For the first time since its creation in 1992, the List Foundation Fellowships in the Arts for Students of Color have been awarded to students exploring musical pursuits.
Sumita Pennathur, a sophomore in aeronautics and astronautics, received a fellowship to study Karnatic music in the west, combining her passions for south Indian classical (Karnatic) music and modern jazz. Isela Rodriguez, a junior in urban studies and planning, will use her fellowship to study Mexican mariachi vocal music for a project titled "Mexico Lindo: Canciones de Romance/Sweet Mexico: Songs of Romance."
Ms. Pennathur, who began studying Karnatic vocal music at age seven and Western music on the alto saxophone at 11, plans to take Karnatic vocal lessons in India and learn instrumental aspects of Karnatic music to combine those traditions with jazz.
"Since I am passionate about both, playing jazz without Karnatic or vice versa makes me feel like something is missing from the inner part of myself," she said. "I sometimes get the feelings of ecstasy and peace simultaneously when I play certain improvised phrases on my saxophone. I feel as if I'm playing my soul through the instrument," she continued, adding that she also gets this feeling when listening to a very good Karnatic performance.
Ms. Rodriguez seeks to explore the rich romantic culture of her Mexican heritage through music. By learning the songs enjoyed by past generations of her family, she hopes to "grasp a portion of the past and embrace it as part of my future."
"Mariachi music is not a daily part of MIT life," she noted. "There is a passion for life and its components within the words sung by these performers. By joining their ranks, I'd be able to share this passion." Ms. Rod-riguez likens the fellowship award to attaining a dream she'd always thought beyond reach. "It just goes to show that anything is possible," she said, commending the merits of "holding on to dreams and direction."
Both award recipients plan MIT concerts to share their projects with the community.
Established in 1992 with support from the Albert A. List Foundation, the List Fellowship was created "to encourage a broad range of artistic endeavor and to further cultural investigation, affirmation and understanding through the arts by supporting students of color in their exploration of traditional and non-traditional art forms."
The fellowship awards up to $5,000 annually to two MIT students to support the yearlong pursuit of a project in the performing, visual or literary arts, including a mentorship program to work with established artists of color. Both recipients will work with local instructors as well as teachers in the respective indigenous regions -- Ms. Pennathur in India and Ms. Rodriguez in Mexico.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 10, 1997.