"This music is not exotic"
I went to a concert few weeks back, and I was talking to an uncle friend of mine who I made from seeing each other at concerts pretty often. I asked him about his son, who I saw at a concert about a year prior, he looked like he had grown so much since I last saw him I thought he was already in college. Turns out he’s still in high school. Lol. Anyway, he was telling me his son is taking a music history class in his high school, and he was wondering if I wanted to go in and give a lecture about Hindustani music to his class. I was like “yes.” He was saying that I could give a lecture similar to the ones I’ve given before concerts I organize, and I said “Yes.” He was saying that way, people could have a better idea of what’s going on with the music when they hear it, I said “Yes.” he said “people need to understand this is not ‘exotic’ music, there’s a lot of thought behind it!” and I said “Yes!” It was so crazy listening to an uncle saying a lot of the same things said in conversations I’ve had with other musicians about how people who’ve only heard “indian music” on Subway commercials respond to our music. At my own performances, I often get people coming up to me after a show asking about the music, or my instrument, and a lot of time we share cool experiences we’ve each had with Hindustani music. Sometimes though, more often than I would hope, I get someone (usually non-South Asian in my experience) telling me about their first exposure to ‘sitar music’ after hearing the Beatles, or going to a Raaavi Shaynkaaar concert, and how the music sounded so “foreign” and “alien.” Seriously, those are real adjectives people have used to describe the music I was playing, right after they heard me play it. My point is, the feeling that Hindustani music sounds “exotic” is often frustrating when it’s coming from someone who doesn’t know much about the music other than it’s not western music. It was cool sharing those feelings with someone of my parents generation.
So after the uncle was telling me about his son’s class, I told him I’d love to do it. We exchanged numbers (which we should have done a long time ago, cause we’ve known each other for years!) and made plans. I just did the lecture demo today, and it was awesome, it went really well. It was a high school in an affluent suburb north of Chicago, I got lost a little looking for it cause it looked like it was an old mansion. They must have taken an old mansion and turned it into a high school or something, cause seriously, it looked like a mansion or a country club or something. The kids were all juniors and seniors I think, cause it was an advanced placement music theory class. Mostly white kids, one Asian girl, my uncle-buddy’s son who played tabla with me, and maybe a few other kids of color I missed, but mostly white. I talked about history of music in South Asia, the different types of music in South Asia, about raags and taals, and had them count along to teen taal. Then played a little in Miyan Ki Todi. It was fun!
Afterwards, I was thinking about the fact that I was in an affluent burb in the north, that proly had a decent budget for their fine arts program—decent enough to afford two music theory classes. Hello. In my high school, band and orchestra were optional, and it was assumed you’d learn more in-depth music theory in college. But what about schools that don’t have big fine arts programs? Do those kids have access to experiencing lectures like the one I gave today? I’d imagine not. I know there are programs out there to send artists and musicians in school to do just what I did today to schools that may not have the access to do it on their own. After today, I was thinking I should hook up with those programs and do this more often!