Sophia Bass ’20 Awarded Fulbright Research Grant in India

May 13, 2020
Hillary Hempstead
woman in blue dress sits on stool with drum.
Sophia Bass ’20 Photo credit: Sarah Bass

Senior musical studies major Sophia Bass ’20 has been awarded a Fulbright research grant to study Carnatic music in India.

Oberlin Conservatory experienced a record year in 2019-20 with five students named Fulbright Finalists. We are proud to share their stories in this series.

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Sophia Bass was compelled to apply for the Fulbright after two transformative experiences that cultivated her interest in North and South Indian classical music traditions: a class she took during her junior year and an encounter with musicians from India.

During Bass’ junior year she took Internalizing Rhythms, a year-long course taught by Professor of Advanced Improvisation and Percussion Jamey Haddad. Through his class, Bass discovered the art of konnakol and solkattu vocal percussion and was exposed to Indian rhythmic organization, improvisation, and the split-fingering technique used in mridangam and tabla performance. 

The other influencing factor in her decision to apply for a research grant in India was a memorable experience when tabla artist Udayraj Karpur and Indian classical musician Pandit Rajeev Taranath visited a class taught by Bass’s advisor, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology Jennifer Fraser

She attributes both of these impactful experiences for wanting to learn more about the musical traditions of India, particularly so she could further develop her repertoire as a musician and composer.

During her Fulbright, Bass will be in Karnataka, India, studying the South Indian mnemonic system, Konnakol, along with the South Indian drum, mridangam, under the guidance of world-renowned Carnatic violinist Mysore Manjunath, who teaches at Mysore University College of Fine Arts. She also plans to research the mathematical background and philosophy of raga and tala systems within Hindustani music with world-renowned tabla player Udayraj Karpur.

Bass says that what she has learned at Oberlin will position her well to study other musical traditions. 

“As a film and concert composer, I appreciate the excellent training and education I've received studying the Western classical tradition. Oberlin has given me much-needed tools and laid the foundation for my further study of music. I will go to India with the posture of a student, with the hope that a challenge to my traditional way of thinking will lay the groundwork for me to compose in a fuller, more creative way.”

Dana Jessen, director of conservatory professional development and associate professor of contemporary music and improvisation, emphasizes Bass’ dedication to musical activities. 

“Sophia is a phenomenal student who is well equipped to pursue her Fulbright research project of Carnatic and Hindustani music in India,” says Jessen. “I have observed Sophia thrive in all manner of musical activities in the Conservatory: from composing full orchestral film scores and conducting ensemble performances, to her involvement in student-led organizations like Phlox.

For Bass, the opportunity to study in India is also personally very meaningful. “It is a privilege that I get to study in India, because my ethnic heritage on my mom’s side originates there. To have the opportunity to go to India and study some of the oldest musical traditions in human history feels like being summoned back to my musical beginning.”   

After completing her study in India, the West Chicago, Illinois, native plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in composition for film.

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