Monastic and Refugee Music in a Tibetan Refugee Community, Bylakuppe, India
Applicant name: Beau Hilton
Mentor name and department: Jeremy Grimshaw, Assistant Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, School of Music
Goal/Purpose of the Project
The artistic expression of displaced peoples will be explored through study of and immersion in the music and culture of the Tibetan refugee and monastic community in Bylakuppe, India.
Importance of Project
There is something special about refugee art. The blend of fiercely held cultural identity with the inevitable influx of foreign influence creates a dichotomy of fresh and ancient expression, with children and adults alike alternating the modes of holding to tradition and forging ahead into the future. Coming to a greater understanding of how this balance affects members of the community will assist in creating and maintaining a true balance, where identity is held as creativity is cultivated. Understanding and educating others about Tibetan traditional music will preserve the culture, and understanding and cultivating new movements in Tibetan refugee music will prevent cultural stagnation. Knowledge gained from this project will help other cultures, worldwide and local, to move forward with new growth while still maintaining the original roots.
Main Proposal Body
The philosophy of humanities is based on the idea that a people or culture may be known and understood through its art. My purpose is to get to know the Tibetan diaspora as it is now, leaving political activism to others more qualified. “The first institution formed in exile by the Dalai Lama was not designed to fulfill the physical or the spiritual needs of the refugees; rather, it was established for the express purpose of preserving and promoting the performing arts of Tibet.”1 It is in this spirit that I will conduct a two-pronged research project. First and foremost I will apply myself to study of traditional music, using resources in the several monasteries in Bylakuppe’s environs and venturing into the greater community to find skilled individuals. By gaining a preliminary hands-on understanding I will be better able to communicate its values and assist in its preservation. During the course of learning this music I will interview musicians and the community at large to find, on a human level, the importance of traditional music in the lives of the Tibetan people. The second prong of my research will be to find and participate in new musical expression, especially those trail-blazed by youth. What influences these new movements? What are the reactions of youth, adults, and the elderly to foreign influence? Is there tension between preservation and innovation? These questions and others will be addressed through experience and interview. Flexibility in the project will be key. The bulk of the literature on Tibetan diasporic artistic expression concerns Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, and information on Bylakuppe is sparse at best; therefore, this study ventures into unexplored territory. In Echoes from Dharamsala, Keila Diehl details her desire to expand Tibetan ethnomusicologic study outside of Dharamsala, but she was prevented from doing so due to circumstances beyond her control. I will begin this expansion.
Anticipated Academic Outcome
For any ethnomusicologist to be worthy of the name, he or she has to have conducted field research of this type. Stuffy cubicles and dusty libraries are only for beginning research – the real bulk of ethnographic understanding of any type must come through interaction with the people and culture itself, on its own turf. If the Tibetan diaspora at large is to be understood, then this in-field research is the way to do it. The credits I will gain from my studies will provide necessary coursework for my degree emphasis, and the material I gather will provide the basis for a report to be constructed and published in relevant journals.
Following my passion for the subject, I have created and had approved an Ethnomusicology Emphasis within the Humanities Major. I am trained in a variety of musical styles, and I am currently learning traditional Balinese music with BYU’s Gamelan orchestra. My academic record shows strong commitment to rigor, a variety of areas of involvement, and enthusiasm for world cultures. I am taking a graduate level Asian Religions class to gain greater understanding of the religious undergirding of the Tibetan and Indian peoples. I am also taking Hindi courses, which will assist in navigating India outside of Bylakuppe. Most importantly, I care about the people in the Tibetan community and feel drawn to learn from them and impart this knowledge to others.
Professor Grimshaw has extensive experience conducting, communicating the results of, and employing knowledge gained from field study. His research in Bali on the Gamelan musical tradition led to the publication of a book, The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers, and the creation of the BYU Gamelan orchestra, which is a full-scale production using instruments commissioned for BYU and imported from Bali. He also has contacts within the Tibetan musical community that we have already begun to make use of.
During Winter 2012 I will take Professor Grimshaw’s World Music course, the required Kennedy Center field study courses, the second semester of Hindi, and continue to study Tibetan music through listening to it, reading publications, and communicating with Tibetan musicians.
The field study will take place over Spring and Summer semesters, 2012. I will live in Bylakuppe, create positive relationships with the local people, spend time in the monastery, make recordings, and gain some proficiency in the traditional music, as well as explore and participate in new musical movements.
Fall 2012 I will take the Post Field Study Writing course, with the goal of creating a final report that details what was learned, implications, and areas for further research. This will be submitted to relevant journals. With permission of those recorded, I will also make recordings available online for public dissemination.
Fit With BYU’s Mission
The Aims of a BYU Education include, among other things, Global Awareness, Arts & Letters, and Service. The Global Awareness aspect of this project needs no expounding. Under the “Arts & Letters” heading, BYU’s aim is appreciation of human artistic achievement, and this should be “ideally, non- Western as well.” As far as service is concerned, I do not plan to distance myself from the problems of the refugees. My wife, who is my partner in this endeavor, is planning her project around working in and getting to know organizations that help the orphaned and underprivileged, and we will help each other in our respective projects.
1. Calkowski, Marcia S. "A Day at the Tibetan Opera: Actualized Performance and Spectacular Discourse." American Ethnologist 18.4 (1991): 643-57. Print.
Ahmed, Syed Jamil. “Tibetan Folk Opera: Lhamo in Contemporary Cultural Politics.” Asian Theatre Journal 23.1 (Spring 2006): 149-178. Print.
Collinge, Ian. "Developments in Musicology in Tibet: The Emergence of a New Tibetan Musical Lexicon." Asian Music 28.1 (Autumn, 1996-Winter,1997): 87-114. JSTOR. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/834507>.
Diehl, Keila. Echoes from Dharamsala: Music in the Life of a Tibetan Refugee Community. Berkeley: University of California, 2002. Print.
Routray, B. P. "Tibetan Refugees in India: Religious Identity and the Forces of Modernity." Refugee Survey Quarterly 26.2 (2007): 79-90. Print.