“When I grew up, my parents wanted us to keep some of our Indian culture and traditions with us, and we decided to do that through the performing arts. My sister chose a form of dance called Kathak, which is from India, but I wasn’t really the dancing type. So I chose to do Hindustani singing instead. I’ve been informally learning from Hindustani singing since about the age of seven, and I’ve been formally trained since sixth grade. With the book that I’m writing, I wanted to kind of combine these two aspects of my musical career, my Indian music training as well as my piano training. I’ve been learning piano since I was six, so a little bit more time than my Indian training. I wanted to be able to introduce Indian music to Western musicians. There are not a lot of resources out there that are easily understandable if you don’t already have a lot of knowledge. I wanted to make something a little more casual that people with basic music knowledge can read.
The book uses a treble clef with some notes on it so it can be applied to any instrument. It’s a tool to learn Indian music targeted towards the Western musicians. So let’s say you want to learn Indian music, but you don’t have teachers near you. This is the book that uses Western notes, uses treble clef, and resources that you already know how to use and applies them to Indian music.
I wanted to introduce Indian music to people because a lot of people who are already in the music circle know a lot about the history of European music from their music theory studying, but very few people know anything about other countries — even I myself don’t know anything beyond India and Europe. I think it’s important to understand all branches of music. I try to listen to a lot of different types of music. A couple years ago, I did a project which was a world medley of songs. I basically took like 30 second clips from pop songs around the world and put them together because I think it’s important to extend our horizon and understand music from around the world.
Indian classical music is an art form that is thousands of years old — older than writing itself, so not everything is written down. People have different opinions. Sometimes I just had to cut out certain things because I didn’t want to offend any people.
For example, even though Hindustani music is from a pretty small part of the world, just North India, there are sects of Indian music. There can be six different names for one thing. There can be one, for example, one raga that is interpreted in three different ways. Then you sit there trying to write it down, and you’re like, which one do I write down? I have no idea. Because people have different opinions of what things mean.
When I was in middle school, my lovely friend introduced me to the big wide world of K-pop. I got into that, and I’m still still somewhat into that. But that kick started my journey into world music because I didn’t just listen to K-pop; I listen to a lot of other world music as well. Music is actually what really got me interested in linguistics and learning about other cultures because before I started learning about other cultures, I learned about their music. I listened to different kinds of music, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool. Let me find out more about this country. Let me find out more about this language.’ So music definitely influenced the way I think about things and the way I listen to language in general.
I don’t just do piano and singing; I’m also in the marching band, the school band, and I play piano in jazz band. So music has given me life opportunities as well. If I hadn’t done music, I wouldn’t get these leadership opportunities or have as many connections as I do. Even though I won’t be majoring in music, it’s still kind of the basis of my life. My life kind of revolves around music. Everything I do comes back to it.
I’m going to be the drum major in Fall. That is kind of what my whole high school career has led up to, and the only reason I was there is because I did music. I would not be like anything the way I am today if it wasn’t for music.”
— Kaveri Iyer, Sunnyvale, California