Interview with James Porter

From the Winter 1993 edition of the newsletter, "Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology at UCLA"

The long-awaited undergraduate program in ethnomusicology was inaugurated at UCLA in the fall of 1992. Ethnomusicology & Systematic Musicology Department Chair James Porter discusses this landmark event.

Q: Why was this new program established?
A: A timely question. Department faculty responded to the growing recognition that undergraduate and graduate students alike need a more culturally diverse curriculum. The new undergraduate program enriches the curriculum by providing students with a broad knowledge of world musics and the methods currently used in their study.

Q: Why is this such an important event?
A: Primarily because this is the first undergraduate program of its kind in the United States, perhaps the world. Our faculty are currently developing a sequence of undergraduate world music courses that could serve as a model for other educational institutions. Thus, with this new program, UCLA moves to the forefront of innovation and leadership in developing a multicultural curriculum in music at the undergraduate level. Implementation of this program puts the department on the brink of a potentially revolutionary view of music education in a multicultural society.

Q: What aspects of music will be emphasized?
A: Like the graduate program, the new undergraduate program will emphasize cross-cultural music theory and musicianship. It will include the study of classical, religious, folk, and popular musics from all regions of the world, interpreting and analyzing music as a global and universal phenomenon, as both physical sound and cultural expression.

Q: Can you tell us something about the theoretical and methodological approach promoted by the new program?
A: Without sounding too pompous or grandiose, I'd put it this way: the new undergraduate program, like the graduate one, will draw broadly upon the theories and methods of the social sciences and humanities, as well as on practice and interpretation of the arts. All this means that eventually we should devise courses in composition to complement those in theory and practice. Creative work cannot be limited to scholarship and performance.

Q: UCLA's department is unique in offering students such a wide variety of excellent world music performing ensembles. How will these performing groups fit into the new program?
A: Your question might be posed another way: How will the new undergraduate program best accommodate the existing ensembles? Students will certainly be required to join them as an adjunct to studying music cultures. We want to encourage students to come to grips with some of the major traditions of the world in a way that informs their conceptions of "music" and musical behavior.

Q: What new courses have been tailored for this program?
A: For one, the world musicianship sequence (10ABC), which was designed to develop aural, notational, and compositional skills in the context of a global view of musical proactive. We plan to introduce an upper division sequence to complete the two years of theory required in most conventional music majors, and also an upper division course on the notation and transcription of world music.

Q: How many undergraduates will be admitted to the program?
A: This year, 12 students have been admitted, and during the next two years, we plan to admit up to 45-50. This means admitting approximately 15 per year. We will also lower graduate enrollment from a present stated of approximately 70 to a steady state of 50.

Q: How long has this program been in the planning stage?
A: Five years. We started to plan for the undergraduate major when it became apparent that we were going to become a department, around 1987, so it has been in the planning stage about five years. It was finally approved by the statewide committee on undergraduate courses and curricula in 1991.

Q: What are the long-range benefits of this new program?
A: Hard to say at this precise moment, but ethnomusicology at UCLA is entering its fourth decade, and from the first it has been the most comprehensive program of its kind. As the 21st century rapidly approaches and we find ourselves living in the international global village locally known as Los Angeles, it's imperative that we meet the challenge of working with, and understanding, a diverse population of heterogeneous musical and cultural values. We feel certain that this new program will contribute to the goal, and will at the same time serve to enhance UCLA's reputation as an institution of international stature.