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In Memoriam

Laurence Armstrong Petran

(1902 - 1978)

By: Elizabeth May

Published: January, 1980, Ethnomusicology, volume XXIV, No 1
Used by permission of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

Laurence Petran grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, in a family closely associated with the Presbyterian church. His father had for a time played the organ in connection with his work with the Union Gospel Mission in Minneapolis, and introduced his son to the instrument, which became a lifelong interest. In the years when I knew Professor Petran he always played the organ at the Christmas services in the First Presbyterian church in Albert Lea, where a memorial service was held for him last December.

He received a Bachelor's degree from Carleton College. After a short interval of teaching he entered both the Peabody Conservatory of Music and Johns Hopkins University. He was awarded the Diploma in Harmony and Composition by the Peabody Conservatory in 1929 and a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins the following year. The subject of his dissertation was "An Experimental Study of Pitch Recognition." After a number of years of teaching at Goucher College, he came to UCLA in 1942, where he remained until his retirement in 1969. He was department chairman from 1944 to 1946.

During his years at UCLA, he introduced many new courses in widely divergent aspects of music, the most significant being in the areas of the psychology of music and ethnomusicology. Petran's courses in the psychology of music and related areas led to a continuing, strong program in systematic musicology. He introduced an undergraduate course in World Musics, open to any student in the university. He also taught a seminar in ethnomusicology. From these beginnings emerged later the Institute of Ethnomusicology, under the direction of Mantle Hood. Petran organized and implemented weekly noon concerts: these are given by both faculty and students and continue to this day. He was University Organist and often gave these noon recitals himself.

Laurence Petran was a diffident, reserved, and sometimes inaccessible man. He published almost nothing, choosing to give his time to research and to his students, some of those lives he reshaped. To those who realized what he had to give, there was no end to his generosity, skill, and acumen in guidance. In the whole field of music he was a leader who should not be unsung.

To close this brief tribute, I repeat the dedication to my dissertation, which he directed 21 years ago, with the thought that it could serve as the valedictory to him from a number of people.

To Laurence A. Petran--

In gratitude for his great gift for opening new worlds and for his ability, through his erudition and understanding, to provide the means of transportation and guideposts along the way.