Q&A: UMN School of Music professor talks world of world music

A&E sat down with Scott Currie to discuss the School of Music’s master class and world music’s role on campus.

Katie Lauer

As spring semester nears its end, the University of Minnesota School of Music’s “Worlds of Improvisation” course will put on its fourth and final public master class, featuring South Indian classical Veena musician Nirmala Rajasekar.

The series is open to the University community and interested members of the community.

The Minnesota Daily recently sat down with music professor Scott Currie to discuss the series.

How did this whole series and class get started?

“Worlds of Improvisation” is a very special thing to me.

We decided to structure a whole seminar around guest artists; the idea was to flip the classroom. It’s a graduate seminar and all of the [students] are presumably musicians of one suit or another. The argument was, “Why not just prepare them for master classes with artists in various traditions?”

The seminar requires that people are actually willing to pick up an instrument or sing or do whatever. I think that’s important in talking about improvisation.

Why did [Rajasekar] say yes to being involved?

[Rajasekar] is a real catalyst for not just her own tradition that she’s mastered, but also reaching out beyond that. She’s somebody that you really should know if you’re in the Twin Cities and have any interest in world music.

She’s motivated to spread knowledge and really engage people’s interests in the tradition that she loves. She’s really been a force of nature.

How do you pick the music that’s in the series?

There are lots of traditions where people improvise without really thinking about it or considering it, it just comes with the territory. I pick the tradition and then I find who’s available.

Why do you think it’s important to provide this access to world music that some might not otherwise have?

Well, I think that’s the answer — they might not otherwise have it.

I mean, the University of Minnesota is insanely fortunate. [Minneapolis] is a real city, it’s rather diverse with lots of refugee and immigrant populations. It’s the kind of place where you can do something like this whereas, I don’t know, this would be insanely expensive and very hard to do in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

We really need to make the University a focal point for culture in the Twin Cities. The students are coming here from all over Minnesota and frankly may never have had a chance to check out some of this music. We’ll try to make the School of Music someplace that’s seen as a resource for artists in the community.

What can people who attend the master class expect?

For someone who’s coming off the street, the bottom line is you’re going to hear some amazing music. Then you’re going to hear a story of where that music came from, how that creates everything, how it was cultivated and how it was possible to get to the point where someone could give anywhere from a five-minute to a five-hour performance of music without any score or notation.

We’re fortunate to have people in the Twin Cities like [Rajasekar] who champion this kind of mindset. Let’s have her do it right here on campus. Light a fire here.

What: “The Improvisational Art of South Indian Classical Music featuring Nirmala Rajasekar”

Where: Ferguson Hall Room 225

2106 4th St. S., Minneapolis

When: April 25, 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity