Inaugural director of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; national task force on undergraduate music education

Q.  In addition to being chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology, you also served as associate dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture and inaugural director of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Could you talk a little bit about those experiences?

A. I was invited by Dean Christopher Waterman to be the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, which was a wonderful experience and got me to learn about all of the different departments and all of the different artistic disciplines in our School of the Arts and Architecture.  It was a fantastic learning experience, and after I had been in that position for about two and a half years, Dean Waterman asked me if I would be director of the new school of music. And I agreed to do it because I was very excited about the concept of the new school of music. We really have a unique situation at UCLA where we have three strong departments, which are sizeable enough that it means that all of the music that young people in North America would encounter today are being taught here, at UCLA, in something like an even-handed kind of way. So we have great devotion to European classical music, a fantastically strong world music teaching apparatus, we teach jazz here, and we teach American popular music here in its many forms. And when you put that all together, it doesn't look like a traditional school of music, not least because all of those fundamental areas to North American musical experience are given respect and there is a certain kind of intellectual and performative power behind each of those genres. Whereas in most schools of music in the United States, European classical music is at the center and all those other kinds of music are either absent or they're there on the periphery, and by implication, they are less important than this fundamental mission that most schools of music and departments of music have, which is to teach European classical music. So I told the faculty when I came on that I would never have wanted to be the dean of that kind of school of music in the United States. But being the director of a school of music at UCLA made complete sense to me because it corresponds exactly to my musical values which are that all the kinds of music of North America and the world should be treated with respect and there was no single kind that should be at the center with all the other kinds on the periphery. So I was very excited to do that.

Administratively, I was able to convince the faculty—and it didn't take a lot of work, they were open to this—that if we were going to have a school of music, we ought to have a few courses that brought the school of music together and I thought first-year undergraduate courses in music history and music theory would be the place to do that. What I was very anxious to do in those courses, ideologically, was to get students in their very first year here to take all these kinds of music seriously, no matter which kind of music they were taking most seriously at that moment in their lives. So I recognize there are going to be violin students who want to listen to violin and think of violin twenty-three hours a day, if they could, and the jazz students just listen to jazz, and maybe the world music students just listen to Korean music or Persian music, or whatever they were most interested in. In a university environment they should back up a little bit and think about the nature of music generally, and the way that musicians could be and are citizens of the United States, and really, of the world. And to do that they had to take seriously the music of all the people of the United States and in some sense, of the world. And so that was the ideology behind that class, and so we went through all kinds of different versions and variants of that class and are still working on the project today, as far as I know, through some courses in music theory, more than courses in music history. But I think it's really important for the next generation of, not only our own music students, but music students around the United States, to take a respectful look at all the music of all the people of the United States.

When I began to attend meetings of the National Association of Schools of Music and the College Music Society, which deals with administration and pedagogy of schools and departments of music, and I began to talk with people about what we were doing at UCLA.  My colleagues were usually very interested: they thought it was amazing and wonderful that we were doing this kind of thing, but they didn't know how they could do it at their school. And a few years ago, when a music educator named Patricia Shehan Campbell became president of the College Music Society, she formed a national task force to look at the future of undergraduate music education, and she is a specialist in multicultural music education, and so a kind of ethnomusicologist at heart, and she appointed a number of us to a commission to write a report on that. We created a radical manifesto that has been very controversial, but has gotten a lot of notice out there, in which we argue that the very foundations of college-level music education have to change in the United States. And I believe that at the Herb Alpert School of Music we have changed the foundation of music education.

We now have a foundation... I draw a picture of it in my mind, let's say, of the traditional school of music in the United States, and it looks like a castle in Germany. And in the foundation of the castle are Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, and there is a moat around this thing, and all of the music of the United States is outside the castle. And that's what a traditional school of music in the United States, more-or-less, looks like. And they've let Duke Ellington in in some places, and they might have let Bruce Springsteen in in another place, and maybe a Chinese musician in another place, but it is all tokenism, and it is all haphazard, and it's all peripheral to the central mission of being a German school of music in the United States. In my new imagination, I have a sleek modern American building, I use the new African American museum in Washington DC, which is a beautiful building in my view, and very American, even though it was designed by say, an architect from Africa.  I use that building, and in the foundation of that building is Bach, and Mozart, and Beethoven, and Duke Ellington, and a Chinese musician, and some mariachi musicians, and all of the music of the United States—they all are in the foundations of that school of music. I believe that's what the Herb Alpert School of Music looks like. We haven't quite built the beautiful building on top yet. That's for the future. That should be our goal. But we've built the foundation there. What I have been advocating as I give presentations around the country is we've gotta get all that music of the United States into the foundation of what we do. And I make the argument that there's a link between aesthetics and ethics and what I argue is that in most schools of music they begin with what I call "exclusionary aesthetics." They argue that one kind of music is better than all the other kinds of music. And this leads to an exclusionary ethics. All of the people who make the kind of music which have been excluded from European classical music, because somehow we know that it's the best kind of music. All of those people are excluded, not just their music.  What we have to redo in our schools of music is we have to start with an inclusionary ethics. We have to have an ethic that all of the people of the United States should be able to come and study in our school of music. And then we would have an inclusionary aesthetic, where all of the music will be in our schools.

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