Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Should American Musicians Study Indian Classical Music? Part 1: Introduction

After several years of studying Indian Classical Music (still very much a beginner in many ways) it just doesn't sound that exotic to me anymore. This is actually something about which I am quite happy. Even more-so, Indian Classical Music has become such a regular part of my daily routine it's rather strange to me that not everyone knows what Raga and Tala mean. They have never heard of Ram Naryan, baba Allauddin Khan or Rabindranath Tagore.

Almost two years ago I posted a video on YouTube where I asked the question: “does anyone think it’s strange that the whole world studies western classical music?” Though no one created any responses, I would be wholeheartedly surprised if any person answered in the affirmative. The idea of violin/cello/piano schools in every continent of the planet seems to be something of a mundane fact. Nobody bats an eye over the notion that several of the most accomplished European classical musicians have family and cultural roots that go back to Asia, not Europe.

So my next question would be: “why then, if the rest of the world has embraced our classical traditions have we not reciprocated?” Why is it still a novelty to see a young American playing a spike fiddle or Sarangi? Is it possible that this ignorance stems from the same notion that (for so long) informed us that western classical music is the greatest/most sophisticated music that exists?

Surely in our modern age global intercommunication and cultural diversity we have overcome that outmoded idea. Therefore I suppose the short answer to the question “why should American musicians study Indian Classical Music?” could be answered with another question: “why should American musicians European Classical Music?” 


  1. Well Michael, it is sad to say but I think its true that ICM, with all its depth and history has been regulated to a secondary status, is a matter of racism and cultural chauvinism. As the west first became acquainted with the east in the mid 20th century through old black & white movies, like Gunga Din or the Jungle Book (the original with Sabu - you might not know him), Indian culture was draped in mystery, exotica, servility buffoonery and generally unworthy of being explored further (except by visionaries, academics & big game hunters ;-). The next intro to ICM came on the heels o

  2. Hi Michael - firstly thanks for your great site.....you mentioned 'several of the most accomplished European classical musicians have family and cultural roots that go back to Asia' and i wondered out of interest who you were referring too? I would love to learn more. Thanks again