Acclaimed violinist Vijay Gupta sees music as a powerful tool of inclusion
Vijay Gupta sees the violin as something that’s more than an instrument.
“The violin is the mirror,” Mr. Gupta told the News-Press Friday. “It keeps me honest in a way nothing else can.”
And the acclaimed violinist sees music as something that’s more than melodies.
He sees it as a way to scale the challenges of social justice and build a bridge with those who have experienced homelessness, addiction and incarceration.
Mr. Gupta talked about music as a tool for inclusion to music students Thursday afternoon at UCSB Karl Geiringer Hall and later to a broader audience during a conversation with author Pico Iyer at the university Campbell Hall. Presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, the evening talk was called “The Healing Power of Music.”
Both were part of a full day for Mr. Gupta, founder of Street Symphony, which engages the Skid Row community of Los Angeles through music and conversations.
“Yesterday (Thursday) I had a chance to speak with arts leaders from the Santa Barbara Symphony and the ballet. There’s such a drive and hunger and passion to make art and music and make our world a more beautiful place,” Mr. Gupta said. “It’s about who we are making music for, who we are trying to welcome to our spaces and who may not have access to those spaces.”
He told the News-Press he talked to the music students about “why we are making art in the world and the role of artists in the world today.
“I started off by presenting a piece of work by Reena Esmail,” he said, explaining the Indian-American composer’s piece begins his violin album, “Breathe,” which is available on iTunes.
“It’s about grief and forgiveness and creating spaces of reflection, which I think all of us need in this time of continued pandemic.
“My approach, my hypothesis around the purpose of art, is to create belonging, contemplation and reflection, to look forward and transcend difficult moments, to genuinely find meaning in what might be pain,” Mr. Gupta said.
He said all of that marked the beginning of his conversation with UCSB music students.
“That moved into conversations around cultures and diversity and composers that we have loved, composers we sometimes take for granted like Bach and Beethoven,” Mr. Gupta said.
He noted the power of music as a tool for inclusion.
“Certainly in the work I’ve been lucky enough to lead, running Street Symphony, the music that we present for people living in shelters, clinics and county jails is not an end but the beginning of a conversation,” Mr. Gupta said.
“The Street Symphony has partnered with people providing shelters, 12-step counseling and reentry services to individuals who are re-entering society from extreme poverty, addiction and incarceration,” he said. “We work with case workers and clinicians. The music will be the beginning of the conversation. We’ll play a piece of music and will invite reflection from audience members in the room.
“We also have programs that are open to the public in parks and public areas. We’ll invite people to join a drum circle or sing with us,” he said.
“All of us are more than the condition that we present to the world,” Mr. Gupta said. “That’s just as true for people who are experiencing poverty as those who wear a tuxedo on stage at The Granada. There is more to all of us than what meets the eye.”
Mr. Gupta embraced music at a young age. He started performing as a recitalist, soloist and chamber musician internationally when he was just 8 years old. At age 11, he made his solo debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta.
Mr. Gupta went on to earn his bachelor’s in biology at Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based Marist College and his master’s in music at Yale University.
When Mr. Gupta joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he was the youngest violinist in the orchestra’s history. He stayed with the ensemble for 12 years.
In October 2020, Mr. Gupta was the headliner with the Kronos String Quartet for UCLA Center for the Art of Performance “Tune In” festival, which honored the late folk singer Pete Seeger.
Mr. Gupta serves on the board of Americans for the Arts and is known for his 2010 TED Talk, “Music is Medicine, Music is Sanity.”
And Mr. Gupta loves to hear others’ views and exchange ideas. He enjoyed the conversation he had with the UCSB students.
“There was a lot of insight from the students with regards to what it meant to balance music artistry with trying to make a difference in the world, from going to practice rooms trying to play in tune with a good sound to serving the world beyond that.
“We can always make the world a better place.”