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MUSIC

Bang a gong, strum a bandurria

UCLA takes time to show off its bountiful collection of global folk instruments.

May 20, 2007|Blair Tindall | Special to The Times

THE classroom turned into a huge wind chime, as 30 musicians wielding wooden mallets hammered on Balinese gamelan instruments, the mallets rising and falling in unison. Melodies from a dozen bronze xylophones shimmered over incessant drumbeats, and as a deep gong rippled, every face became more intense.

"Sometimes I feel the music late at night, long after class is over," said Evan Phillips, a UCLA ethnomusicology major, as he pulled his shoes on at the session's end. "Once you've heard it, it's in your blood."

Phillips' perception of the Indonesian gamelan orchestra is nothing new. In 2,000 years of mythology, its music has been said to summon the gods. Some people, who offer flowers and incense and take care not to step over so much as a finger cymbal, believe the instruments are guided by spirits.

Though a gamelan -- each a unique set of metal xylophones, drums and gongs -- may seem exotic, many Westerners already know its sound from their everyday lives. Not only has the celestial music influenced composers such as Pat Metheny and Steve Reich but its instruments are heard on "Battlestar Galactica" and the classic Nintendo videogame "Secret of Mana."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 31, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
World music: An article in the May 20 Calendar section about the UCLA department of ethnomusicology said that it was established in 1995. The correct year is 1989. Also, the name of the department chair is Jacqueline DjeDje, not Djedje, and drummer Francisco Aguabella is Cuban, not Spanish.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
World music: An article in the May 20 Calendar section about the UCLA department of ethnomusicology said that it was established in 1995. The correct year is 1989. Also, the name of the department chair is Jacqueline DjeDje, not Djedje, and drummer Francisco Aguabella is Cuban, not Spanish.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 03, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
World music: An article May 20 about the UCLA department of ethnomusicology said that it was established in 1995. The correct year is 1989. Also, the name of the department chair is Jacqueline DjeDje, not Djedje, and drummer Francisco Aguabella is Cuban, not Spanish.

But UCLA's gamelan ensemble will perform more traditional music during the university's Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz, which began Thursday and will run through June 5 at the university's Schoenberg Hall. Other groups, using many of the hundreds of string, wind and percussion instruments from around the globe that the university owns, will play Afro-Cuban tunes, gospel and the music of West Africa, Brazil, Korea, China and the Philippines.

Once a curiosity, music from these nations and others has gone mainstream in an increasingly diverse America. Today, world music has its own chart in Billboard magazine, concerts in upscale venues and CDs marketed nationally through companies such as Starbucks.

"As the world gets smaller and smaller, world music is a wonderful way to experience cultures firsthand rather than through someone else's lens," says Jacqueline Djedje, chair of UCLA's ethnomusicology department. "In many ways, UCLA is where it all began."

Indeed, UCLA is something of an ethno-epicenter. In 1960, the university started an Institute for Ethnomusicology, which in 1995 became the only stand-alone U.S. ethnomusicology department. Its alumni have founded nearly every similar program in the country.

In nearby Valencia, by contrast, the California Institute of the Arts awards degrees in world music performance, rather than ethnomusicology. Still, its own collection includes gamelan sets from Java and Bali along with hundreds of drums, sitars, tablas and Persian percussion instruments. And according to David Rosenboom, dean of the music school, its classes in Balinese, North Indian and African music and dance play an important role in the education of students majoring in classical music, jazz, music technology and composition as well.

Like those at CalArts, UCLA's 12 world-music performance ensembles are at times integrated into local communities. They are taught by some of their disciplines' most prolific practitioners, and while ensemble participation is required for ethnomusicology majors, the groups also draw players from other departments, who can traverse the globe just by entering the ethnomusicology building for rehearsal.

"It's part of our mission to bring in kids from all over the campus and give them an artistic experience," says Timothy Rice, an associate dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture who plays saxophone in the Balkan music group. Four nights a week, the rich tones of a Bulgarian women's chorus rise over the rhythms of a Brazilian drum bateria, while Chinese zithers and Indian tablas compete with a rousing gospel choir down the hall.

In the "Music of India" room last month, ethnomusicology student Alejandro Leda sat in a half-lotus position on a red oriental carpet, nestling the gourd of a long-necked sitar on his right foot. Surrounded by cymbals, drums, music stands and wooden xylophones, he plucked a melody, plaintively bending tones into an elegy that seemed effortless.

Yet as a visitor twisted into a comparable position, struggling to balance the sitar on one thigh, it became evident how much work is required to attain such proficiency. Some students come daily to learn from visiting professor Shujaat Khan.

Elsewhere in the room, Abhi Mathur, a student at the university's Anderson School of Management, watched as his teacher demonstrated a new musical mode, or type of scale. Khan's fingers flew up and down the strings, playing so fluently the music sounded like conversation. But, said Mathur, it wasn't just the chance to learn by observing such technique that had drawn him to this lesson.

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