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Indian culture taught through music

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Students have to opportunity to learn about Indian culture through music. Photo courtesy of Dr. S. Raj Chadhurry

Students have to opportunity to learn about Indian culture through music. Photo courtesy of Dr. S. Raj Chadhurry

Students have to opportunity to learn about Indian culture through music. Photo courtesy of Dr. S. Raj Chadhurry

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University of South Alabama students looking for new opportunities in music and culture can enroll in USA’s Indian Ensemble. Students can participate in the ensemble for credit, and also as a non-credit course to the community through South’s Center for Continuing Education.

The Indian ensemble is different from other ensembles performing at a university level, according to ensemble leader Dr. S. Raj Chaudhury. Every semester, he starts from scratch. Students are not required to have experience with Indian instruments, vocal practice or music before taking the course. Students are introduced to instruments such as the Tabla drums and the vocal traditions of India throughout their time in the course. For some students, the instruments can seem familiar to a western instrument they already play. Acoustic western instruments can generally be worked into the ensemble, according to Chaudhury.

Chaudhury invites students contemplating whether they should join the ensemble to try it out. According to Chaudhury, the hardest thing people sometimes find is sitting on the floor cross legged for two hours, but there are stretching breaks. He recommends watching Youtube videos of the Auburn Indian Music Ensemble to see what past musicians have done.

“It’s a challenge and it’s an opportunity,” Chaudhury said. “Ask any professor, he or she would love to have a blank slate to operate on. At the same time, there aren’t teaching materials and in this day and age it’s an advantage to be able to use the internet in certain ways to teach so the oral tradition can be supplemented with that.”

Chaudhury said social media has provided valuable feedback for the course. During his time at Auburn University they posted several videos to Youtube and received and international audience. In the future, he hopes to see an increase in student participation at USA. He hopes the program at USA will develop with more feedback.

Chaudhury has led the ensemble for three semesters. Every semester concludes with a concert performed in front of local Indian community members.

Chaudhury is the executive director of the Innovation and Learning center and USAonline, otherwise known as Sakai. He was born and raised in Kolkata, West Bengal’s capital in northeast India.

Chaudhury came to the United States for college. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar College and received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California in LA.

He began teaching Indian Music while attending UCLA. According to Chaudhury, the opportunity motivated him to ponder how he could teach Indian music to people who didn’t have familiarity with the traditions or know the languages.

Chaudhury has taught at three universities to date including Christopher Newport University located in Virginia, Auburn University and USA.

“I think I’m a good teacher,” Chaudhury said. “Most people come in and they love it. At the performances there is usually really good Indian food too, so that’s another attraction.

The Indian Music Ensemble is scheduled to next perform on Aug. 14th from 7-9 p.m. at the Unitarian Fellowship on Old Shell Road to celebrate the Bengali New Year. Admission is free..

For more information, contact Chaudhury at [email protected]

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Indian culture taught through music