Sunday, June 9, 2013

Final posting. . . .

This is a rather belated update to my blog, so please accept my apologies for being absent for so long.

On 28 December 2012, after more than 26 years at the Voice of America, initially as Chief of the Urdu Service from 1986 until 2007, then as Ethnomusicologist and World Music Curator through 2012, I retired--or as I prefer to say--returned, to full time music outside VOA.

After studying intensively in India with the late Ustad Ghulamhusain Khan, I had begun performing on the sitar in 1966 throughout the U.S. and in Great Britain.  Since 1988, I have toured and performed internationally with my wife, Shubha Sankaran (on surbahar) in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Dubai, Egypt, Morocco, Romania, Guatemala, and Peru.

During this time, I also managed major U.S. tours by Ustad Imrat Khan (my wife's Ustad), the late Ustad Vilayat Khan, and the late Ustad Asad Ali Khan, and assisted numerous tours by the prominent Dhrupad performers, the Gundecha Brothers.  In addition, I continue to facilitate performances of Indian classical music in the greater Washington area.

Prior to coming to VOA, after graduate work at the University of Chicago, I taught Urdu and Indian music and culture at the University of Minnesota (1971-74), the University of Chicago (summer 1972), and Harvard (1974-1983), as well as a course in Indian music at Duke University while working in Duke University's administration from 1983-86 (as Director of International House and the International Office, and Assistant Dean for Study Abroad.)  Later, while at VOA, I taught Indian music at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Since leaving VOA last year, I have traveled extensively, mostly in India, where my wife and I managed (after four years of struggles with contractors, who seem to be the same the world over. . .) to complete an alternate residence at the Dhrupad Sansthan, the international music academy established in Bhopal by the Gundecha Brothers, with whom we continue to be closely associated.  During the past couple of months back in Washington, I have focused my efforts toward completing my book on the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.  I am also working on consolidating my enormous and comprehensive archive of recordings (private digital files, CDs, cassettes, reel-to-reel recordings, and 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and LP discs), manuscripts, books, journals, photographs, and ephemera collected over the last 50 years before they reach their final home at Harvard to join the archives of my mentors, the late James A. Rubin, and the late mystical painter Hyman Bloom (also

Once I have made sufficient progress on the above projects, I hope to resume lecturing and writing, as well as to return to blogging later in the year on various aspects of music at

As we used to say in the broadcast world, stay tuned!  And many thanks to readers of my past musings on this Website.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


When VOA's English Division came under new management in May, I requested to remain in English to Africa, where I had been working part-time as Senior Editor on a voluntary basis since January. The work is new and exciting, and it is rewarding to be a member of such a congenial and dynamic team broadcasting to the great continent of Africa.

I hope to return to blogging at some point in the future, as time permits. Thanks for your past readership! In the meantime, do check out English to Africa's rich musical offerings:

VOA African Music Treasures

VOA Music Time in Africa

VOA African Beat

VOA Hip Hop Connection

as well as our main Web page for news in general:

VOA English to Africa

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Musical Manifesto for May First

Musicians and music lovers of the world, unite!

There is no question that music is one of the unifying forces in human society, a force which breaks down barriers and establishes avenues of communication, understanding, and love among the diverse branches of the human species.

And on this day (for me, as always, the beginning, not only of a new musical year, but also a year of new discoveries and collaborations), I like to ask:

What is music? What is its role in our lives? Why is it so inseparable from the most basic human experiences?

The current state of music in the world is that literally millions of people--sometimes as themselves, sometimes forming groups with individuals of similar convictions, sometimes aspiring to national stature, sometimes challenging and crossing an incredible complex of difficult, even deadly, boundaries—are committing their efforts to musical offerings, statements, masterpieces, or even failures, from no less a primal source than their very souls, and their deepest and most sacred dreams and hopes of simply connecting with other beings, with the prospect of sharing the magic of music with those who care to—or have the opportunity to—or are (by those around them) simply forced to—listen . . . .

Music is the other language of today’s media—sometimes called the lingua-franca of this world, or the universal language—of human hearts and throats and tongues, and if it is not too much to wish for, of the souls of our fellow inhabitants of this complex, constantly changing, and constantly evermore challenging planet (to our immediate knowledge, and infinite loneliness: the only proof-positive of the presence of life within the vastness of the perceivable universe. . . . )

So let us sing, let us play the music of our voices and hands and hearts; let us celebrate the myriad musics of our pluralistic world, to accompany the ultimate poetry and drama and philosophy of this miraculous—and yet gloriously ordinary—existence we share together today, and we hope, tomorrow.

When we think about music, many questions arise:

Why, since the dawn of human existence, have we been moved to sing, or to create musical instruments, however primitive, and play them?

Similarly, why has song, for millennia, been so fundamental an expression of the human spirit?

Why do humans sing when alone, as in tending herds of sheep, or together in vast choruses in towering cathedrals?

What joy, what fulfillment, is achieved by creating some new piece of music?

What reward is to be found in playing the music created by someone else?

Why are lullabies almost universal among human societies?

Why are gramophone records, or 45s, or long-playing records, or cassettes, or CDs, or now Mp3s, such important cultural artifacts collected by millions with such devotion, and often at considerable expense, even to the point of obsession and madness?

Why is music so ubiquitous on radio and television as defining themes of the news, of feature programs, of advertisements, from the epic openings of the nightly nightly news to the unavoidable jingles of petty household or cosmetic products?

Why can music be such a powerful emotional enhancement for the drama of plays and films?

Why is the music industry so huge?

Why is music used as a mobilizing force for religion, for sports competition, for war?

Why is music so essential for dancing, or other bodily expressions?

Why is some music beloved, even held to be sacred by some, while the same music may held by others to be despicable, even profane?

Why is music sometimes used as an element of torture?

Why can music provoke such strong feelings, either negative or positive, to send people dancing and celebrating in the streets, or to threaten or even kill those who propagate music, either by performing it or by being merchants of music?

Why does every nation have a national anthem?

Why does virtually every religion have some sort of liturgy, or hymns, to awaken and enhance religious feelings, whether of humility, or celebration, or joy?

Why can music be divisive, in separating generations, social groups, or national entities?

Why can a bugle, or drums, motivate soldiers to fight and kill?

Why is song, or at least music, so intricately intertwined with expressions of love?

Why do hymns and songs assist in comforting in times of grief and loss?

Why can music constitute an expression of absolute, transcendent joy?

Why does some music make us laugh, some make us weep?

Why can the cacophony, or sheer boredom, of one musical expression as perceived by one individual or group, express the quintessential nature of another individual or cultural or national expression for which it is a source of pleasure, inspiration, or succor?

Why are new avenues of musical expression and innovation constantly sought?

Then again, why are the newest musical creations and styles able to generate extreme hostility, even violence, as well as an exultant sense of discovery and liberation?

Why is it that music is able to bring people together in extraordinary displays of unity and common purpose, even across lines and divisions that otherwise promote violence and even slaughter?

Why are some simple sounds pleasing to some, and anathema to others.

Why is there such an extraordinary diversity of musics in the myriad cultures of the world?

How can one song or collection of songs mobilize an entire social movement, or express and comfort the aspirations and despairs of an entire generation, or a dissonant splinter group?

Why is song, and not just words, used to tell the history, sometimes in entire epics, of a tribal group that exists without the benefit of literacy?

Why can music bring such an intense, even mystical, personal experience, associated as it is with the processes of memory and nostalgia?

How does human music relate to the unchallengeable musicality of bird song, or the songs of whales?

Why do the songs of some insects and other creatures have, to the human ear, musical qualities?

How many musics are there in the soul and mind of man not yet discovered?

What is the relationship of music to science and mathematics—as in the Music of the Spheres, or the Pythagorean considerations of music.

Why was it considered necessary to include, on the space satellite Voyager 2, a Golden Record including samples of the music of various cultures and times in the history of humanity?

And are there other musics somewhere out in the vast universe . . . . . . ?

Brian Q. Silver
07.18.08, rev. 05.01.10, rev. 05.01.11, and again today

* * * * * * *

Once again, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on any of these matters, and continuing to share the rich experience of music with you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Willis Conover Day concert video on 25 April 2009

Here is the previously referenced video on which VOA's videographer and producer Mike Burke and I collaborated on the concert Harry Schnipper organized on 25 April 2009, on the occasion of "Willis Conover Day" (see previous entry) at the Sylvan Theater on the National Mall

Willis Conover Day 2009 revisited

Willis Conover, the legendary VOA jazz broadcaster, was honored three years ago today by a Congressional Resolution. According to the VOA press release that I was asked to write on that occasion: "Saturday, April 25, 2009, has been designated 'Willis Conover Day' by Resolution 324 of the 111th session of the U.S. Congress. Congressman John B. Larson (D-CT) submitted the resolution, which also states 'Whereas, on April 25, 2009, the Big Band Jam will honor the Voice of America and Willis Conover and the joint contribution toward spreading the language of jazz and American cultural diplomacy around the world over a span of more than 35 years.'

"Willis Conover, born in Buffalo, NY in 1920, joined the Voice of America (VOA) in 1955, hosting the first in a series of jazz programs that ultimately claimed tens of millions of listeners around the world—not the least behind the Iron Curtain. According to John Stevenson, currently Director of VOA's English Division, and as such, head of VOA music programming: 'At the height of his career, [Conover] was producing 17 shows per week, including Music USA, Jazz; Music USA, Standards; Music with Friends (one hour a week for the Polish Service and one hour for the Hungarian Service); and Willis Conover's House of Sounds for VOA Europe. These programs included interviews with popular Jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and many, MANY more; literally hundreds.' When Stevenson visited Moscow some years ago, he found that the only American more famous that Willis Conover was Richard Nixon. Willis Conover died in 1996.

"The resolution is the result of efforts by Harry Schnipper, Executive Director of Washington’s Blues Alley, one of the nation’s most venerable jazz venues. Schnipper is the major moving force behind the Big Band JAM (for Jazz Appreciation Month in April), in whose series of concerts, more than three weeks long, Conover is being honored on April 25. The proclamation will be made at the commencement of a concert on the National Mall by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, under the musical direction of National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master David N. Baker. As Schnipper notes, “Music transcends every socioeconomic genre; jazz is the sound of freedom”—an oft-sounded sentiment—“and people used to say that Willis Conover singlehandedly felled the Iron Curtain.” According to Conover himself, “Every emotion—love, anger, joy, sadness—can be communicated with the vitality and spirit that characterize jazz and our country at its best. Which, of course, is the same freedom that people everywhere should enjoy.”

VOA's videographer and producer Mike Burke and I collaborated on a video on the concert Schnipper organized that day at the Sylvan Theater on the National Mall, which video follows this blog entry.