Dr. Gert-Matthias Wegner performing with Newar musicians (Faculty member of Department of Music) during Convocation ceremony, Dhulikhel. 2006
With the assistance of German ethnomusicologist Dr. Gert-Matthias Wegner, Kathmandu University (K.U.) opened in August 1996 a Department of Music in Bhaktapur, where ethnomusicology (B.A. and M.A.) and practical music (North Indian classical and Nepalese local traditions) were taught to Nepalese and foreign students. The then German President, Dr. Roman Herzog, inaugurated the department during his state visit to Nepal on 29th November 1996. Teaching staff for performance training included local musicians and dancers. An exchange of academic teachers and students was agreed upon and carried out between Kathmandu University and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. In 1996, the K.U. Department of Music was the only university department in South Asia conducting full-fledged courses in ethnomusicology. The aim of the K.U. Department of Music is to train competent musicians and ethnomusicologists to document, preserve, and work creatively with the endangered musical traditions of Nepal.
The academic discipline of ethnomusicology was introduced to Nepal with the foundation of Kathmandu University's Department of Music in 1996 at the Harsha Narayan Dhaubhadel Shivalaya at Chupin Ghat, Bhaktapur. The Department opened with B.A. and M.A. courses in ethnomusicology and practical music classes in various musical traditions. Starting with Arnold Bake in the 1940s, a few foreign ethnomusicologists had started documenting various aspects of Nepali musical traditions. But their publications remained inaccessible to the general public in Nepal. I arrived in December 1982 as a member of the German Nepal Research Programme, trying to document village music in central Nepal with the help of recordings, before settling in Bhaktapur in March 1983 for a systematic study of local Newar drumming traditions. Wherever I went in Nepal, people expressed their concern about their disappearing musical traditions. It was made clear to me that people of the various ethnic groups defined their identity through their language and through their music and dances. So there was the need to develop a plan for documenting and preserving these traditions by way of involving local musicians. It was necessary to generate regular incomes for musicians with a generally low social standing. It was necessary to involve intelligent, young people willing to work for a better future. The answer was the foundation of the Department of Music, with a perspective to grow into an institution of national importance that could work in various areas. I am grateful that Kathmandu University accepted this plan and that with the help of our teaching staff we were able to train a large number of musicians and ethnomusicologists including my successor as Head of Department.
In April 2015 the big earthquake and four months later a flood wave devastated the beautiful department at Bhaktapur that was also getting very small for our growing activities and number of students. A new residence for the Department of Music was found in Tripureshwar, Kathmandu where Kathmandu University is presently reconstructing the devastated Tripurasundari Shivalaya for this purpose. There the Department of Music will gradually establish various departments and several satellite colleges in remote areas of Nepal.