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Dr. Guy L. Beck is a scholar, author, musician, college professor, historian of religions, and musicologist. A Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (Oxford University, U.K.), he is presently Lecturer in Religious Studies and Asian Studies at Tulane University, and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Loyola University New Orleans.
Born in New York City in August 3, 1948 and brought up in a musical family, Guy received training in piano and choral singing in upstate New York under Alan A. Allen at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. He also studied classical piano under Prof. George Mulfinger at Syracuse University, and popular and jazz music from his father, a noted pianist, composer, and Broadway vocal music arranger during the 1940s and 1950's. Known professionally as Harold Cooke, his father worked for composer Harold Arlen, was a vocal arranger Kay Thompson and songstress Kate Smith, and was a regular pianist at the Blue Angel club in Manhattan where he used to accompany celebrity singers. Cooke was also a close friend and associate of piano legend Cy Walter and singer Mabel Mercer. From 1958-1966, Guy lived in the Syracuse area with his adopted father, George A. Beck, FIDSA (Fellow, Industrial Designer's Society of America), a leading industrial designer, manager at General Electric Company, and president of George A. Beck Associates. Guy is also the elder brother of artist James Beck, industrial designer Benjamin Beck, partner in the design firm Eleven (Boston), and sister Naneese Beck Bonnell. Guy is married to Calcutta artist Kajal Beck, granddaughter of prominent Indian industrialist Alamohan Dass.
Beck earned a B. A. in Social Sciences from the University of Denver, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of South Florida in 1982. He also earned an M.A. (1986) in Fine Arts, Musicology and a Ph.D. in Religion, South Asia from Syracuse University in 1989. In India he studied Sanskrit and Indian philosophy under Prof. Gaurinath Sastri (President of Sanskrit College, Calcutta) and Dr. Govinda Gopal Mukhopadhyay (University of Burdwan), and Bengali language and literature from Prof. Sukumar Sen (Calcutta University).
At Syracuse University, he studied South Asian religions and Sanskrit literature under Prof. H. Daniel Smith and Swami Agehananda Bharati, the Hindi language under Dr.Jishnu Shankar, history of religions under Prof. Charles H. Long, religion and myth under Prof. David L. Miller, Western music theory and history, including Gregorian chant, under Prof. Howard Boatwright, and ethnomusicology from Prof. Ellen Koskoff.
Dr. Beck is the author of Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound (University of South Carolina Press, 1993) where he examines Hindu theology and Indian philosophy in terms of sacred sound, and Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition (University of South Carolina Press, 2012), where he traces the historical relation between Hindu ritual and Indian classical and devotional music. He has also published, as editor, Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity (SUNY Press, 2005), wherein he presents the Krishnology of the Vaishnava sect known as the Radhavallabha Sampradaya.
His other edited volume, Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006), includes chapters on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism by distinguished scholars, as well as a CD of forty selections of chant and music performed by the authors ("....highly recommended." CHOICE).
As an archivist of Indian devotional music, Dr. Beck has compiled, edited, and recorded 108 temple songs of the Radhavallabha Sampradaya in the book and collection of 18 CD's entitled Vaishnava Temple Music in Vrindaban: The Radhavallabha Songbook (Blazing Sapphire Press, 2011). For this project, under a 1992-93 Fulbright Research Grant, Beck studied Haveli Sangit and Samaj Gayan, two genres of devotional music allied with Dhrupad, from musicians in Vrindaban and Mathura in northern India.
In addition, Beck has written articles for reference works such as Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, Grove Dictionary of American Music, and Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia volume.
When Beck was a visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at Oxford University (U.K.) during the fall of 2001, he delivered the Michaelmas Lectures on Hinduism and Music, and taught a graduate seminar in ethnomusicology. During this time, he received a grant from the Infinity Foundation for research and study in England on the Indic influences on world religious chant and music.
Studying Music in India
Guy Beck is the first American performer of Hindustani classical vocal music. He has studied it for over seven years in India under the traditional system of Guru-sishya-parampara (disciplic lineage), and performs regularly. He has released two CD's: Sacred Raga (New Orleans: STR Digital Records, 1999) and Sanjher Pradip (Calcutta: Bihaan Music, 2004). Initially learning under Sangeetacharya Sailen Banerjee at the Tansen Music College in Calcutta (1976-1980), he has continued his training at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) founded in Calcutta in 1978. At SRA, he studied under Pandit Arun Bhaduri (Guru) and Pandit Vijay Kichlu (Founding Executive Director/Guru). Prof. Sailen Banerjee, vocalist and organizer of the famous Tansen Music Conferences since the 1940s, was a disciple of Ustad Dabir Khan, the hereditary descendent of Tansen, the famous singer at the court of Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century. Beside received valuable guidance at SRA from Pt. A. Kanan, Pt. V. G. Jog, and Pt. Kumar Mukherjee, and has also learned three years from Sri Ashish Goswami, disciple of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan of Patiala Gharana. During his time in Calcutta, he was also fortunate to have heard live concerts of renowned vocalists Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor, Ustad Ata Hussain Khan, Ustad Aminuddin Dagar, Ustad Sharafat Khan, Smt. Hirabai Barodekar, Smt. Gangubai Hangal, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, and Ustad Hafiz Ahmed Khan.
For training in Dhrupad, Beck learned from the Dagar Brothers in New Delhi, and from Pandit Sambhunath Mukhopadhyaya of the Chhandam Institute of Dhrupad in north Calcutta. He has since performed in several national music conferences in India, at Fulbright House (New Delhi), Visvabharati Santiniketan University, ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Santipur Ragini, and Nad Music Circle in Burdwan (West Bengal).
On record, he is the first American to have appeared in a national Indian music conference (Tansen Music Conference, 1977) of Hindustani music, and one of the first Westerners to earn a vocal music degree from an Indian institution ("Sangit Bivakar," Bachelor of Music, from the West Bengal State Academy of Music, 1980).
Having also appeared on Door Darshan (Indian TV) and Radio Nepal, Beck has taught several students the art of Hindustani music, and frequently gives lectures and demonstrations at college campuses and other venues. For a brief history of Hindustani music and an overview of his musical training, see the article, "The Magic of Hindu Music," in Hinduism Today (October 2007, pp. 20–31).
For further studies in Hindustani music, Beck was awarded a Senior Performing Arts Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies (A.I.I.S.) in 2008. This was followed in 2010 with a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Fellowship for the study of the Agra Gharana, the oldest and richest tradition of Hindustani vocal music with roots in Dhrupad of the fourteenth century. For this research and training, he was affiliated with the ITC Sangeet Research Academy under the guidance of Pandit Vijay Kichlu. Pandit Vijay Kichlu and his brother Pandit Ravi Kichlu ("Kichlu Brothers"), as disciples of the elder Dagar Brothers, performed as popular concert and radio artists of Dhrupad and Khyal. Pandit Vijay Kichlu, a disciple of Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, is a highly respected vocalist and authority in Hindustani vocal music and the Agra Gharana. Beck was also assisted in this work by Smt. Purnima Sen (disciple of Ustad Sharafat Hussain Khan), Dr. Tapasi Ghosh (Calcutta University, disciple of Pandit D. T. Joshi), and Ustad Waseem Ahmed Khan (SRA Scholar and family member of Agra Gharana, being the grandson of Ustad Ata Hussain Khan).
In August, 2011 Dr. Beck was invited as a participant in the prestigious Eranos Conferences held in Ascona, Switzerland. The Eranos Conferences were inaugurated by psychologist C. G. Jung in the early 1930s, and hosted intellectuals and scholars like Rudolf Otto, Karl Kerenyi, Mircea Eliade, author Hermann Hesse, and many others over the years. The theme of the 2011 meeting was "Love and the Musical Arts," and was organized by the Fetzer Institute under the direction of Dr. Lawrence Sullivan (Harvard University, Professor Emeritus). At this meeting Beck discussed and performed "Ragas of Love: Devotional Music in the Hindu Tradition."
Guy Beck's most recent lecture/concert was a featured presentation as part of the exhibit, "Yoga: the Art of Transformation," organized by the Freer / Sackler galleries of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., on December 6, 2013. Here he presented a lecture on "Hindu Philosophies of Sound," and performed an Indian classical vocal recital along with performances by Srinivas Reddy on sitar and Nitin Mitta on tabla.