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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 as Guy Rice Sincock on August 3, 1948, Guy Beck was brought up in a musical family in the Forest Hills area. With English and Swedish roots in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he was exposed to classical and popular music from an early age from his father, Harold Rice Sincock (1915-1994) a noted New York pianist, vocalist, and vocal arranger for Broadway and night club acts in the 1940s and 1950s. Known professionally as Harold Cooke or Harold Cook, his father had worked for composer Harold Arlen (Wizard of Oz) in Broadway shows (Hooray For What?), accompanied a young Judy Garland, and did vocal arrangements for Kay Thompson and songstress Kate Smith ("God Bless America"). He was the vocal arranger for the 1940 Broadway musical Two For the Show, starring Betty Hutton and Eve Arden, which introduced the popular standard, "How High the Moon," sung by Alfred Drake. As vocalist, Harold sang in the quartet known as "The Martins" that included composer Hugh Martin ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") and lyricist Ralph Blane. After serving in the Navy in WWII, Mr. Cooke served as staff pianist and master of ceremonies at the Blue Angel night club in Manhattan where he used to accompany celebrity singers, including Pearl Bailey, Kaye Ballard, Russell Nype, Andy Williams, and the young Harry Belafonte. As a composer, he wrote the popular, "Moonrise," "People Like You," and "It's April Again," the latter song recorded and broadcast on radio by friend and mentor, piano legend Cy Walter, also from Minneapolis.
From 1958-1966, accepting the name of Guy Leon Beck, Guy lived in the Syracuse area with his mother (interior designer Dale Hanson Beck) and adoptive father, George Anthony Beck (1908-1977), FIDSA (Fellow, Industrial Designer's Society of America), leading industrial designer, manager at General Electric Company, and president of George A. Beck Associates. Here he received formal training in choral singing from Alan A. Allen while attending the Fayetteville-Manlius High School, and also studied classical piano under Prof. George Mulfinger (Syracuse University) for several years. Prof. Mulfinger had studied in Germany under Emil Von Sauer, a student of Franz Liszt. As a teenager Guy was absorbed in the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy, yet also sang and played bass guitar and keyboards in a rock band known as the Islanders, with his brother Jim on lead guitar. From 1966-1970, he attended the University of Denver, where he studied social sciences, religion, music, and philosophy. During the summer of 1969, Guy worked and studied in Capetown, South Africa on a student-exchange program, and experienced a life-changing exposure to Hindu religion and culture in Durban.
Guy is the elder brother of artist and guitarist James D. Beck (deceased), industrial designer Benjamin J. Beck, partner in the design firm Eleven (Boston), and sister Naneese Beck Bonnell of Manlius, New York. In November 1979, Guy was married in Calcutta to artist Kajal Dass, eldest grand-daughter of leading Indian industrialist 'Karmavir' Alamohan Dass of Dassnagar, Howrah, West Bengal (see Wikipedia article on Alamohan Das). The traditional Hindu wedding ceremony was conducted by renowned Sanskrit scholar and pundit, Professor Gaurinath Sastri.
Raised in a liberal religious environment, Guy attended the Episcopal Church and sang in choirs while at St. James Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota (1957–58), and was later exposed to Christian Science, Unitarianism, and Freemasonry. Both of his grandfathers and several uncles were active in Scottish Rite Masonry and the Shriners. However, Guy was eventually drawn to Eastern religions and Yoga, inspired by the writings of Rudyard Kipling, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), and prolonged listening to the music of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. By 1970, seeking knowledge of Indian spirituality and a deeper sense of community apart from the surrounding counter-cultural milieu, he discovered the profundity of devotional Hinduism through the teachings and public lectures of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He subsequently took initiation (diksha) in 1971 with the spiritual name of Santosh Das ("content"), and for several years trained in Sanskrit and Bengali languages as part of his editorial service (1972-1975) in the Sanskrit Department of ISKCON Press and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, New York and Los Angeles. In late 1975, the connections between Bhakti-Yoga (devotional Hinduism) and Indian classical vocal music were informed and enhanced by personal meetings with Swami Nadabrahmananda (Divine Life Society of Shivananda) in New York, who taught the importance of vocal music in Hindu religious experience. Guy was also greatly influenced by field recordings of Radhavallabha Temple music in Vrindaban, a Hindu holy place in northern India. As a result, he spent the next five years (1976-1980) studying Hindustani vocal music in India, both in Kolkata (Calcutta) and Vrindaban, under various Gurus and distinguished exponents.
Beck completed his B.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Denver in 1981, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of South Florida in 1982. For further studies in religion and music, he received an M.A. (1986) in Fine Arts, Musicology, an M.Phil (1987) in Religion, and a Ph.D. in Religion, South Asia from Syracuse University in 1989. At Syracuse University, he studied South Asian religion and Sanskrit literature under Prof. H. Daniel Smith and Swami Agehananda Bharati, Hindi language with Dr.Jishnu Shankar, history of religions under Prof. Charles H. Long, world religions from Prof. Huston Smith (PBS Series, The Wisdom of Faith with Bill Moyers), religion and myth under Prof. David L. Miller, Jewish liturgy and Hebrew Bible under Prof. Alan Berger, Gnosticism under Prof. Patricia Cox Miller, Medieval music theory and history, including Gregorian Chant, with Prof. Howard Boatwright, Nineteenth-Century music and the arts under Prof. Eric F. Jensen, and ethnomusicology from Prof. Ellen Koskoff. At the University of South Florida, he studied Sanskrit and Vedic literature with Prof. George Artola, ethnomusicology from Prof. Pat Waterman, comparative mysticism from Prof. William Shea, New Testament with Prof. Randy Akers, and Biblical religion and ancient mystery religions of the Near East under archaeologist Prof. James F. Strange.
During five years in India (1976-1980), he studied Sanskrit and Indian philosophy with Prof. Gaurinath Sastri (President of Sanskrit College, Calcutta), Vaishnavism and Tantric traditions with Dr. Govinda Gopal Mukhopadhyay (University of Burdwan), and Bengali literature from Prof. Sukumar Sen (Calcutta University).
Beginning in 1990, beside Tulane and Loyola, Dr. Beck has taught courses in Hinduism, Buddhism, Asian Religions, World Religions, Mysticism, Religion and Music, Introduction to Religious Studies, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion at Louisiana State University, College of Charleston (SC), University of North Carolina-Wilmington, University of New Orleans, and University of Mississippi.
Guy L. 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. This is the first comprehensive scholarly treatment of the concept of Nada-Brahman (sacred sound) in the Hindu tradition, including the Vedas, Upanishads, grammatical, Tantra, Yoga, Sakta, Siva, and Vaishnava branches. In the sequel, Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition (University of South Carolina Press, 2012), the historical relationship between Hindu ritual and Indian classical and devotional music is documented through analyses of Vedic ritual, Sama-Gana, Natya-Sastra, Gandharva Sangita, and Bhakti traditions. His 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). This is the first classroom textbook on music in world religions with an accompanying CD. He has also published, as editor, Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity (State University of New York Press, 2005), wherein he outlines the Krishnology of the Vaishnava sect known as the Radhavallabha Sampradaya.
As a devout archivist of Indian devotional music, Dr. Beck has compiled, edited, and recorded 108 authentic 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 several articles for reference works like Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition and Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South Asia volume. He is also on the International Advisory Board of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies.
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 Asian Ethnomusicology for the Bates School of Music, Oxford University.
Studying Music in India
Guy Beck is the first American singer and performer of Hindustani classical vocal music. Beginning in 1976, he has studied vocal music for over seven years in India under the traditional system of Guru-sishya-parampara (disciplic lineage). He initially learned from Sangeetacharya Sailen Banerjee at the Tansen Music College in Kolkata (1976-1980). Prof. Sailen Banerjee, vocalist and organizer of the famous Tansen Music Conferences, was a disciple of Ustad Dabir Khan, the hereditary descendent of Tansen, singer at the court of Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century. Beck continued his training at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) founded in Kolkata in 1978. At SRA, he studied under Pandit Arun Bhaduri (Guru) and Pandit Vijay Kichlu (Founding Executive Director and Guru). He also received valuable guidance from Pandit A. Kanan, Pandit V. G. Jog, and Pandit 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 fortunate to attend 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 basic training in Dhrupad, Beck learned from the Dagar Brothers in New Delhi. He also learned many rare and beautiful Dhrupad compositions of the Vishnupur Gharana from Pandit Sambhunath Mukhopadhyaya of the Chhandam Institute of Dhrupad in Calcutta.
On record, Guy Beck is the first American to perform in a national Indian music conference (Tansen Music Conference, 1977) of Hindustani music. He has since performed at Bhowanipur Sangeet Sammelan (Kolkata), Fulbright House (New Delhi), Indian Museum (Kolkata), Visvabharati Santiniketan University, ITC Sangeet Research Academy, Santipur Ragini in Santipur (West Bengal), and Nada Music Circle in Burdwan (West Bengal). While in Nepal (1980), he studied from the court musicians in Katmandu, and performed on Radio Nepal as well as at the Maharani Palace of the Princess of Nepal. Later in 1993, he performed on a special program of Door Darshan (Indian TV), where he was interviewed by Pandit Kumar Mukherjee.
Beck is 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). He is also the first Westerner to study and perform Bengali Padavali-Kirtan, which he learned for four years in Calcutta from Prof. Mriganka Cakravarti of Rabindra Bharati University as well as from Kirtan Master Rathin Ghosh, earning a four-year diploma from the Bharatiya Samskriti Parishad in 1980. In addition, Beck learned Sikh music (Shabad Kirtan) from learned musicians at the Kolkata Gurdwara (Sikh temple).
Beck has since taught many 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). He has released two CD's: Sacred Raga (New Orleans: STR Digital Records, 1999) and Sanjher Pradip (Calcutta: Bihaan Music, 2004).
For advanced 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 senior disciple of Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, is a highly respected vocalist and authority in Hindustani vocal music and the Agra Gharana. Beck was assisted in this work by Smt. Purnima Sen (senior 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."
In 2010-2012, he was selected to join a team of scholars receiving a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This two-year project entitled “Mellon Initiative on Religion across the Disciplines” sought to examine and implement ways in which the study of religion may be more fully integrated within the academic community. Dr. Beck was a Senior Director of the Working Group on Music and Religion, chaired by Prof. Peter Jeffery of Notre Dame University, which also presented papers at the 2012 annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) in Chicago, and Society of Ethnomusicology (SEM) in New Orleans. http://rmellon.nd.edu/working-groups/music-and-religion/
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 Museum in Washington, D. C., on December 6, 2013. Here he delivered 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.
Author. Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Traditions. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2012, w/CD
Author. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. Studies in Comparative Religion Series.
Editor. Vaishnava Temple Music in Vrindaban: The Radhavallabha Songbook. Kirksville, MO: Blazing Sapphire Press, 2011, w/18 CD's.
Editor. Sacred Sound: Experiencing Music in World Religions. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006, w/CD
Editor. Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005.
CD Recordings: Indian Music
Sanjher Pradip. CD of Indian classical and devotional music. Calcutta: Bihaan Music, 2004.
Sacred Raga. CD of Indian classical and devotional music. New Orleans: STR Digital Records, 1999.
Publications: Selected Book Chapters and Articles
“Hinduism and Music.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts. Frank Burch Brown, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 358-366.
“Hinduism.” In The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition. 8 vols. Charles Hiroshi Garrett, editor-in-chief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Vol. 4, 173-174.
“Bhakti Sangit: The Art of Music in Vaishṇava Tradition.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies 21.2 (Spring 2013): 143-171.
“Two Braj Bhāṣā Versions of the Rāsa-Līlā Pañcādhyāyī and Their Musical Performance in Vaiṣṇava Worship.” In The Bhāgavata Purāṇa: Sacred Text and Living Tradition. Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013, 181-201.
“Rāgas of Love: Devotional Music in the Hindu Tradition.” In Eranos Yearbook 2009-2010-2011, Love on a Fragile Thread. Fabio Merlini, Lawrence E. Sullivan, Riccardo Bernardini and Kate Olson, eds. Einsiedeln: Daimon Verlag, 2012, 577-595.
“Divine Musical Instruments.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. V, 36-44. Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2013.
“Hit Harivams.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. IV, 234-240. Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012.
“Haridasi Sampradaya,” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. III, 329-338. Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2011.
“Radhavallabha Sampradaya,” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Vol. III. 467-477. Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2011.
“Kirtan and Bhajan in Bhakti Traditions,” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. II, 585-598. Knut A. Jacobsen, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2010.
“The Magic of Hindu Music.” Hinduism Today (October, 2007): 20-31.
“Kolkata (Calcutta),” 106-109; “Orissa,” 93-94; “Puri,” 116-117. In Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 5, Asia and Oceania. John Shepherd, David Horn, and Dave Laing, eds. London and New York: Continuum International Publishing group, 2005.
“Hearing the Sacred: Introducing Religious Chant and Music into Religious Studies Teaching.” Religious Studies News: Spotlight on Teaching/Religion and Music 16.2 (Spring 2001): 2, 8.
“Religious and Devotional Music: Northern Area.” In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 5, Indian Subcontinent. Alison Arnold, ed. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 2000, 246-258
“Nada-Brahman and North Indian Classical Music: Parameters of Intersection.” Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion 3 (October 1998): 69-90.
"Samaj-Gayan for Radha and Krishna: Devotional Music in the Radhavallabha Sampradaya." Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies, 7.1 (Fall 1998): 85-100
“Fire in the Atman: Repentance in Hinduism.” In Repentance: A Comparative Perspective. Amitai Etzioni and David Carney, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997, 76-95.
“An Introduction to the Poetry of Narottam Dās.” Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies 4.4 (Fall 1996): 17-52. Includes a full translation of “Prārthana” by Narottam Dās from Bengali to English.
"Devotional Hymns from the Sanskrit.” In Religions of India in Practice. Donald S. Lopez, ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, 133-144.
References to Harold Cooke:
Jablonski, Edward. Harold Arlen: Happy with the Blues. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961, 17.
Irvin, Sam. Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010, 62.