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NRI Dr. Mohinder Sambhi donated $1 Million to UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology


September 7, 2005
Ashok Mehta
NRI press

NRI (non-resident Indian) Dr. Mohinder Sambhi donated $1 million to establish the Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music, named in honor of his late wife. The department is part of the School of the Arts and Architecture at UCLA (UCLArts). .

The endowed chair will support the teaching and research activities of a distinguished faculty member by underwriting graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, staff and services, and special projects, and will ensure that the study of Indian music will continue at UCLA. The chair will be inaugurated at a concert featuring Shujaat Khan, sitar, and Abhiman Kaushal, tabla, on Sunday, Oct. 2 at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall.

"It is gratifying that I can honor my wife with a gift that will ensure that the study of Indian musical culture will continue to be supported at UCLA," said Sambhi, a professor emeritus in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

"Dr. Sambhi's pledge — to my knowledge the largest-ever private gift for Indian music study to a university — has enormous value for the field of ethnomusicology, which has for a half-century championed the teaching of Indian music, as well as other musical traditions from around the world, in American universities," said Daniel Neuman, provost and executive vice chancellor of UCLA and a scholar of Indian music. "This gift will ensure the continued commitment to teaching and scholarship of Indian music at UCLA."

"We are extremely grateful to Dr. Sambhi for his confidence in our program and in our goal to attract the best performers and scholars of Indian classical music to UCLA," said professor Jacqueline DjeDje, chair of the department of ethnomusicology.

The Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music is part of UCLA's Ensuring Academic Excellence Initiative, a five-year effort aimed at generating $250 million in private commitments specifically for the recruitment and retention of the very best faculty and graduate students. The initiative was launched in June 2004. Its goals include $100 million to fund 100 new endowed chairs for faculty across campus, increasing the number to 331. In addition, campus officials plan to increase support for an estimated 3,500 graduate students per year by raising $100 million to fund fellowships and scholarships in the UCLA College and $50 million for fellowships and scholarships in UCLA's 11 professional schools.

History of Indian music at UCLA

From 1960 to 1989, the ethnomusicology degree program at UCLA was housed within the music department. Faculty interested in musical cultures of the world worked within the department's Institute of Ethnomusicology, which was established in 1960 by the late ethnomusicology pioneer Mantle Hood. Under the visionary leadership of scholars such as Hood, the study of Indian music at UCLA was developed within the institute. The earliest teacher of Indian music at UCLA was the late T. Vishwanathan from South India, who taught flute and vocal music.

From 1961 to 1966, Harihar Rao — a former student of Ravi Shankar — served as director of the Indian Studies Group in the institute. When Rao arrived at UCLA, there were no sitars and only one set of worn-out tablas. Rao was able to procure new instruments from New Delhi, and for the next four years he taught sitar and tabla and prepared students to perform in annual spring concerts. He also worked with local jazz musicians, including Don Ellis, to exchange Indian rhythmic ideas. Rao left UCLA in 1966 to do field work in India and returned in 1968 to direct the Indian Studies Group for one more year. In 1963, Hood brought in South Indian artist Gayathri Rajapur — a vocalist and a gottuvadyam player — who taught in the music department from 1964 to 1965.

In 1975, Nazir Jairazbhoy was appointed a professor in the music department. From that year until his retirement in 1994, he taught courses on folk and classical music of India, musical cultures of Asia, field and laboratory methods, transcription, and organology. He also served as director of the Music of India performance ensemble — developed out of the Indian Studies Group — which included sitar and tabla instruction. During this 20-year period, a number of Indian artists came to UCLA for brief residencies, among them master sitar player Imrat Khan of the Imdad Khan gharana (tradition). His brother, Vilayat Khan, came to UCLA for a two-week residency as a Regents' Lecturer. Since Jairazbhoy's retirement, Amy Catlin has been teaching the Indian music courses.

The Institute of Ethnomusicology was closed in 1975. In 1989, the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology was formed as an independent department with professor Jairazbhoy serving as its first chair.

Shujaat Khan — son of Vilayat Khan — has been teaching sitar in the department of ethnomusicology since 1996. Shujaat Khan was joined in 1998 by Abhiman Kaushal, who teaches tabla. These two remarkable artists — co-directors of the Music of India Ensemble — have provided solid training to many dedicated student musicians, some of whom have become fluent exponents of Indian musical traditions. During the 2003–04 academic year, Nishat Khan, son of Imrat Khan, taught sitar in the department. These artists have all, in their own way, helped to consolidate the nearly 50-year tradition of Indian music teaching and performance at UCLA.



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