PICS: AMAR GURUNG
In the next few years, Bech travelled 15,000 km across Nepal recording folk music, collecting musical instruments and translating lyrics. He traveled to remote districts with a backpack weighing 40 kg, and a porter carrying his Uher tape recorder and batteries.
In one such expedition, he suffered a cut above his right eye in a fall. The nearest doctor was a three week walk away, so he stitched the wound himself using a mirror and his good eye. "The locals loved my demonstration," he recalls, "luckily they couldn't understand the four letter words used in the absence of painkillers."
By the time he left Nepal in 1966, Bech had collected 260 hours of recordings in 400 open-reel phonotapes, 200 musical transcripts, 120 musical instruments, 7,500 song texts, 41 life history studies of Nepali musicians, along with thousands of photographs. These were housed in the Archive of Traditional Music at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Last month, Terence Bech gave Indiana University the permission to provide copies of the Terence R Bech Collection of Nepali Music to Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Patan. The collection will be available to researchers soon,¬†In an email interview, Bech said his collection was done "more as a hobby than an academic". He is being modest. The collection is invaluable, a meticulous record with an index of language, name of performers, musical instruments, cultural context or relevance, how the performer came to learn the song, occasions during which the songs are performed etc. The quality of sound in the recordings is exceptional.
Bech went on to climb K2, became a sailor and an Arctic explorer. He is now living with his wife in the Netherlands.
Once, after weeks of walking across the midhills of Nepal to record the songs of the Raute community, he arrived at a settlement only to find the men had gone off hunting and there were only women and children. They pitched their tent and later that day the headman returned. Bech remembers that his Nepali was better than the Raute's, who agreed to sing and dance only if Bech donated a goat and become a blood brother.
The Bech Collection is a unique ethnomusical documentation and represents the historical continuum of Nepali folk music before modern influences altered it.
Joshi himself travelled across Nepal during World War II, and saw village after village devoid of men who were off fighting in Burma or Europe. It was the women who sang songs of sorrow, of sons in faraway wars.
Lochan Rijal, lecturer of ethnomusicology at Kathmandu University is also grateful to Terence Bech's effort. "Hats off to everyone who made this possible," he says, "having Bech's collection back in Nepal can contribute immensely to future research."
Rijal says important collections like Bech's need to be disseminated in the country of origin for its maximum benefit. It will help researchers look at the evolution of culture and music in Nepal, and also benefit students of traditional Nepali music and dance.
Folk music is more than just songs, it expresses and captures the culture of the times: a birth in the household, flirtatious duets, the pain of betrayal or of unrequited love, separation and longing, natural calamities. Bech's collection has music from all over Nepal and will be available to researchers as long as they are not copied or sold. Nepali ethnographers and musicologists owe Terence Bech a depth of gratitude.
Amar Gurung is chief archivist at the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya
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