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Introducing Indian Music, Arts, and Culture in Sharon

Timothea Pham, Program Officer

An LCC Grant Recipient Spotlight

Shuchita Rao with youth from the Indian Vocal Group.
Shuchita Rao with youth from the Indian Vocal Group.

Our Local Cultural Council Program supports and nurtures local cultural life by bringing to the forefront cultural programs that engage, educate, and entertain communities. Last year, 329 LCCs awarded more than 8,000 grants to their communities. The following is the story of one such grant recipient.

At their annual grantee reception earlier this Spring, the Sharon Cultural Council welcomed a performance from the Indian Vocal Group whose youth members performed a Hindi song from the Bollywood movie, “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India.”

When asked about the meaning of the lyrics to the song, Shuchita Rao, lead instructor of the group, explained, “It doesn’t necessarily matter what language music is in, we can all feel the rhythm. We all come together to celebrate culture and that’s why this is important to us.” As someone who had recently joined Mass Cultural Council’s staff, I found this moment to be a memorable representation of how arts and culture can impact communities on the local level.

I spoke with Shuchita, a long-time educator of Indian music and culture in the Greater Boston area and a grant recipient from the Sharon Cultural Council. The interview has been modified for length.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved in the arts?
My family is originally from Hyderabad, South India where I grew up in a household of amateur musicians. My parents identified my talent for music earlier on and took me to learn from an award-winning professional musician, Malani Rajurkar. I learned to play the Tanpura, an acoustic, four-stringed instrument. I also learned how to sing, which was accompanied by the Tanpura during my performances. I am over 50 now and the same principles she taught me then, stay with me still today.

What brought you to the Greater Boston Area? How did you find yourself introducing your knowledge to the broader community?
School and work brought me to the United States. I attended Carnegie Mellon University to study business for a bit and then I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers for 10 years. When my children were born, I wanted to teach them music. For some reason, they were a bit reluctant to learn from their mother. So then, I invited their friends over, and we formed a little music session – like a playdate. We shared the music we liked and that was the beginning of the first music classes I taught. That’s how my music school started!

Tell me about your music school. Who and what do you teach in those classes?
The music school is run out of my home in Sharon. These classes that I offer are an after-school activity, so I teach after I get home from work. My class has an average of 15 students. The curriculum is all about Indian Classical music, singing, to be more specific. In India, we have two systems – a North Indian system and a South Indian system; they are very different. We have 23 different languages spoken in India and the language that I speak is Hindi, the national language of India. The music that I teach is called Hindustani music from the north.

What I teach my students is very connected to what my teacher taught me. What made her so special is that she didn’t just give me music lessons. Somehow, she was managing to show me the depth of classical music. She was not teaching me how to build a ship. She was teaching me to see the whole big ocean. It isn’t at all just memorizing. I encourage my students to be creative, so I take a bunch of musical notes and ask them, “What can you do with this?”

You recently received a grant from the Sharon Cultural Council. Could you describe your project, “Introduction to Indian Music, Arts, and Culture”?
I learned about the LCC Program through the Artist department at the Mass Cultural Council. I heard through them that I could apply for smaller grants from the LCCs in different towns and cities to provide the community with my knowledge of Indian arts and culture.

Then I started thinking, “I want to give a presentation at the Sharon Public Library and showcase the music that the students have learned with me over the years.”  There would be a lecture demonstration explaining what the music of India is about, our culture, and how we learn music. We don’t have a fancy Western notation system in music – it is all ear training and is a very unique system that has continued for centuries in India.

The event happened on June 5 and the people who came and attended the program from the town knew very little about Indian music and culture. They really liked it.

By running your music school and introducing the town to this program, do you find yourself connecting with other communities in Sharon?
For the youth population, the kids who take my class are only children of Indian descent. However, for adults, I have one Chinese student from Shanghai. Basically, what would happen was when the mothers would come with the children, they asked if they could learn, too. That was the start of the adult class. I have 5 adults who have been learning with me for a few years now.

The project has helped us expand our reach, and it has given children the confidence to be proud of their Indian roots. Now, they can share what they’ve learned in my classes to the broader public schools they attend. There have been diversity showcases in Sharon where my students found opportunities to perform.

How do you see this project fitting into the larger mission of bringing arts and culture to the Commonwealth?
We have 400 Indian families in Sharon, and we celebrate our cultural festivals together. Through this connection, we as an Indian community, have also become more engaged in what is happening in the town because of this support system. As part of all our cultural celebrations in Sharon, there is always a musical component from my school where my students present something from their roots. They aren’t born here, and that reinforcement and exposure makes them feel a part of the broader community.

I would like the project that our group has done to become a regular feature in Sharon. I would also love to expand to neighboring towns such as Canton, Norwood, Mansfield, and Milton. Not every town has an Indian music and education program and there is a growing Indian population in the area as well. The goal is to train the students to be teachers themselves because today, one more engineer, one more doctor, one more politician, is not going to help. One more healer, one more musician, that’s going to help. I truly believe that.

Learn more about Shuchita’s work.

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