Published: June 10, 2014

Systematic musicology professor Roger Kendall will retire from UCLA after thirty years of service, at the end of spring quarter 2014. On June 5, Donna Armstrong conducted a ‘virtual interview’ with Professor Kendall, and discovered interesting facts about his life, love of music, and scholarly contributions.

D.A.: I understand that you are retiring at the end of June. What is your current position at UCLA and when were you hired?

R.K.: I currently hold the title of Professor in the Department of Ethnomusicology. I have been a full professor since 1999.

I was first hired by the Department of Music in 1984 and for two years was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Music Department. I became an Assistant Professor in the Music Department in 1986, and in 1988, when the departments separated, became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology, which is what it was called at that time. I am also the faculty director of MCAL (Music Cognition and Acoustics Laboratory) and coordinator for the Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology laboratory.

D.A.: What classes have you taught over the years?

R.K.: Cognitive Psychology of Music; Acoustics; Psychology of Film Music; Music, Science, and Technology; Foundations of Empirical Research; Seminar in Systematic Musicology; Experimental Research Methods.

D.A.:  Tell us about your research interests.

R.K.: I work in the broad field of music perception and cognition and musical acoustics. My specific research interests include musical timbre, the communication of musical expression, the relationships between music and movement, particularly in film, and the musical acoustics and psychoacoustics of tunings of the gamelan. Current research continues in the psychoacoustics of contextual timbre and in the experimental semiotics of music in film.

D.A.: Before we go any further, let’s go back to your beginnings. Tell us where you are from and about some of your early music experiences.

R.K.: I grew up in Leawood, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, in the region of Overland Park.  It was, in fact, the quintessential suburb imagined as the American Dream, for both good and ill, and I am thankful for my parents' struggle to keep me there despite serious economic hardships.

My family had ties to Falls City, Nebraska, Phillipsburg, Kansas, and Frackville, Pennsylvania....a combined population of about 20,000 people. My father's side of the family was Midwestern; my mother's side was immigrant Lithuanian.

I began playing flutophone (a type of recorder) in grade school and began saxophone lessons with Miss Imogene Nicols. I entered Meadowbrook Junior High School and must acknowledge Miss Phyllis Glass, the band director, who was an inspiration. She gave me confidence by allowing me to conduct the concert band (music of Eric Coates) for an assembly when I was in the seventh grade. I attended Shawnee Mission East High School, a suburban school system which included Shawnee Mission North, South, West, and Northwest. There were about 2,000 students at SME, and it had an active band program.

D.A.: I understand that you also loved science as a boy. Please tell us about that.

R.K.: In the tenth grade I completed a research project, "Investigating the ability of carrasius auratus to associate different frequencies of sound with a motor response." I won some science fair awards and contests, and remember being petrified to present my paper at the Nelson Gallery of Art, along with Dr. Alan Pearson, a renowned authority on tornadoes. I also remember how the Kansas City Star translated my paper title into "Carp Has Hearing Aid." Nonetheless, I did not know that my early interest in sound and behavior was to become, in time, my profession.

D.A.: Where did you attend college?  Tell us about some of your musical experiences there.

R.K.: I attended the University of Kansas where I had ample opportunity to quench a thirst for public performance. The marching band, symphonic band, a number of saxophone quartets, musical orchestras, and concert recitals were terrific outlets.  The music education program was superlative, and introduced me to music psychology, musical acoustics, and world music. I remember Dr. Rudolph E. Radocy who, when I wrote an application letter as a prospective undergraduate expressing worry about only studying music, assured me that I would not be stifled by a limited curriculum. He was so right! During six summers I taught saxophone and was a counselor at the Midwestern Music and Art Camp and played concerts with the musician's union concert band (the venue was the gazebo you see in 'The Day After' as the missiles head upwards over the Kansas sky).

Upon graduation I received a fellowship at KU and finished my master's degree. During this time I began to play in some orchestras (although there are only so many saxophone parts), do some conducting of musicals, play in musicals, write some commercial music, and generally do too many things at once. Upon graduation, I was hired as the band director at Wentworth Military Academy and Junior College, in Lexington, Missouri.

D.A.: You were a band director! Tell us about that.

R.K.: The four years at Wentworth were among the most intense and in many ways the most rewarding, of my early career. We played hundreds of events, traveled to many different venues including Washington D. C., participated in concert band contests, and struggled to make music. I wrote a ton of arrangements and original compositions, including a wind and percussion symphony that is unabashedly the most bombastic imaginable. I value the numerous awards, but more so the struggle that led to them.

D.A.: Where did you attend graduate school and what type of research did you do there?

R.K.: I received financial support to attend the University of Connecticut in Storrs to pursue the doctorate. When I arrived there, I called up Wentworth and asked for my old job back. I was not used to an agricultural school. The job at Wentworth had just been filled, and so I stayed.

Dr. Warren Campbell became my mentor, and from him I learned how to adjust my mindset to new things, to challenge ideation that appears too concrete and too over-generalized, and to relish pushing the envelope, even without the resources of a place such as MIT. I wrote what I believe to be one of the first microcomputer-based software systems for digital signal acquisition, editing, and processing. I still am amazed that I can buy a more sophisticated piece of software for $69.00 now—it took two years of intense effort then. I received my Ph.D. from UConn in 1984.

D.A.: How did you come to be hired at UCLA? Tell us about your research work here as well as your collaborations.

R.K.: I received a call from Tom Harmon, the UCLA organist and Music Department chair at that time, about a temporary, terminal, one-year appointment at UCLA. Professor Harmon interviewed me; he supported my activities and progress in those years, and one appointment led to another. I was the fourth systematic musicologist to be brought in after Bill Hutchinson, Sue Carole DeVale, and Abraham Schwadron. I was hired to be half systematic musicology and half music education. I knew a lot about learning theory and behavioral research, and that was why I was also in music education.

Early on, I met Professor Edward C. Carterette of the Department of Psychology at UCLA. The first meeting I will never forget. We talked for hours and drew diagrams of new research on the blackboard, aspects of which we worked on for over fifteen years and some of which I continue to work on.

D.A.: What was your most popular class at UCLA? Tell us a little about that.

R.K.: My most popular class was probably Psychology of Film Music.  The empirical theory on which the class was based was developed in the early 1990s.  The formal class has been on the books for at least ten years and has served as a model for other such courses at other universities.

D.A.: What are your hobbies?

R.K.: For as long as I can recall I have kept freshwater tropical fish. Of course, earthquakes have a tendency to play havoc with aquariums, and mine were no exception following the Northridge event. Recently I have begun to rebuild my collection on a much smaller scale.

I spend much free time programming computers, mostly in Visual Basic, Assembly, Fortran, and some Visual C.   I collect CDs, mostly of twentieth-century art music of tonal composers, primarily American and British. I also have a quite large collection of DVDs and laser video discs, mostly those created for the medium which exploits the relationship between music and temporally organized movement. My CD collection reflects my interest in film music.

I support freedom of expression and first amendment rights vehemently.   I support the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) whose work to rewrite the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (and other convoluted and ill-conceived attempts to restrict freedom of speech and thought on the internet) is fundamental to communication and research in the digital age.

D.A.: You are the co-editor of a 2013 book, published by Oxford University Press United Kingdom, called The Psychology of Music in Multimedia. What is the book about and how has it been received?

R.K.: The book grew from interactions with others interested in empirical approaches to multimedia.  My chapter contributions relate to a keynote I gave at a conference on sound that included media and involved the work I had done to experimentally investigate how and why particular music parameters are used in a film music sequence.  As such, the book is the end product of my life’s work in that area (although I am best known for a large experimental output focused on natural timbres).   The book recently came out and has been received very well.  Of note is a companion website that includes audio-visual stimuli used by the international slate of contributors.  Scott Lipscomb, a former student, is a co-editor, along with Siu-Lan Tan and Annabel Cohen.

D.A.: What are some of your plans for the future?

R.K.: My plans include designing an Amazon river simulation aquarium, re-writing my computer program Music Experiment Development System, visiting North Shore Hawaii and Pacific Grove California with its marine institute at Monterey Bay, and continuing as called upon for advice in music perception and cognition research.

D.A.: Thank you, Professor Kendall.