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India and the World - The Performing Arts

Conference Report by George Ruckert
(February 2009)

Titled "India and the World – The Performing Arts" a conference was held from November 19th till November 23rd as part of the month-long Amsterdam-India-festival, bringing together almost all of the leading scientific specialists on the field of Indian Music worldwide. Read the report, that was sent to us by George Ruckert (Massachussets Institute of Technology, Boston), author of the excellent book "Classical Music of North India".

While the November winds and wet rainy snows swirled around the old streets and canals that are the milieu for the University of Amsterdam, a hundred or more scholars and musicians interested in the music of India crowded into several lecture halls to hear one another hold forth on the music of India. Everything from North and South Indian classical music to modern hip-hop blends and western compositional experiments were heard in tapes and the ubiquitous power-point demonstrations. The participants were mainly from the West, but a number of distinguished Indian scholars were also present, including Arvind Parikh, Sunil Kothari, Shubra Chaudhuri, and several others. But perhaps the mixed nationality of the presenters was indeed an important point of the Conference itself: the performing arts of India are now an international phenomenon, with many of the most significant studies and performances growing in western soil.

The range of papers included music, dance, theater, history and esthetics, and one was dazzled by the fertility of the papers and the great sweep of the scholarship, from exploring local historical events (such as Joep Bor's discussion of a tour of 19th-century temple dancers, or Richard Widdess’ “Prabandha in the Kathmandu Valley” ), to modern effects (e.g., David Trasoff’s “Devotional Music in a Western Context,” or Huib Schippers’ discussion of the resilience of raga). Several modern composers presented samples of their pieces, including Shirish Korde and Francis Silkstone, and including Steve Slawek’s discussion of Ravi Shankar’s sitar concertos. There was something for everyone here, and the all-day, non-stop flow of topics was personally interspersed with many pauses at the coffee bars to review, reconstruct, laugh, and revive the many memories of the music and travel in India which was common to all.

University of Amsterdam’s Professor Wim van der Meer (the current editor of the “Journal of Indian Musicology”) and his crew worked themselves to exhaustion to make this a very effective gathering for the exchange of ideas and attitudes, and one hopes that it will recur in the West in the future, so that more of those working with and around these rich musical traditions can get together to goad, inspire, and share.