David and Chandra Courtney
David and Chandra Courtney are a husband and wife team creating traditional Indian music. Chandra's hautning voice is underlayed by
David's percussion expertise. When they are not travelling the world presenting workshops and classes, they are working on their own recordings,
the latest of which is Amrit. I recently asked them about how they came to work together (David is originally fromt he States, while Chandra is from India) and what they hope to accomplish musically.
Paula: How and when did the two of you get together?
Chandra: As a team we got together the day we were married. At that time I
was with All India Radio and David was a student of tabla back in Hyderabad
David: Yea, that about sums it up. Our marriage was arranged by a producer
at all India Radio. I had never even met her until the day of the marriage
proposal. (Paula's note: this is for real -- and recently celebrated their 20th anniversary!)
Paula: What is it about the traditional music of India that you find
Chandra: I would say that Indian music constantly reminds me of the
richness of my culture. It is tied to every aspect of our life, from birth,
to death and every event in between.
David: For me, it was not something that I was born with. I only became
interested as a youth. At first I think that I was attracted by some "exotic"
quality. After I began to get involved I became mesmerize by the depth and
intricacy of it.
Paula:What do you see as the future of your music in terms of your
Chandra: I hope that everything will continue to progress. Although we have
had many lean years we are now starting to get some recognition.
I don't spend much time thinking of it as a "career" . Somehow the word seems
to imply something separate from myself. I feel that It is such a part of me
that I cannot really separate it.
I can however see a slight change in direction. For many years we would
perform straight classical music. But now when I go to a standard classical
music. However in recent years I haven't enjoyed the usual performances.
Lately I have started to feel, "OK, been there, done that, now what?". Now I
wish to experiment, to take traditional Indian music and give it a slightly
different colour, One that I hope will not diminish it's traditional value
but enhance it.
Paula: You teach workshops -- what is the reaction of others to this
music? What leads students to want to know more about it, and to
learn to play it?
Chandra: I enjoy the workshops but I think that maybe David can answer this
David: Well I would have to say that there are several categories of
students. Each should be handled differently and each with their own
One class is what is often called the "ABCD"; this stands for "American Born
Confused Deshi" These are basically the second generation immigrants. They
grow up here with no real exposure to Indian culture so the parents think that
if they send them to us then we will at least teach them something. That is
fine, we will do just that. By the end of the workshop they have had a good
exposure to Hindi, music, history, mythology and a host of other topics.
There is also what I would called the "Deprived Professional". These are
people born and raised in India, usually middle aged, who have always wanted
to learn music as a youth but due to various factors were never able to. Now
they are here and professionally secure they decide to take it up as a hobby.
Their goals are usually to be able to sing or play in the local temples or
music parties. They are a pleasure to teach because there is so much
enthusiasm in them.
There is also the "Curious Firangi". They are usually American musicians who
are merely looking for some point to enfold into their music. Usually they
are into various fusion genre. No problem, we will give them what we can,
then they move off.
Rarest of all is the aspiring professional. This is the student who really
wants to be a professional musician. This is the most challenging of all. It
is not challenging from the musical standpoint, what is really challenging is
that it is our duty to show the "tricks of the trade". More often these
revolve around business and professional relationships rather than any purely
Graphic courtesy of David and Chandra Courtney.