I am a musician, and I always will be, no matter where I am in the world. This week was loaded with musical opportunities left and right, and my musician self could not have asked for any better.
This week, I started one of the most exciting parts of my internship: taking lessons in Indian classical music. In my first two lessons, I became a little bit more comfortable with Sargam, or Indian solfège. Learning to sing using syllables Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa is like learning a new language. This “language” coupled with Hindi lyrics to raga makes this music very challenging to learn for a foreigner like myself. Raga is a mode or melody associated with different Hindu gods, times of day, season, or other natural and spiritual factors. The first few raga that I learned are associated with Brahma, Vishnu, Krishna, and Ganga, all of whom are gods and goddesses. The teacher even taught me a raga about rain season as we tried to overpower the sound of pouring rain and kept shifting in the room to avoid rain leaking in from the ceiling. Needless to say, this was quite an experience.
For Indian musicians, performing music is an act of meditation and devotion to gods. Music here is so intricate that I would be a complete fool to call myself an expert on it after a few weeks. However, it means a lot to me that I am invited into this spiritual and mystic world in a belief system outside my own.
With the help of some local people, I have expanded my circle of musician friends. I visited the Faculty of Performing Arts at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), one of the largest universities in South Asia, and met some wonderful vocal performers (both students and professors). I was actually able to make some music with a PhD student, who taught me a simple song that I learned by ear and played on my oboe. It’s the moments like this that makes me love being a musician — working across cultural differences through music.
I have also been teaching some English songs to 8th and 9th grade students, which is going rather well. Students in 8th grade are learning “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers, and 9th grade students are learning “Smile” by Nat King Cole. I chose these songs because of their strong message for hope and support for one another, in somewhat simple English; they also happen to be some of my most favorite songs. Many students have expressed that they love the melody and poem of these songs, which makes me delighted.
All of these experiences remind me that “music is music” — as one of the students from BHU has told me when I said, “I study music, but it’s Western music.” Regardless of what kind of music we may specialize in, all of us musicians contribute to the artistry and intricacy of music as a whole. When different traditions of music cross paths, eye-opening interactions and learning moments happen. I am eternally grateful for the privilege of having received musical training for more than a decade now.