla. This is probably followed by Carnatic vocal, Carnatic instrumental and Hindustani vocal music.
Generally, non-Indians who reside in university towns and in the cities are quite open-minded toward cultures of other lands, and it is not surprising that their attendance is higher at ICM concerts that take place in such venues. The understanding of ICM among non-Indians who attend such concerts is probably not very deep, and since language might pose a barrier in enjoying the music, they seem to prefer instrumental music.
Usually, audiences who attend Carnatic music concerts are much more familiar with its tradition and its technical aspects. Even in U.S.A. and Canada, Carnatic music is much more deeply rooted in the activities of families from Southern India. In most temples, that are representative of South India, Carnatic music is a part of their regular cultural activities. In addition to the adults, who can informally participate in singing or performing Carnatic music, hundreds of young boys and girls can competently render kritis of Thyagaraja, Purandaradasa and of many others. In this respect it is not unusual to find teachers of Carnatic music coming from India on a yearly basis to teach Carnatic music each summer to a large number of youngsters. Many of these youngsters have been going to India on an annual basis for advanced training. Some of them can give credible performances of Carnatic music, or accompany even professional musicians on the mridangam, the ghatam or even on the violin. This is quite remarkable. Among many such organizations, Sri Venkateshwara Temple in Pittsburgh has been on the forefront and has successfully continued such teaching activites for over twenty years. It is also noteworthy that quite a few accomplished performers and teachers of Carnatic music now reside in North America.
As far as HCM is concerned there are a few who understand the fine points of Hindustani classical music, and there are others who perform at the professional level. But among those who attend HCM concerts, only a small number are well aware of the nuances of HCM. Others attend because of their general interest, or because they admire a particular musician who is on the stage. In that context the names of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain have become legendary. Even if only one of them is on the stage, the organizer of the concert is guaranteed an average attendance of over 1,000. Involvement of these musicians in world music has certainly created increasing interest in HCM and might be responsible for the increase in those from non-Indian communities who attend concerts of HCM. In recent years, collaborative efforts of Zakir Hussain with musicians from various other genres of music, such as Western classical, African, Jazz, Pop, Rock and Folk have brought him and HCM, particularly the percussion part of it, an unprecedented visibility in North America. His long-term association with L. Shankar, Vikku Vinayakram and Jon McGlaughlin has made a large number of music enthusiasts from the West aware of at least some aspects of ICM. But such accomplishments and visibility has also brought him criticism, even from some of the leading musicians of India.
In these days of the Internet and information technology, effective communication between groups of people of diverse culture has become easily possible. In that context the following observations are important. One relates to the general communication skills of musicians from India. Either prior to a concert, or for a lecture demonstration, musicians are often requested to explain the nature and the history of the music they play, the instruments they use and at times the type of training they have to undergo. In most instances, the musicians are able to give credible demonstration of their skill, but they are not very comfortable in communicating about their music with the students or with the interested audiences. Some concrete steps must be taken by musicians from India to overcome this shortcoming. In these days, many musicians from India have their own web pages and they communicate through e-mail quite effectively. However, these web pages do not provide objective information about them. This aspect needs to be corrected.
The second important point about the Internet is that it can provide an informal forum for discussion of various aspects of ICM. Newsgroups provide such a forum. One such newsgroup (<rec.music.indian.classical>) was started about ten years ago and it has served this purpose quite well. Many interesting and not so interesting, controversial and not so controversial, topics have been discussed on this newsgroup. Articles that have appeared on this newsgroup have been archived and can be accessed through search engines like GOOGLE, provided one knows something about the article, such as the author, a few keywords and the date the article was posted.
Several individuals make important contributions to the understanding of ICM by writing on this NG. However, I must mention the exemplary work of Mr. Warren Senders. His critical and articulate writings on HCM on this NG are worth reading by all who are serious about ICM. Here is a scholar who has looked at HCM as very few have.
Another important example of the use of Internet to explain HCM is exemplified by the work of Dr. Rajan Parrikar, who in his own style, has written several articles on Hindustani Raga Sangeet. These articles include appropriate illustrative examples from film music as well as audio clips rendered by past and present maestros. Some of these clips date back to the early 20th century. The web address of this site is (http://sawf.org/music/articles.asp?pn=Music). This site also has articles on Carnatic music written by a well-known exponent of the Carnatic music - Kiranavali Vidyasankar.
I hope that this article has addressed at least a few important issues that are the concern of the organizers of this seminar on “Globalization of Indian Classical Music. I want to express my gratitude to Shree Aravind Parikh for his gracious invitation. Although, not being trained in Indian classical music is a distinct disadvantage in attending such a conference, I hope that I have made a few observations about this important topic that will be acceptable to the distinguished participants. I also want to thank the Asian Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh for partially supporting my trip to India.
Lastly, I must mention that the Center for the Performing Arts of India at the University of Pittsburgh (<http://www.univ-relations.pitt.edu/india3>) has no physical facilities or paid staff. Without the help of my wife, Vidya, the Center would not have been successful.
Acknowledgements: Even with a short notice, the following individuals wrote to me expressing their views on a number of topics related to “Globalization of Indian Classical Music.” Their help is gratefully acknowledged. Without their input my presentation would have suffered both in content and quality. Professor Durga Bor (Cornell University, NY), Dr. Surajit A. Bose (Stanford University, CA), Mr. Robert Browning (World Music Institute, NY), Mr. Samir Chatterjee (CHHANDAYAN, NY), Dr. Surinder Chowdhury (Basant Bahar, San Jose, CA), Professor Rajib Doogar (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana, IL), Dr. Uday Gupta (Chicago, IL), Professor Allyn Miner (Univ. of Pennsylvania, PA), Dr. Prem Mohlajee (Chicago, IL), Professor Patricia Myers (Geneva, NY), Mr. Chidambaram Narayanan (Zurich, Switzerland), Dr. A. Pavan (Minneapolis, MN), Dr. Sanjeev Ramabhadran (New Jersey, NJ), Mr. Mohan Ranade (NEELMAV Inc., Pa), Mr. Harihar Rao (Music Circle, CA), Dr. Uday Rao (Pittsburgh, PA), Dr. P. Sundararaman (Pittsburgh, PA), Professor Andrew Weintraub (Univ. of Pittsburgh, PA).
Musicians whose concert and lecture-demonstration tours have been sponsored by the Center for the Performing Arts of India of the University of Pittsburgh (1985-2002)
North Indian or Hindustani Classical and Light Classical Music
Instrumental music: Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), Shivkumar Sharma (santoor), Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (slide guitar or Mohan veena), D. K. Datar (violin), Buddhaditya Mukherjee (sitar), Sultan Khan (sarangi), Shahid Parvez (sitar), Buddhadev Das Gupta (sarod), Brij Narayan (sarod), Ashish Khan (sarod), Krishna Bhatt (sitar), Rajib Chakrabarty (sarod), Reena Srivastav (sitar), Nikhil Banejee (sitar), Ronu Majumdar (flute), Shubhendra Rao (sitar), Partho Sarathy (sarod), Kala Ramnath (violin), Rupak Kulkarni (flute), Rakesh Chaurasia (flute), Nandkumar Mulye (santoor), Allyn J. Miner (sitar), Raj Kishore Dal Behra (flute), Y. Rama Rao (violin), Ramesh Mishra (sarangi), Satish Vyas (santoor), Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sarod), Purbayan Chatterjee (sitar).
South Indian or Karnatic Classical Music: Maharajpuram Santhanam (vocal), Lalgudi Jayaraman (violin), Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan (violin), T. N. Krishnan (violin), Guruvayur Dorai (mridangam), Vellore Ramabhadran (mridangam), Shivraman (mridangam)
Indian Classical Dance: Sharon Lowen (odissi)
Artistes whose individual performances have been organized by the Center at the University of Pittsburgh: Ravi Shankar (sitar), Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Swapan Chowdhury (tabla), Prabha Atre (vocal), Sikkil Sisters (flute), N. Ramani (flute), Ram Narayan (sarangi), Laxmi Shankar (vocal), Sadanand Nayampalli (tabla), Ratnakar Vyas (sarod), Trichy Shankaran (mridangam), Anjani Ambegaonkar (kathak), Shruti Sadolikar (vocal), T. Vinayakram (ghatam), Ravikiran (gottuvadhyam), Palaghat Raghu (mridangam), Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), K. R. Ganesh (mridangam), A. Ananthkrishnan (violin), Kamala Reddy (kucchipudi), Hridaynath Mangeshkar (light music-vocal), Vempati Chinna Satyam (kucchipudi) and his troupe, "Krishnattam" (the Kathakali dance troupe)