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Research Grant – Spring 2007
Title or Proposal:
Faculty member:
From the Slums of Calcutta to the Concert Halls of London:
The Life and Music of Indian Composer John Mayer (1930-2004)
[and Intercultural Music for flute, oboe and piano]
John Robison
School of Music
These funds will be used to cover air travel, ground transportation, lodging, and registration
fees for the Fourth Biennial International Symposium on Composition in Africa and the
Diaspora, which will held at Cambridge University in England on August 1-4, 2007. The
applicant will be reading a paper on the music of Indian composer John Mayer, and also
participating with two faculty colleagues in a concert of contemporary music by African,
Africa-American, Asian and Latin American composers.
The purpose of this proposal will be to do two presentations, one scholarly paper and one
concert, at the Fourth Biennial International Symposium on Composition in Africa and the
Diaspora. One of the main purposes of this conference is to establish dialogues in music
between African, Asian and Latin American scholars, composers and performers. The
applicant’s scholarly presentation will be on Indian composer John Mayer (1930-2004), who
will be of great interest to the people at Cambridge University since Mayer lived in England
for most of his adult life. The paper will discuss the high points of Mayer’s life, including the
difficulties of becoming a musician when a person is born into the lowest caste system in
Indian society, the Indian government scholarship that enabled him to emigrate to London to
study at the Royal Academy of Music, his years playing violin professionally with the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra, and his development as a composer from 1955 until his unexpected
accidental death in 2004. Particular emphasis will be placed on Mayer’s commissioned
works for his friends in England (flutist James Galway, violinist Erich Gruenberg, cellist
Rohan de Saran), and on the music that he composed for his famous Indo-Jazz Fusions
ensemble. Mayer’s tendency to integrate Indian with Western elements will be explored
through a discussion of melody, rhythm, and sound quality in his music.
The concert is being planned in collaboration with two faculty colleagues. Kim McCormick
and Naomi Niskala. It fits in nicely with the theme of the conference since it includes flute,
oboe and piano trios by one African composer (J. H. Kwabena Nketia) and one AfricanAmerican composer (William Grant Still), as well as music for flute/tanpura/piano by John
Mayer and oboe/piano by one Latin American composer (Alceo Bocchino or Luis Antonio
Escobar). The applicant will play oboe on the trios and the Indian tanpura on Mayer’s
composition. USF faculty member and Taiwanese composer Chihchun Lee has indicated that
she will compose a new work for flute, oboe and piano that will also be given its world
premiere at the conference. If Drs. McCormick and Niskala are not able to participate in the
conference due to lack of funding from the Division of Sponsored Research, then the
organizer of the conference has indicated that he will supply this applicant with a pianist so
that a similar concert can still be performed at Cambridge.
The applicant’s paper on John Mayer deals with an innovative composer who crossed
disciplines between performance and composition, and between traditional Indian and
classical Western styles (including jazz). The proposed concert features music that is
unpublished and/or unavailable on CD. For these reasons, both proposals fit in with our
emphasis on diversity, on the contemporary arts, and our desire to produce internationally
recognized, distinctive research. In addition, if awarded, the applicant’s presence at the
conference in Cambridge will enable him to travel to Germany before or after the conference
to conduct research on another project.