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The India Program is Music to Their Ears

By Mandira Banerjee10/18/2016

When nine U-M students began their journey to India with Professor Stephen Rush in July, they thought they were going to learn about Indian classical music. But when they returned to campus one month later, they also brought vast new knowledge about themselves and each other.

Practicing yoga, interacting with a different culture, and making time for reflection were just some of the things that changed their perspectives on life.

"Seeds planted sprout at different times," said Rush, professor of performing arts technology at U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance. "But many, if not most, come back and rethink the meaning and purpose of their lives."

Rush, a jazz musician and composer, created the India summer program in 2005 to provide an opportunity for students "to do something unusual and immersive." He wanted them to "really sink into Indian culture in an experiential way," and it worked.

Each year the students spend a month in Mysore, a city in the southern state of Karnataka. They stay in hostels run by the nonprofit Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, eat vegetarian food and begin each day with an early morning yoga lesson.

Then they travel through the busy traffic to different neighborhoods where a teacher or guru gives each student a music, dance or voice lesson. These lessons usually take place in the guru's house, which is the center of learning for many families.

The experience, said Rush, is a way for students to learn how in other cultures, education is integrated into daily life-unlike the methods of traditional Western educational systems.

Kevin Allswede is in his final year of the Media Arts program at SMTD. He first learned about the program from his friend who went to India last year. Allswede spent his time in India learning Bharatanatyam, a traditional Indian dance.

"I was in a state of shock the first week," said Allswede, adding that it took time to adapt to the cultural and educational differences. "It forces you to slow down and that's when self-reflection begins. I learned about dance, I learned about teaching and I learned about what is it to be a teacher."

The India experience resonated with Chelsea Hamm, too, a junior in InterArts performance at SMTD. She bonded with her dance teacher, Kripa Phadke, even though the work was rigorous and intense.

"Dance is my favorite art form," Hamm said. "Being in India and dancing reminded me why I am so passionate about it."

Hamm, who hopes to be a choreographer, and said she gained newfound confidence during the month-long immersion. She hopes to return to India one day to study dance with her teacher.

In addition to individual lessons in dance, musical instruments or voice, students attended lectures in leadership, the history of India, and Indian cinema. They also learned about caste and gender to better understand contemporary Indian society.

In the evening, they visited temples, palaces and concert halls.

They even managed to escape the routine when they traveled to spend a week on the beach in Kerala, a neighboring state.

Peter Felsman went on this trip four years ago. Self-introspection led him to switch fields from music to pursue a Ph.D. degree in social work.

"After my time in India, I realized I wanted to go into social work with the same commitment with which my contemporaries and teachers pursued music and dance," he said.

Felsman's experience in the program demonstrates how the music and unique cultural immersion impacts students' lives, their research, their friendships and their work.

"People have asked: 'What's the value of the trip?" Rush said. "I tell them, 'I've seen profound personal changes in the students, and they simply come back better people.'"

past news

March 2014

U-M UpstART Festival Begins 03/31/2014

Students Present "Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival" 03/27/2014

First-Ever SMTD Chamber Music Competition Launches April 5 03/27/2014

Doctoral Fellow Named MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year 03/26/2014

Theatre Student Lands Major TV Role 03/25/2014

Elizabeth Batiuk (ethnomusicology) has been chosen as a fellow at the Sweetland/Rackham Dissertation Writing Institute for spring 2014 and James McNally (ethnomusicology) received a summer and academic year FLAS for the study of Portuguese.    03/17/2014

Musicology graduate student Elizabeth McLain has been awarded a prestigious Lurcy Fellowship for research in France during the 2014-2015 academic year.   03/14/2014

December 2013

SMTD students Zoe Kumagai, Stephanie Aboukasm, and Adam DesJardins are among students profiled in an LSA article about the "Michigan in Washington" program, in which students intern at various Washington, DC organizations and businesses, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.    12/10/2013

October 2013
August 2013

Evan Zegiel, a sophomore who studies with Fritz Kaenzig, was the First Place winner in the Tuba Student division of the 2013 Leonard Falcone International Euphonium & Tuba Festival.     08/21/2013

July 2013

Professor Ashley Lucas and three Theatre & Drama students are engaged in an intensive exchange program with UniRio in Rio de Janiero, Brazil this summer, where they are blogging about their experiences in UniRio's prison arts program and more.   07/12/2013

November 2011
August 2011
June 2011
Chelsea Hamm and Kevin Allswede took Bharatnatyam lessons as part of the India program. Photo by Chelsea Hamm
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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower

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