Born in Montreal in 1900, Colin McPhee
studied composition and piano in Baltimore with Gustave Strube,
Arthur Friedheim, Paul La Flem, and Isidore Phillipp. During this
period and the next five years in New York, McPhee received considerable
recognition for such works as his "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,"
"Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet," "Sea Shanty Suite," and orchestral
scores for two experimental films by Ralph Steiner, H20
and Mechanical Principles.
It was in 1931 that McPhee first
heard recordings of some of then virtually unknown music of the
gamelan of Bali, ensembles of tuned gongs, gong chimes, metallophones,
cymbals, and drums. Fascinated by the new possibilities of timbre
and percussive colors, musical form and instrumental technique,
McPhee went to Indonesia; what began an exploratory trip became
an extended period of residence in Bali until 1939. McPhee made
an extensive survey of the many different types of ensembles throughout
the island; his house became a center of musical activity; he
encouraged and subsidized children's training in music and dance
as well as the maintaining of the older musical traditions. McPhee
returned to the US and resided in New York in the 1940s, where
he was among the talented, young generation of composers that
included Aaron Copeland and Henry Cowell.
Besides various musical compositions
and articles on music and dance, McPhee's major publications are
Music in Bali (1966), one of the definitive works on Balinese
instrumental music and orchestral technique, and A House in
Bali (1946), a beautifully written account of his stay on
the island. Beginning with piano transcriptions of music for the
Balinese shadow puppet play, known as Wyang Kulit, McPhee started
to incorporate elements of Balinese music into his own compsitions.
For his two major orchestral works, Tabuh-Tabuhan (1936) and Symphony
No. 2 (1957), McPhee received wide acclaim as well as many wards
and commissions "for his unprecedented combination of traditional
Indonesian music with western orchestral techniques, which resulted
in original music of great distinction. Besides his musical talents,
McPhee was an excellent photographer (see the AV slideshow below).
As a faculty member of the Music Department at UCLA from 1960
until his death in 1964, McPhee taught composition and ethnomusicology,
contributed greatly to the study of world music.
Detailed finding aids for the entire Colin McPhee
Collection are available in the Archive. PLEASE
NOTE: The Colin McPhee Collection is stored off-site. If you
are planning a visit to the Archive in order to view any part
of the collection we require at least three days advance notice
so that we can page your requested items.
from the McPhee Collection
The photographs, films, and music
featured in the accompanying online presentations have been selected
from the McPhee Collection. They were donated to the Ethnomusicology
Archive in 1973 by Mrs. Shirley Hawkins.
Audiovisual Slideshow: A Flash
presentation that includes audio and nearly 40 photos from
the Colin McPhee Collection (click here
for technical metadata).