Now that I have spent a year back in the USA, I am already pursuing a new project! The research I will be conducting over the next couple of years will hopefully contribute to my final dissertation and recital for my DMA degree. This time I will be focusing on Hindustani classical music, a favorite of mine that I have been listening to long before I travelled to India for the first time two years ago.
Lately I’ve discovered since I’ve been studying music for my career that two strong weaknesses in my playing are the ability to improvise comfortably and also the confidence to play by ear as opposed to reading notated music. I think that most Western classical performers might share in my feelings as well when we all take a step back and look at how we were taught. Most of us learned how to play and improve our technique through notated music in books and studies. This isn’t to say that how we learned was incorrect or “weak” by any standard, but something I think we take for granted and assume is the only way by which one can truly improve in their specific discipline.
When I started studying Carnatic music (South Indian classical) as part of my MMus concert project, I was amazed at how these incredible musicians performed with each other without one sheet of music in front of them. The detail with which they ornamented and turned a phrase was mesmerizing, and I certainly felt the same way when I was watching a performance of Diana Krall (a jazz pianist) this past month with my father. I thought “I want to be able to do that… just play my instrument without a sheet of paper staring me in the face and with just as much confidence as all of those performers on stage”. To be fair, most of those musicians had been studying for far more years than I’ve been living, but I thought it would be interesting to step into their shoes and see how they learned to perform music… the one thing that connects us all.
Over the next several years that I am back at Michigan State University, I hope to travel to India as many times as possible to take lessons in Hindustani music. I have already received a fellowship to go to India for free next summer, which I am incredibly grateful to the university for. The catch is, I will be playing on my instrument as opposed to a sitar, bansuri, or tabla. My idea is not to perform a strictly traditional concert at the end of my research, but rather examine and share the process of learning a different discipline and finding out what I can apply to my own playing to further grow as a musician and artist. Ambitious? Yes… But it’s something I know I will enjoy and that not many people have done yet.
While reading up on dozens of books in the library to begin my proposal, I stumbled across some very interesting questions that I think I need to challenge myself in answering as I start my research. I would love to hear what other musicians think about this topic and if you would like to send me your responses, please do so! E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
1.) “How far does the understanding of any music rely upon a knowledge of its cultural background?” (Gerry Farrell)
2.) “Does the structure of a musical form in some way encode the values and structure of the culture from which it derives?” (Gerry Farrell)
3.) “Is it more educationally fruitful to view all music as cognitive forms rather than as products of a particular culture?” (Gerry Farrell)
4.) “Can music be more efficiently interpreted by discussing it as if it had a life of its own?” (Harold Powers)
I am going to try and keep up with this blog a bit more regularly than I did for my MMus project and I hope that you find it interesting and can maybe take something from this entire process yourself. Let me know what you think! I really value the opinions of my fellow musicians and friends. My ultimate goal with my DMA research is to bring something to the table that all of us musicians can use to more fully appreciate what we do, share it with others, and hopefully bring the world a bit closer together through our music!