“Chettri infuses culture into a World Beat and bridges continents with music education and new opportunities with a graduate degree”By Amanda Cairo.
Already an accomplished musician when he arrived at the University of Idaho, Navin Chettri’s Master of Music Performance degree will allow him to share his music and culture by building bridges back to Kathmandu, Nepal and notating a largely oral music tradition.
“This is a musician’s dream, to be able to work with professors and students, all interested in learning more about music,” says Chettri, a native of Darjeeling, India. “I’ve had so many opportunities to learn and share.”
Chettri moved to Nepal, in 1993, where he met and married a Moscow, Idaho native. On a stateside family visit in 2004, Chettri met Dan Bukvich, University Distinguished Professor of percussion.
“I had the most amazing chat with Dan, talking musician to musician,” says Chettri, whose band Cadenza was invited to perform at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
While Chettri had planned to come to the university to perform in the jazz fest, visas were slow in coming. Little did Chettri imagine that he would be performing as a U-Idaho undergraduate, and later graduate, student the following year when he and his wife decided to return to the area.
“I was thinking, what am I going to do while we live in the U.S.?” says Chettri. “Then I remembered Dan and seriously thought about going to school. It’s such a great opportunity for a musician to be in this kind of learning environment.”
While he was an accomplished musician and had started the only jazz festival in Nepal in 2002, he wasn’t familiar with western music notation. In Nepal and India, music is an oral tradition, which requires memorization. Learning to read and write music, work in large ensembles, and following formatted music was a challenge, but one he was excited to tackle.
“This has been a wonderful journey and great learning experience for me. I now have the vocabulary of music notation and the ability to communicate through written music,” says Chettri. “I can write down my music and share it with other people. That’s amazing.”
He’s also expanded his musical diversity, including harmony — which is not native to Indian music. It adds another layer to his music. He’s also added new drums to his repertoire, including African drums.
He traveled to Ghana, Africa as a research assistant to U-Idaho’s Barry Bilderback, assistant professor of music, to learn African drumming, dance and culture.
“It was so different and fascinating. Music and dance were integrated into their daily lives, from various ritual ceremonies to simple routines like jogging in the morning or just walking from one neighborhood to the next, or just hanging out,” says Chettri, who put together a world music group after he returned, which turned into a for-credit class called the World Beat Ensemble.
As a graduate student, Chettri has had even more opportunities to compose, teach, perform and build music communities and ties. While his Nepali band never performed at the jazz festival, as a student Chettri earned awards with groups and ensembles. As a composer Chettri has written for numerous ensembles including three parts of an Indian-inspired Mass for Jazz Choir I ¬– called the “Spiritual Mass” – which was later commissioned by the university’s humanities department for a performance at its Turning of the Wheel colloquium.
“It was really received well,” says Chettri, who has been encouraged to write all the components of the Mass. To add to his choral repertoire, Chettri recently wrote an arrangement of a Nepali traditional folk tune for Jazz Choir 1, called “Deusi Bhailo,” which was performed at the final spring concert.
Chettri also was commissioned as a graduate student to write for a string quartet in Great Falls, Mont. After he performed his North Indian drum, the tabla, with them in Montana, he brought the group back for a performance at the university.
“Bringing two styles of music together, with Western and Indian roots, was a really cool experience,” says Chettri. “I like to be able to mix things up. And who knows? Maybe my band (from Nepal) will play at the jazz fest here in the future.”
As he works on composing music, he also is looking back at Nepal and sharing what he’s learned in Idaho. Now that he knows two communities of musicians, he sees opportunity to grow in both Kathmandu and Moscow.