Dr. Guy Beck’s Research

Dr. Guy Beck’s Research on Indic Influences
on World Religious Chant and Music

Both the Infinity Foundation and ECIT are interested in bringing to light the numerous Indic contributions to the civilizations of the world, many of which are not commonly recognized. For this reason, we have made the decision to support the following research project, which will highlight Indic contributions in the area of sacred music.

The Indic Influences on World Religious Chant and Music

Dr. Guy L. Beck, Tulane University

This proposal for a grant from the Infinity Foundation seeks to develop and complete work that I have already begun in the area of the Indic influence on world religious chant and music, both in teaching and research. As there is a large degree of ignorance and misinformation in this regard within the teaching of music and religious studies in Western countries, this project is timely and important. The results of this project will be made accessible to many educational levels, initially through a scholarly book and CD recording, and subsequently via public lectures, demonstrations, and revision of existing
educational curricula.

In terms of qualification for this research project, I have spent over six years studying Indian vocal music and musicological texts in India under leading exponents, leading to academic degrees in both theory and performance of classical and devotional traditions. I have taught courses over the past ten years in Religion and Music and in World Music at Louisiana State University, the College of Charleston, and Tulane University. Beside holding a Ph.D. in Hinduism from Syracuse University, I have a degree in Musicology (M.A.) from Syracuse University and an M.A. in Religious Studies (Western religions) from the University of South Florida. On the graduate level, I have studied Western classical music, ancient Greek music theory, Jewish Psalmody, Islamic chant and music, Buddhist and Shinto chant in addition to Indian musicology and Vedic chant. Along with numerous articles and book chapters on Indian music and Hindu religion, I have published a book on sacred sound in Hinduism, SONIC THEOLOGY: HINDUISM AND SACRED SOUND (University of South Carolina Press, 1993) and recorded a CD of Indian religious and classical vocal music, SACRED RAGA (STR Digital Records, 1999). I have given numerable performances and lectures on Indian music in India (Indian TV) and throughout the United States including Columbia University and Indiana University. This past Spring I was invited by Princeton University to give a featured presentation on Vedic Chant and Hindu Music as part of a Conference on Chant in World Religions.

My intention to make an application at this time arises from the fact that my teaching commitments during the coming year at Tulane University will be flexible enough to allow for research. Due to a growing awareness of my work involving Hinduism and sacred sound, I have been invited by the Center for Vaisnava and Hindu Studies at Oxford University to teach and give a series of lectures on ancient Indian music. Besides being a great opportunity to enhance my career through association with a famous institution of higher learning, there is the additional factor of knowledge enrichment through research and study leading to publication and improved teaching in the area of Indian religion and world music. Oxford University has one of the largest collections of musical instruments from around the world, the Pitt Rivers Museum containing 6,000 musical instruments along with an archive of sound recordings, a splendid research library, and other resources including a distinguished faculty.

The research project that I am planning at Oxford University would break new ground in the fields of comparative musicology and religion and would raise greater awareness of the major contributions of Indic traditions toward religious chant and music. I am especially interested in the influence of Indic traditions, including the culture and religion of ancient Persia and the area surrounding present-day India to the North and East, on religious chant and vocal intonation–what I claim and hope to further verify as the central core of religious experience worldwide. For example, I plan to explore how the subtle style of chanting the Qur’an in Islam is pre-Islamic and can be traced to Indic roots. Also, the Buddhist chanting of the Pali Canon, based on Vedic models, has spread all over Asia and has influenced countless types of rituals in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Extensive periods of listening and analysis have led me to recognize many similarities in vocal technique, melodic style, rhythm, and instrumental structure among a wide variety of world musics, such that I was prompted to illustrate the Indic origins of these as well as other types of religious chant and song through focused research and objective confirmation.

In my teaching and study I have also reached certain observations about the Asiatic and particularly Indic origins, in some form or another, of most of the prominent musical instruments of the world. For example, the Western piano, guitar, violin, oboe, bass drum, etc., can all be traced back to Indic prototypes. The Chinese and Japanese Chin (zither), koto, pipa, biwa, shamisen, and taiko (drum) all have Indic origins, and almost all Middle Eastern instruments are Indic in origin. Beyond this, there are also the Asiatic and Indic roots of music theory, including scale systems and rhythmic patterns.

These dimensions and others are almost completely absent from music history classes and textbooks in the West. Most Music Departments on the college level do not offer courses on World or Ethnic Music, Ethnomusicology, or Comparative Musicology, what to speak of in secondary schools. Likewise, most courses in World Religions and even Hinduism do not include music as an important factor in describing religious practice and experience, of which it actually plays a pivotal role. If the central role of music in most world religions can be traced to Indic influences and origins, I view this as one of the most important contributions of Indic traditions to world civilization.

In order to redress the above issues, and to correct many misconceptions and omissions, as well as raise public awareness, I intend to corroborate a large amount of ideas related to Indic influences on world religious chant and music with more data and testimony from experts during my research time at Oxford University. And as I will be teaching and lecturing, the information arising out of my research will be further strengthened by regular criticism and revision within seminar and lecture venues, and in consultation with faculty. This experience would thus be a great opportunity to make a significant contribution to knowledge.