Published: April 27, 2018

 
Professor Daniel M. Neuman (2018).  

Daniel M. Neuman, UCLA professor of ethnomusicology, will retire at the end of the spring 2018 quarter after serving the university for twenty-four years in many capacities: as professor of ethnomusicology (1994—2018); dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture (1995—2002); executive vice chancellor and provost (2002—2006); Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music (2010—2018); and interim director of The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music (2013—2015).

“Professor Daniel Neuman has been one of the major scholars dedicated to the study of Indian music, worldwide,” said Steven Loza, professor and chair of the ethnomusicology department.  "A student of the pioneering ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl, Dan has conducted constant fieldwork for over fifty years in various sectors of India and has produced books and other publications of immense importance to the field. In addition to his prolific and forward thinking research and teaching, he has served in a number of high-level administrative positions. Of special importance related to his legacy here at UCLA, Dan is the original appointee of the Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music.  Dan's legacy and profound impact here at UCLA will never be forgotten and always cherished.”

To celebrate Dan Neuman’s career and in honor of his teacher, sarangi musician, Ustad Sabri Khan, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and the Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music will present a concert on Saturday, April 28, “A Sarangi Concert of Hindustani Music: Ustad Sabri Khan Memorial Concert.” The concert features performances by two of Sabri Khan’s sons, Ustad Kamal Sabri on sarangi and Ustad Sarwar Sabri on tabla.

On April 12, 2018, staff member Donna Armstrong interviewed Dr. Neuman about his career and plans for the future.

INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL NEUMAN

 
Ustad Sabri Khan with sarangi. Photo
credit: Daniel Neuman.
 
 

Q. Professor Neuman, we are here to mark the occasion of your retirement from UCLA. You started at UCLA in 1994, as a visiting professor, and became tenure-track in 1995.

A. I was not officially part of the faculty until '95. I do feel that I've lived in Los Angeles since 1994, which is the longest I've ever lived anywhere; twenty-four years now. Next year will be the silver anniversary of my years in Los Angeles. I happen to love Los Angeles.

Q. As a part of that celebration, the Department of Ethnomusicology and the Sambhi Chair are sponsoring a concert on April 28. Could you tell us about that concert?

A. When I stepped down as executive vice chancellor and provost in 2006, the acting chancellor, Norman Abrams, threw a big party for me in the Chancellor's Residence. So I didn’t want to have another good-bye party; I thought that the appropriate way to do that was to honor one of my two principle teachers, Ustad Sabri Khan, in India. He had been my teacher for many, many years, the first person I worked with when I started my research in January 1969. I thought a good way to honor him and the relationship was to have a concert sponsored through the Sambhi Chair that would feature two of his sons, as it turns out, his eldest and his youngest son. His eldest son I knew when he was still an infant, and his youngest son wasn’t born yet when I was initially conducting research in India from 1969 through 1971. I thought having a concert that celebrated their father and my teacher would be a good way to celebrate my retirement and my many years of research in India.

USTAD SABRI KHAN

Q. Tell us a little more about Sabri Khan: how did you choose him as a teacher and how has he affected Indian music?


A. He was a sarangi player, he’s deceased now, and the sarangi is the Indian fiddle that’s found in North India and it’s the instrument that I studied. I actually found him via a friend I was introduced to when I first came to India, who was the secretary of the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama. His name was Keshev Kothari and I told him that I didn't want to study sitar, sarod; lots of foreigners were doing that. I wanted to study something that was uncommon, but also a bowed instrument because my own background had been as a violinist as I had studied violin with my father. Keshev recommended Sabri Khan, because at that time I didn't know anybody.. So, I met Sabri Khan and in the beginning he would come to my house and give me lessons, with a tabla-playing friend of his, the late Faiyaz Khan who also became a very long-time friend of mine. Then I finally managed to get myself invited to Sabri Khan’s house in old Delhi, which was a very different kind of experience, but very much more real. And I started studying with him and traveling with him, and getting to know other musicians through him. It's important to remember, I went there as an anthropologist — my training was in anthropology. And so although many people talk about me being an expert on Hindustani Indian music, really my expertise is hereditary Hindustani musicians. All my work has been on musicians, and especially hereditary musicians. That is, musicians who are part of lineages very often traced back many years. So, an individual's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. So I was interested in how that works in India, how it affected the way in which Hindustani music has persisted through time; how under conditions of what then was called modernity, musicians adapted to these new social and cultural environments that they had to contend with; what were the ramifications in colonial times and immediately post-independence times, and now post-colonial times.

 
Dan Neuman (top left) and the family of Ustad Sabri Khan.  

Q. Was that the subject of your dissertation?

A. Oh the dissertation was really about these musicians and how they were socially organized. Some of the families were organized as stylistic schools. So both the families and students from outside the families who studied with the lineage members would identify with certain named styles, usually named after a place, and I had basically discovered the relationship between a kind of kinship descent groups, the places in which they were mainly identified with, and these musical styles, and how they were all related.

Q. One more question about the concert. The music that the sons learned at their father’s knee, has it changed over the course of their lifetime?

A. I don't think it has changed, actually. The youngest son, who plays sarangi, plays very much in the way that his father did. What may have changed perhaps, are the kinds of performances that he is appointed to do. So, his father mainly earned his regular living by virtue of being a staff artist at All-India Radio, and during the years roughly from independence on, or a little earlier, before independence. (Sabri Khan worked there from 1942 until he retired, maybe late 1990s or early 2000s.) His sons are actually free-lancers. They don't work for the radio. The older one who plays tabla actually lives in the U.K. He is a tabla player in the United Kingdom and gets gigs and earns a living that way. The younger one is both as a soloist and an accompanist to vocalists. He is very well known and is an accomplished artist, but he doesn't rely on a regular salary as his father would have. He lives in Delhi. But he tours widely around the world.

SHUJAAT KHAN AND THE KHAN FAMILY

 
Shujaat Husain Khan with sitar students at UCLA (2010).  

Q. It reminds me of the fact that you brought Shujaat Khan here to UCLA. The fact that you knew Shujaat, is that related to your interest in musical families?

A. Shujaat had been a visiting artist when I was still at the University of Washington. Shujaat happens to be the son of arguably the most famous sitarist, other than Ravi Shankar, but in India, often considered the greatest sitarist who ever lived, Ustad Vilayat Khan. My wife's family was connected to that family. And I got to know the family, Vilayat Khan’s brother, Imrat Khan, who lives in St. Louis now, and his son Shujaat. I first heard Shujaat perform in Boston when he was 13 years old, performing with his father. But I got to know him when he was in his 20s, and we actually brought him as a visiting artist, and I persuaded him to come to UCLA, and I think he was here for about ten years — no, even longer — 1996 to 2010 would be fourteen years. He is a very famous artist, widely concertizing all the time, and has many recordings. He is a real celebrity in India and abroad; a great artist. I just had lunch with him two weeks ago in India, and he is doing very well. He has two children, a son who is also involved in performance, not as a sitarist, but as a composer. And a daughter who is now living in Australia. Shujaat was also the teacher of both my sons. My elder one Dard, who is an associate professor at UC Santa Cruz, and my younger one Rahul, who lives here, and teaches sitar in the department.

Q. What always stuck in my memory is that he was the seventh generation of the Khan family…

A. What’s more remarkable about the seventh generation, because there are many families that can claim that, but his family is the only one in which you can hear four generations recorded. So his great-grandfather, Imdad Khan, was the earliest sitarist recorded, in 1905, and then Shujaat’s grandfather, Enayat Khan was recorded, his father, Vilayat Khan was recorded, and of course Shujaat has been recorded. So he is the only artist I know of, probably in the world, not only India, in which you can hear four generations in a direct lineage link, starting from the early 20th century until now. And we had him as a teacher here. That was wonderful for our students here at UCLA.

FIELD RESEARCH AND GRADUATE STUDY AT ILLINOIS; BRUNO NETTL

 
Dan Neuman with sarangi teacher, Ustad Sabri Khan, New Delhi (1969-70).  

Q. So you did your field research in Delhi?

A. The first time was the longest single field research, which was from the end of January 1969 until July 1971. But then, over the years, there is hardly a year when I have not been to India and in Delhi particularly, sometimes for short periods. I once had to go for one day, having to do with the archive in India, something that needed sorting out. But typically for a few weeks or a few months. So my extended research periods were 1969-71, 1976-77, 1989-90 - those were the longer periods. Other times were for shorter periods.

Q.  Please tell us something about your childhood and youth and what factors led to your interest in music, Indian music and anthropology?

 
  Wolfgang Neuman, Dan's father, playing violin (1957).

A. I'm coming of age during the Vietnam War and one thing I didn't want to do is to get involved with that war, but therewas a draft going on. I didn't want to join the Navy to see the world but I was always interested in seeing the world. My parents are from Europe, I was born in Switzerland, so we were actually immigrants and, to a certain extent, foreigners. Not me so much, but my parents—they came as adults. Knowing where they came from and how they were, I early on had an acute sense of differences, and this is just between Europe and the United States. I was only three when I came here—that difference in culture was very apparent as I was growing up, and I was curious about that. India was almost an accident. I originally worked in Iran, and that turned out not to be feasible, and India was a related area and one that interested me in the abstract. But as an anthropologist, I was always interested in the question of how societies organize the making of musicians. To be an accomplished musician, there is an enormous investment of many years. And so societies make investments of many years to produce outstanding artists who are creating something that only exists in the moment of its own making. Something quite evanescent, compared to visual artists who paint or make sculptures, or architects or other kinds of artists — writers, poets — but until the advent of recording, music is that very interesting art form—along with dance—that only exists for the moment that it is happening. I was always interested in the general question of why so many societies make such an enormous investment and how they do it. I was also interested in the fact that music-making was universal; all peoples have music. And I would argue species-specific, although those who believe that whale songs and bird songs are also music will disagree, but my view is that, as with speech, homo sapien music-making is specific to the species. And from early on, I always wondered why something as overtly useless (and when I say that people get very insulted) is universal, but I mean it as in a survival sense. One cannot imagine surviving as an individual or as a species without shelter, without food, without the means of reproduction, but one could imagine, in the abstract, surviving without something like music. So clearly music is fundamental to the species and fundamental to survival That's how I became interested in approaching music from an anthropological perspective. Now, when I first entered graduate school as an anthropologist, I never knew anything about ethnomusicology. I actually learned about the word ethnomusicology after I had been in graduate school for a few weeks. I had a teacher who was a Persianist—William K. Archer, a wonderful man—who was also very interested in music I wanted to do something with anthropology and music and he said, “Oh, you have to meet an ethnomusicologist, Bruno Nettl. He just joined the faculty the year before.” And that’s how I met Bruno Nettl and how I became associated with him as a student way back in 1965.

Bruno Nettl is the doyenne of ethnomusicologists, the only one today who was there at the “invention of ethnomusicology,” at least the American version, back in the early ‘50s. Yes, we celebrated his 85th birthday three years ago. He just turned 88 last March. He was a wonderful teacher, and all students of his will testify to the totality of his being a teacher. From the time you started with him, until you were looking for a job He would often help students get faculty positions and was really always interested in the welfare of his students, as he still is. A truly wonderful person.

ETHNMUSICOLOGICAL METHODS

 
Bruno Nettl, ethnomusicologist,
Dan's teacher and mentor at the University of Illinois.
 

Q. My understanding is that the ethnomusicology that evolved from Bruno Nettl is opposite of the ethnomusicology that evolved from Mantle Hood here at UCLA. How did that way of looking at ethnomusicology affect your development in the field?

A. Bruno was not formal or orthodox about what ethnomusicology ought to be, could be, or was. I was certainly the first anthropology major who studied ethnomusicology with him. He had a background in anthropology as well; I think he had an undergraduate degree in anthropology. He was supportive of that kind of research, but this was at a time when Alan Merriam's book had just been published, Anthropology of Music in 1964, as had Nettl's book, Theory and Method in Ethnomusicology, both in 1964. There was no orthodoxy about it. As individuals, Bruno Nettl and Mantle Hood were very different kinds of people, but I couldn't say that students coming out of Illinois constituted a different stylistic school of ethnomusicology. The only big difference was the high premium on "bi-musicality" that you find here. So, to take an example, one of the influences that Mantle Hood had was on one of his students, Robert Garfias, who founded the program at the University of Washington, in which there was always a visiting artist program. Whereas Illinois had visiting artists but never had it built in as solidly and as regular as the programs of Washington or UCLA. At Illinois, anthropology was from the beginning more closely integrated with ethnomusicology than it was here. But depending on who was on the faculty, it would really depend on who you work with. If you came here while Anthony Seeger was here, he is an anthropologist, or Tim Taylor, who is not, but he has an interest in and is knowledgeable  about anthropology, students who have an interest in that would work with those types of people. So I would say that ethnomusicology as it evolved in the United States from that period, evolved in so many different directions that one could say there is only one ethnomusicology with lots of varieties.

 
With Channan Khan, Rajasthan, India (1990).  

Q. It seems significant that you now are one of the cornerstones of faculty who teach the field methods class, and I connect that with your strong background working in anthropology as a field and with Bruno Nettl himself, helping to give our program a strong foundation.

A. Well perhaps. I know field and lab, the course I've taught now for the last several years, was taught by Helen Rees, was also taught by Tim Rice, and perhaps others. And again, the emphases may be a little different, but all of them have done fieldwork, all of them will have covered much of the same areas. I tend to be both a software junkie in the world of computers, and a hardware junkie in the world of equipment, computers and cameras, and all that. So I probably spend more time on that than others, and less time in other areas.  But we have used basically the same text all these years. Remember, I really only joined the department as a faculty member ten years ago. All these years I wasn’t really on the faculty teaching; It was only when I returned from Boston in 2008 that I began teaching here. Before that I was in upper administration.

Q. You were a violinist; you had some musical training. What effect did being a musician have on you as a graduate student in anthropology? Also, please tell us a little about your fieldwork.

 
Fieldwork in Rajasthan, India (1990).

 
 

A. My initial involvement with music in the Western classical tradition yielded a great love of that tradition. So I love music, I respect music, I respect musicians, and that’s how I came to this idea of somehow bringing my interest in different cultures and my interest in music together in happily a discipline that had been invented, in effect, ten years earlier, before I started. And yes, I still listen to lots of classical Western and classical Indian music. I don’t perform; I used to perform on the sarangi when I was younger, I don’t do that anymore. But I do listen, and I’m still passionate about music and passionate about the question that is still unanswered in my mind which is why music turns out to be so universal and so important when it doesn't have any obvious survival aspects to it.

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, DIRECTOR OF MUSIC SCHOOL AND UCLA, DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF ARTS AND ARCHITECTURE, EXECUTIVE VICE CHANCELLOR AND PROVOST

As Dean I had argued for the idea of there being a separate School of Music. It was an anomaly in the University of California system not to have a separate school of music. This was the only major university in the United States that had no School of Music. So I think the fact that we have finally formed one is very good news indeed.

Q. Please tell us a little about being an administrator at the University of Washington and segue into how being an administrator at Washington is related to being an administrator here at UCLA.

A. I had become the director of the School of Music at the University of Washington in 1984. I had just turned forty years at that time. My being appointed was a bit of an anomaly. Number one I was an anthropologist. I didn't come formally from a musical background, like all music directors and deans had before. I was appointed director, and there were some real questions, particularly on the part of the music faculty, that is, the faculty devoted to Western classical music, because there was this strange creature who did Indian music and who didn't come from their kind of background. But after a rather short period of time, they came to understand that I knew their world, I knew it actually very well. I had been part of that classical Western world because my father had been part of it and so I had grown up in that; I knew the language, I knew the values, I knew the canon, and I respected it. At the same time, I respected the scholarly aspects of music, represented both in the music history division and the ethnomusicology division that we had there. So I was able to bridge what were often the very different flows of knowledge between practicing musicians, practicing music historians of Western music, and practicing ethnomusicologists. And I enjoyed it. I was director for ten years and stepped down. They wanted me to continue after ten years, but being an administrator for longer than seven to ten years, in the same position, is in my view not a good idea. So I stepped down and coincidentally UCLA came after me at that time.

At UCLA I became dean of Arts and Architecture, a very different kind of institution because it included areas that I knew nothing about. My world had not embraced art or design or architecture. Or, for that matter, dance, in the World Arts and Cultures. We had a bit of dance at Washington, there was a relationship there, but certainly the world of art, design, and architecture wasn't in my ken; something I learned, appreciated, but at a certain level of academic administration, what you don't know, you learn. You are always going to encounter areas you don’t know, and you have to learn that. You have to learn what the values are, what’s important. But there is a basic understanding in the academy of quality. If a dean understands what constitutes quality, whether it is a scholar, an oboist or a painter, or a sculptor, or an architect—once you understand that and you understand how to recruit quality, that turns out to be a big part of a dean’s job. I very much enjoyed being dean here as well. And if I did know a few areas as dean, I didn’t know many areas once I became executive vice chancellor and provost, where you are basically the COO of a university. But I was fortunate to have an exceptionally capable group of deans and vice chancellors under me and a very supportive and smart chancellor over me. Although I only did it for a little over four years, I enjoyed it a lot.

Q. You made a decision to step down, or was your time up as the Dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture?

A. The chancellor, Albert Carnesale, recruited me to be the executive vice chancellor (EVC) and provost. That was in 2002. I stepped down at the end of 2006. So for four and a half years I was EVC, and I stepped down because the chancellor retired. I enjoyed working with him. But I didn't see the EVC/provost as a career. So I stepped down and went to Boston to try something new, as an experiment. I had a good eighteen months in Boston but then came back and re-joined the faculty in 2008. And that’s when I started really being a faculty member.

 
  Bards, Ballads, and Boundaries (co-authored with Shubha Chaudhuri), published by Seabull Press (2007).

WORLD MUSIC NAVIGATOR

Q. You created a World Music Navigator. Could you tell us a little about that?

A. As I told you earlier, I was a bit of a software junkie. I got involved with computers, really, in 1981. I bought my first IBM PC in 1981 and started learning that world. I had done some computer programming back in the ‘60s at Illinois. That became a requirement early on in the anthropology department. So I knew a little bit about programming. The World Music Navigator was developed after I had come back from my 1989-90 fieldwork in India where I had done fieldwork to develop an atlas of musical traditions in a part of Rajasthan I was working in. And while developing the atlas, I became very interested in computerized cartography. So I learned how to make digital maps, in effect. That was fairly early on, before Google Earth and all those things.

Q. Could you explain an atlas of musical traditions?

A. I was interested in mapping instruments, musical castes, musical repertoire, and where they were located in different villages and different districts in Western Rajasthan. I published this ethnographic atlas. I called it Bards, Ballads and Boundaries… that's an atlas, basically. I also had co-authors. It was a team effort, including the very musicians we were studying. They also went out and collected data. It was unusual in ethnomusicology to have a whole team work on a project like that. When I came back, I worked with a programmer—this was in 1990-91—to develop a world music atlas. The idea of that was to click on a part of the globe and out would come a video of a performance from that area.

 
Dan Neuman with video camera, Rajasthan, India (1989).  

Q. That was early wasn’t it?

A. Yes. In 1991 we had it ready to go, I had a contract with the publisher to release it as a CD-ROM. By the time it was completely ready with content, which was very difficult, because it wasn't clear who owned the content—an ethnomusicological puzzle we still have. But once it was ready to go, the World Wide Web arrived. That arrived about 1995. So all of a sudden, the world of CD-ROM became obsolete overnight. What you could do on a CD-ROM you could now do on the web. In fact I had a web page with the districts of Rajasthan and villages in there and even now, you could go to it, you can click on a village and out will come a performance from that village. But that was my idea of working on the World Music Navigator, which was a little early for its time, but a very good learning experience for me. This was something UCLA was aware of when I first came here as a visitor in ’94; I remember giving a lecture on it. In 1994 it wasn't yet obsolete, but by 1995 it was.

Q. Smithsonian Folkways has, on their website, something where you can click on a country and you will see all of this information…

A. Yes. Now it's a trivial accomplishment, but in the early ‘90s it was far from trivial. Storage was very expensive and video editing was very expensive. A minute of video took a lot of space, a lot of storage space. I'll give you an example: when I was first doing video editing, a four gigabyte system with the software cost about $25,000. Now you can get the whole thing—a terabyte drive for $50. A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes and I’m talking about four gigabytes, which cost thousands of dollars in the mid-90s. So, there's been a total revolution in storage. That's why CD-ROMs became obsolete, because you could do everything on the web, including pointing to a place on the map and having a video come up. So now anybody could do it. That was built into web browsers fairly early on, which is why I was able to create a website that included some of my videos from Rajasthan, where you could point to an actual village and a musician from that village would come up and sing and play and so forth.

ARCHIVE AND RESEARCH CENTRE FOR ETHNOMUSICOLOGY (ARCE)

 
Left to right: Anthony Seeger, Nazir Jairazbhoy, Dan Neuman, and Susan Wadley at ARCE (1985).  

Q. Tell us about your involvement with ARCE.

A. The Archive and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE) was founded through a Smithsonian grant around 1981. In fact, I was, coincidentally, on the Smithsonian panel that was reading these grants when this one came in submitted by Nazir Jairazbhoy. The ARCE was funded to be a part of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS). At that time, the AIIS, which is headquartered at the University of Chicago, was the main funding agency for scholars working in India, as well as the main institution that provided for language training in different Indian languages, as it still does. It also had an art and archeology center that was devoted to documenting and publishing information on the art and archeology of India. So the ARCE became, like the art and architecture center, another unit of the American Institute of Indian Studies. Nazir Jairazbhoy was the head of a committee that ran it for about a year, or maybe two years, and I was brought in, I think it was 1982, to be chair of the committee that oversaw the ARCE , which involved a couple of meetings in India a year, because there was a board there. I was chair from 1982 until 1992 — ten years. Tony Seeger took over subsequently, and is now again the chair of this committee. So the ARCE was my first heavy involvement with archives. I had been involved from 1980 with archives at the University of Washington. I hired the archivist there, who came in 1981 or thereabouts — Laurel Sercombe — who has just retired. But my real involvement was working with Shubha Chaudhuri who came in as director of the ARCE in the early 1980s, either 1983 or 1984, and has been director ever since. So the archive evolved from a very small operation to now a very important sound archive in India.

Q. Where is the ARCE located?

A. It used to be New Delhi. It is now headquartered and located in a suburb of Delhi, in Gurgaon, which is in the neighboring state of Haryana. It has been located in Gurgaon now for the last ten years or so, maybe longer.

Q. Are scholars collecting music from all over India?

A. Nazir had this brilliant idea which is, foreign scholars who go to India, shouldn’t just bring their recordings back home to their own countries, they should leave at least a copy of their recordings in India for the benefit of future scholars, both in India and abroad. So that’s how it started. It wasn't a requirement, but it was kind of an ethical responsibility that, if you were going to do fieldwork in India, you should leave a copy of your recordings and other materials in the archive, and that’s how it grew.

Q. It must be very big now.

A. It is very big, lots of collectors who keep on depositing recordings, both audio recordings and video recordings and photographs—and all this is happening while the technology is changing from reel-to-reel tape, through cassette tape, through DAT tape, through the different iterations of digital recording. That used to be very difficult for the archive because getting equipment into India was very difficult and very expensive. But it has done well all these years keeping up with the technology while “grandfathering” older technology. It is located in a fairly new building that was built in Gurgaon, for the American Institute of Indian Studies. So the whole operation now is mainly headquartered in Gurgaon, although there is still a branch in what used to be the main headquarters for the American Institute of Indian Studies, in a neighborhood called Defense Colony in Delhi.

 
Dan Neuman using a large format camera, photographing Tony Seeger and his father, Vermont (2008).  

Q. Do the scholars themselves contribute text?

A. They have a library. They have a budget for publications so they have developed a unique ethnomusicology library in India, dealing with India and ethnomusicology as a discipline. They have lots of old books and a lot of scholars come in and use the library.

Q. So all three—Jairazbhoy, yourself, and Tony Seeger...

A. Tony is still there. He stepped down for a while, others have become chair, and then he was asked to do it again.

Q. You three coalesced here at UCLA…

A. Yes, although interestingly enough, we each did our thing before we came to UCLA. I was head of that archive for ten years, but that was before I came to UCLA. Tony Seeger, when he first did it, did it before he came to UCLA as well.


THE UCLA CENTER FOR INDIA AND SOUTH ASIA AND THE MOHINDAR BRAR SAMBHI ENDOWED CHAIR IN INDIAN MUSIC

Q. We mentioned that you brought Shujaat Khan here. Did you bring other artists to UCLA?


A. For performances. I would have to say that one of the things that I did here that I consider important was to develop South Asian Studies at UCLA. When I first came to UCLA there was a very small cohort of people specializing in India and South Asia more generally.  Berkeley had a very big operation, which was the reason given to me why UCLA didn't. But that didn’t strike me as a very good reason since there were overlaps in all sorts of areas. And so I did recruit a number of Indian specialists in other areas (for other departments), and now that has become very important. As executive vice chancellor and provost, I also established CISA, which is the Center for India and South Asia. There were other international centers, but we didn’t have anything for India or South Asia. So I established CISA, gave them some initial funding, and right now Akhil Gupta, who is the president of the American Anthropological Association now, and also head of CISA, was one of the people I originally recruited to come to UCLA years ago.

 

Standing, left to right: Mohan Anand, Navin Doshi, and Thomas Peters. Seated: Dan Neuman and Mohinder Sambhi, Los Angeles (2010).

 

Q. How did it come about, the association with Dr. Sambhi?

A. That's an interesting story, actually. When I was executive vice chancellor, there were a group of Indian professionals who I had known earlier because of my work with Shujaat and sponsoring concerts. I had gathered a group of them to help me raise money for Indian music because I wanted to make sure that after I was gone, Indian music would continue to be supported. And so they had suggested a luncheon where a bunch of well-to-do Indians would come to this luncheon. Shujaat would do a little demonstration, I would give a speech, and then they would write checks out to support Indian music at UCLA. At that luncheon we raised $140,000 in gifts and pledges. We also had two newspapermen, representing Indian American newspapers at that luncheon, and they provided a report about that luncheon and Indian music at UCLA, and Dr. Sambhi, who had just lost his wife, to whom he was very closely attached, read this article, and came to me as provost and asked if he could fund the entire chair. And I said, well I have to ask my committee, this informal group; I thought they would agree but I had to make sure they were comfortable with it, and it turned out that they were. And so Dr. Sambhi established this chair, which would ensure that a faculty person would continue to be appointed, dedicated to the study of Indian music. And that was through Dr. Sambhi's generosity. Dr. Sambhi also died recently, but while he was alive we had programs that he was involved with, all named after, not himself, but his wife. The funny thing is, in the area from which he comes, in Punjab, male and female names are often very similar. So his first name is Mohinder, spelled at the end, “d-e-r,” and his wife's name is also Mohindar, but at the end spelled “d-a-r,” and this chair is named after his wife, people often confuse it, not named after him, but named after his wife. That's why it is the Mohindar, d-a-r, Sambhi Chair.

 
Dr. Mohinder Sambhi and Dan Neuman with gift check,
Los Angeles (2005).
 

Q. When the Sambhi Chair was first established, about 2005, the department started bringing in scholars on a one-quarter basis [visiting scholars or lecturers] and then we decided that we needed a permanent person to be the chair, so you became that person, and now we're selecting someone else.

A. Yes, I  am delighted to announce that Anna Morcom has just accepted to become the next Sambhi chair of Indian music at UCLA.

THE INDIAN MUSIC TRADITION AT UCLA, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND FUTURE PLANS

Q. What else do you want to tell us about where you would like to see Indian music go at UCLA?


A. I would like to see Indian music in all its guises continue to be supported. There is a long tradition at UCLA Ethnomusicology. One of my Ph.D. students at Washington, Gayathri Kassebaum, who was known as Gayathri Rajapur, that was her maiden name, was brought here by Mantle Hood in 1961, as a visiting artist. There is a long old tradition, and with the Sambhi Chair, we can continue to ensure that that support continues. But it would be good to get additional support for graduate students. My successor will attract a lot of students and I am hoping that over the next ten years UCLA is really seen as, among other things, an international center for Indian music scholarship. There is a lot of very interesting research to be conducted. With the chair we have the resources to really become the center in the United States for the study of Indian music. So I am very optimistic about that possibility.

 

Mrs. Mohindar Brar Sambhi.

 

This Chair and its resources is good for the department. It will be good for UCLA, it will certainly be good for CISA, and good for relations between UCLA as an institution and institutions in India, universities and other teaching institutes, and it will be good for Indian music. Indian music is a remarkable universe. For those who are involved in it, they understand it, just as Western music is a remarkable universe. It is always evolving; it is always developing and in the future, scholarship about that development will continue here, and who knows, we may even turn out to be part of that development.

Q. We have had Indian dance teachers in the Department of World Arts and Cultures; maybe it will be a part of that as well?

A. I am hoping that my successor will be able to develop even closer relations with faculty than we have now. That would be something that I would look forward to and I would be optimistic about it as well.

Q. You have made tremendous contributions to UCLA and the world, with your “wide-angle lens,” bringing in huge resources. Speaking of lenses, I heard you say that you are not used to art and architecture, yet, when I look at your photographic work, I see a visual artist.

A. What I would say about my photography is, I am really not so very good, but my wife and younger son have a good eye. I know enough to know what I don’t know. My eye is ok, but it is not exceptional. I am hoping in my retirement I can develop that eye and learn more. I do plan to continue doing research and publishing. I'm not going to just stop. I do value the intellectual life, and I hope to be part of the UCLA world, as a retired emeritus faculty, and help in whatever way I can, in the future.

I should say something about UCLA, both negative and positive. The negative is that this is an incredibly complex bureaucracy that drives everybody nuts. But it is the one we choose to have and that the faculty supports. I do have to say, I've been at four universities now, as student and faculty. I have loved all of them; they are all great in their own ways. But UCLA turns out to be really quite special. It is special in the dedication and devotion of its staff. As I've gotten to know staff here, in my various guises as an administrator, these are people who aren’t here simply doing a job. They are also, with very few exceptions, devoted to that concept of the UCLA family. Other administrators, that notion of being a part of this family is highly valued, and makes UCLA, I have to say, quite different from other places that I have experienced. A kind of loyalty and sense of belonging. And as an institution, despite the bureaucracy, actually reciprocates. This is an institution that supports the faculty. Probably supports the faculty more strongly than it does vis-a-vis other institutions. Staff are supported well, but the faculty are the "crown jewels" of the institution. Faculty are beautifully supported, and I think that is why they rarely leave; they rarely get successfully recruited elsewhere. I have valued my years at UCLA. I have certainly valued being a dean, being executive vice chancellor and provost, and being a faculty member in this department. It has been a great experience, and although I am retiring, I do expect to maintain positive connections with UCLA because it has treated me wonderfully and I always want to continue to reciprocate that very positive feeling that I have for this wonderful institution.

Q. We will continue. Thank you very much for this interview.

REFERENCES

Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition, published by Wayne State University Press (1980) and republished by the University of Chicago Press (1990).

Ustad Sabri Khan — Raga Puriya Dhanashree

Acknowledgement: Thank you to Brian Runt for filming the interview.

 
Dan and Arundhati Neuman.  
 
Dan Neuman and Robert Garfias at SEM (the Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference), Austin, Texas (2015).  


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Ustad Sabri Khan. Photo credit:
Daniel Neuman.
 
 
Daniel Neuman, Death Valley (2016).