Photo: Chalres Quigg '09
Professor of Music and Asian Languages and Civilizations
Whether composing jazz for a Carnegie Hall concert, performing South India’s music around the globe, or teaching a course in which students build musical instruments out of everything from hockey sticks to tin cans, a passion for improvisation has been David Reck’s hallmark. His first trip to India—his grandmother’s homeland—in 1968, which was supported by grants from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations, changed his life’s path. “The richness and variety of musical activity in India made New York seem like just another village somewhere,” he has said. Inspired to study ethnomusicology, he returned to this country in 1971 and exchanged life as a successful composer in New York for a second round of graduate school at age 36. After years of study in America and India, he emerged as an internationally acclaimed scholar of Carnatic music (the classical music of South India) and veena (a traditional stringed instrument) player.
Professor Reck’s musical interests know few boundaries. He has published on topics ranging from the influences of Indian music on the contemporary music scene in the Americas to improvisation in Western classical music. He is the author of Music of the Whole Earth (1977; reprinted, 1997) and the co-author of Worlds of Music (1984; fifth revised edition, forthcoming, 2006). His chapter, “Musical Instruments: Southern Area,” appears in the encyclopedic South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent (2000). As a composer and performer, his music has flowed over Tanglewood’s lawns, echoed through the halls of the Library of Congress and filled the air at music festivals around the world.
As a teacher, Professor Reck is as likely to teach a seminar on the Beatles as a course on women in China and India. In a style all his own, he makes use of a conventional repertoire of teaching techniques, as well as some quirkier ones. The musician Tim Eriksen ’88 recalls fondly a class in which Professor Reck had students listen to Schoenberg’s expressionist “Erwartung” on a boom box while wandering through the bird sanctuary at midnight, as well as the veena lessons he gave regularly at 5 a.m. “My career in music continues to be informed as much by David’s dedication and determination as by his enthusiasm and spontaneity,” notes Eriksen.
David Reck has brought the world’s music to Amherst College, and we are forever grateful.