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The Institute of Ethnomusicology at U.C.L.A.

From College Music Symposium, Volume 2, 1962

Paul J. Revitt    
University of California, Los Angeles

Used with the permission of the College Music Society

To the superimposed muffled sounds of the "Revolutionary Etude," the Paganini Twenty-fourth Caprice, the mi-mi-mi-mis and ah-ah-ah-has, and the Lazarus exercises which emerge from the interiors of the usual campus music department, an additional complex of sounds, not oriented in the diatonic and chromatic systems of western music, can be heard from early morning until late at night in the new Music Building at U.C.L.A. Crashes of the sudden forte of the Javanese gamelan, subdued shimmers of the Balinese gender wajang, the "plink" of a Chinese pipa, the drone of an Indian vina, the mouth-organ sound of the Japanese sho are a few of the strange sounds that catch the ear. These sounds, moreover, are not the superficial noises made by the merely curious who are being given a quick tour through non-western musical cultures. To the contrary, they are the sounds of serious and extended rehearsals often under the guidance of professional native musicians who have been invited by the Institute of Ethnomusicology to the United States for a couple of years to exchange their skills and knowledge for the opportunity to absorb some of the occidental musical traditions.

Let us spend a few minutes in a short walk through the air-conditioned labyrinth of the Institute. In the office, we are cordially welcomed by its Director and Professor in the Music Department of the University of California at Los Angeles, Dr. Mantle Hood. Between puffs on a seasoned meerschaum pipe—we flick our cigarette ashes into "trays" consisting of ornately carved wooden figurines about three feet high which were coconut oil lamps in Bali—he tells us that the Institute grew from a seed planted by Laurence Petran of U.C.L.A. years ago when he took a course in comparative musicology. After studies with Jaap Kunst in the Netherlands, Mr. Hood returned with some Javanese instruments and, to share his experiences with American students, organized a gamelan. From these modest beginnings in 1954, the group attained competence and gained recognition. By expansion beyond Indonesian music, scholars were attracted by the breadth of study, and students and outsiders who were conscientious about skills and playing and willing to devote long hours of practice were attracted by the performance aspect. In 1958, the Rockefeller Foundation gave a generous grant for further research and study, and the Institute developed through the coordinated efforts of the Foundation, the University of California, and the Music Department on the Los Angeles Campus.

We are quick to surmise that Mr. Hood has a kind of American practicality about him. He believes that ethnomusicology is not a discipline in which an instrument is measured meticulously to the millimeter and its pitch producing properties probed with a stroboscope, and then hung in a glass case in the museum. Rather, ethnomusicology includes the musical practice, and "instrument" is interpreted in its literal meaning. Performance, under experienced leadership, is an integral part of the program at U.C.L.A.

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. . . performance, under experienced leadership, is an integral part of the program at U.C.L.A. David Morton (far right) and Professor Hood (left front) lead the piphat . . .

 

He demands of those graduate students who are in the ethnomusicological studies and who aim to make it their life work a thorough training in western music. Accomplished in musicianship (especially ear training), in basic research methods, and in techniques of transcription, a student is equipped with the basic skills needed to comprehend a foreign musical idiom. Yet, a thoroughly trained musician in the western tradition has some "unlearning" to do. Subtleties of pitch in the melodies of different non-western countries require "adjustment" in the ear of the person whose background is the diatonic system, and it is too easy to repeat the mistake of many nineteenth-century analysts who used the diatonic and chromatic systems as the basis of comparison and criticized the rest of the world as being out of tune. Another subtlety, easy to understand but difficult to face objectively, is that of the many notes which have indefinite pitches and which are deliberately colored by the musician to create dramatic tension. Woe to the occidental musician with absolute pitch! Manifold are the problems to the musician who has been trained and chained to the staff on which every note has an immutable pitch relationship to every other.

Our first stop is in the India Room. Mr. Robert Brown, a pianist of no mean accomplishment and well acquainted with western Keyboard literature, turned his efforts to study Southern Indian music in its own locale. We find him in front of an open glass door of one of the wall display cases. With loving care he dusts the carved silver resonator of a vina, and with a wry smile he says that the flourishes of the polishing cloth serve a musical purpose as well as one of housekeeping. It's a good way to practice the Tiruppugal talam (a rhythmic structure of 3-3-5-2-8) which accompanies the fifteenth-century Sankarabharanam ragam. In traditional performance, with the audience as participants, it is beat out by small motions of one hand in varying positions: palm up, now palm down; fingers extended, now fingers clenched.

What we pass as we leave the India Room is not a ghost. Harihar Rao, a student of Ravi Shankar and at the Institute to teach the sitar and the tabla in the Northern Indian tradition, prefers to wear his muslin gown. "Comfort," he laconically explains.

Around the next corner, we enter a door and find ourselves in a room much like a radio broadcasting control booth. Shelves containing miles of recording tapes made in the field line all the wall space not occupied by the inside windows on either side which oversee rooms wired for recording and broadcasting. In the center of the room is electronic equipment and panels of switches, lights, and meters. One outstanding piece of equipment is the melograph. Designed by Mr. Charles Seeger, research musicologist in the Institute, this indispensable electronic device analyzes on graph paper moving at a constant rate through the machine the melodic complexities of a single line, rhythmic placement, and intensity with an accuracy not possible in other modes of notation.

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. . Mantle Hood, Director of the Institute, and Charles Seeger (right), designer of the melograph, an instrument which analyzes with an accuracy not possible in other modes of notation . . .

 

It is best not to go into the next room because we wish not to disturb a music lesson in progress. But, from our radio control room window, we see that its decor is Chinese and Japanese. Three chin are in the case along the wall, a gong hangs from a beautifully inlaid wooden frame. On a raised platform several inches above the floor and extending the length of the room two students, one on either side of Mr. Lui Tsun Yuen, are receiving their weekly pipa lesson. Cross-legged and without shoes, they sit on a mat, each holding his instrument, acquired by the Institute, in his lap. In the misleading comparative terms of western instruments and performance practices, they look like they are using guitar technique on a lute in an upright position of the treble viol, and the placement of their left hand on the pipa in these first lessons is equivalent to starting a violinist in the third position. They have learned that each note of the Chinese musical scale bears its particular name and that each of the four strings of the pipa has its own symbolic identity. They have mastered their first lessons which are pentatonic melodies designed for pedagogic ends. In secret reality, they learned the melodies by rote and long hours of repetitious practice; but they first had to decipher them from a kind of tablature prepared in Chinese by Mr. Lui. Since he will not speak to them except in Chinese terms, his students soon throw off the crutch of western comparisons and learn the instrument and its music in the original and oriental frame of reference. Mr. Lui is a patient and understanding teacher but demands the perfection which has made his brilliant playing successful not only in China but in concert tours of North America and Europe.

A small incongruity in the finery and elegance of the room arrests our attention. A cheap aluminum teakettle, appearing to have been salvaged from the city dump, and an electric hot plate, apparently some castaway of a sloppy cook, adorn the room in a most unesthetic manner. Are we to assume that, after musical solemnities, tea is served in an indifferent manner which seems to destroy the integrity of the surroundings? No. In the first place, neither the kettle nor the electric plate are for tea. Drums are brought into tune and tone by the vapor which comes from the spout of the kettle. Gordon Stone, Music Department Librarian, will be found turning his sho slowly above the steady low heat of the hot plate some ten minutes before the gagaku group plays its first note.

When the gagaku rehearsal begins, it is with a solemnity, however, that makes a formal ceremony over a cup of tea seem crude. Under the directorship of Suenobu Togi, Court Musician of the Imperial Household of Japan, even the facial expressions and the stylized gestures in holding and playing any of the instruments in this ensemble are of serious concern. Since gagaku is the most austere form of Japanese music, retaining courtly and Shinto traditions over a thousand years old, it is little wonder that even the rehearsals are special occasions bordering on the mysterious.

We dare not barge into the next room while José Maceda, who will return as Dean of the School of Music at the University of the Philippines with a Ph.D., demonstrates to one of the students the rhythmic complexities of the kulintang. Meanwhile, Mr. Hood tells us that he would like to accept all invitations to play that he receives. But it takes a large moving van to haul the tons of bronze gongs and plates and teak frames that constitute a single gamelan. It is hard enough on the heavy wooden frames to be out of their especially humified quarters for any length of time, but it is devastating to the thin bamboo resonators and the more delicately constructed instruments such as drums, however hard they are struck in performance, to be out of the damp heat of Bali or Java in which they were made and intended to remain. Rigid as it appears, the bronze in the bars struck with hammers requires ten to thirty years to "settle" and Max Harrell, one of the graduate students, spent the better part of last year retuning the xylophone-like genders. With such delicately adjusted instruments, Mr. Hood does not solicit invitations which bring undue wear to them.

A more basic reason, however, that Mr. Hood is reluctant to accept every invitation for performance is that, while the Institute is dedicated to the study of non-western musical culture with emphasis upon the performance, he does not see public programs as the sole end nor the motive for the study. In no case does he wish to waste the results of the diligent rehearsals to appear as a novelty.

Considering the fact that the performance groups are all extracurricular activities, carrying no credit nor being part of the specified requirements for a degree in ethnomusicology, he will not commit the participants to a schedule of performances that usurp time from studies.

On several notable and special occasions, performance groups, large and small, have given public performances. For national conventions on the West Coast of societies dedicated to disciplines directly related to the activities of the Institute, such as anthropology and musicology, the groups have performed with gratifying success. They were greatly honored when asked to play for the National Conference of UNESCO in San Francisco in the autumn of 1957, and twice have played for President Sukarno of Indonesia on the occasions of his visits to the West Coast. They have recorded for Columbia Records.

One of the highlights of performance will be endeared for many years. During 1960 the annual Spring Festival of the Music Department was devoted to oriental music and the related arts. Music took the lead by presenting concerts, each of which was attended by capacity audiences, but other departments participated wholeheartedly in a coordinated festival in which there were informal talks ranging from demonstrations of native costume—down to the last petticoat of Japanese wedding regalia—to the most erudite lectures on Hindu philosophy. Displays of ceramic handiwork filled showcases all over the campus and textiles hung side by side with paintings and prints in every corridor.

Tanjore Viswanathan, flutist, was coach to a group which performed during an evening devoted to Indian Music. Now an associate professor at the University of Madras, he was then at U.C.L.A. on a grant that enabled him to come to the United States. Viswanathan is one of a dynasty of Indian musicians. The accomplishments of his grandmother as a vina player have given her sainthood, and his sister is considered the queen of dancers throughout India.

After the traditional "warm-up" improvisation on the flute, the group would finish a varnam or a kriti in the highly complex meter characteristic of the raga. Out of this grew an amusing incident still related with laughter among the students and faculty.

It was the next to the last day of the Festival, which had gained momentum in its successes, and the lecture topic which preceded the concert was improvisation. The members of the performing groups had made small wagers amongst themselves as to the time the concert that evening would end. That it began promptly at eight-thirty o'clock was due less to the fact that Schoenberg Hall of the Music Building had already filled to capacity by eight than to the fact that the most conservative estimates of the concert's end were eleven. The average estimate was between midnight and one, and there were some who were serious in asserting that the more devoted in the audience would be lucky if they staggered off the campus by sunrise. After all, it is not easy to approach a great artist—especially in the tradition of Indian nocturnal improvisation—and ask him to curtail his inspiration. But Viswanathan was approached timidly and implored not to let the Muse captivate him completely. As it turned out, his incomparable flute improvisations held the audience spellbound until eleven-thirty.

In answer to our inquiry about the personnel in the Institute, Mr. Hood tells us that the performance groups are made up of students from all over the campus and a few outsiders, some of whom are alumni and who faithfully keep their ties. Gertrude Robinson, for example, is a bulwark in the Javanese and Balinese groups and her youngsters accept her regular rehearsal departures from home as a matter of family routine.

Those who are graduate students in the ethnomusicological program of the Music Department qualify first as competent musicians in a western sense and meet the standards of examination and scrutiny required of all graduate students. Their curriculum includes seminars in various musical cultures and field methods. They are strongly encouraged to step outside of the department and study languages and take anthropological and other courses dealing with non-western cultures. And yet they are reminded that, because their skills and knowledge are highly specialized and that full-time positions in ethnomusicology are not common, they should keep their western heritage intact and in practice.

Those students from the other quarters of the campus come for the sheer love of it. And love it really is because the novelty soon wears off and the rehearsals become downright hard work and demand concentration. The young fellow who thinks that all there is to a gong is to give it a good whack is soon disillusioned. The first thing that he learns is that a "good whack" will not produce the richest and most resounding tone on the gong, and furthermore, since it is the gong that marks the periods of the huge rhythmic cycles upon which the whole ensemble depends, it is never entrusted to a novice. Those who are determined stay with the group through the long rehearsals and training, and they develop an esprit de corps which is truly remarkable.

A few members of the groups are from outside of the campus and are usually admitted only after the students' desires and needs have been filled.

A second peek beyond the set of double doors assures us that the Philippine demonstration is over, and we enter a large hall. Our eyes feast upon the opulence of the orient: two complete Javanese gamelans and one Balinese gamelan are spread in position across the large floor. Their richly carved wooden frames are the visual counterpart of the sound they produce, whether in a tutti passage or in an introductory trompong solo. On the walls of the hall are tapestries, costumes, masks, and, most interesting of all, the jointed but flat puppets used in the shadow plays of Indonesia. The Katharane Mershan and Bernadine Fritz Collections of art objects are seen in the many wall cases.

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. . . the opulence of the orient: two complete Javanese gamelans and one Balinese gamelan are spread in position across the large floor of the Indonesian Room . . .


The inevitable question arises concerning the former students of U.C.L.A. who have been in the ethnomusicological program. Mr. Hood explains that, with the growing interest of Americans in non-western cultures, universities that offer comprehensive studies in specialized fields can no longer ignore Africa, the Indo-European countries, Latin America, and the near and far East. At the moment there is a need for ethnomusicologists who, although not expected to make a complete program of their particular interest, can say more of oriental music than it is a pentatonic scale out of tune and that Africans beat drums. The Institute is young and the graduate program in ethnomusicology has only recently become large in its scope. The young men and women in the program may not have their final sheepskin, but those like Robert Garfias who spent two profitable years in Japan on a grant by the Ford Foundation are well covered by experience and depth of inquiry.

William Malm, now teaching at the University of Michigan, distinguished himself in Japanese music, particularly naguata and its relation to the Kabuki theater. Willem Adriaansz, having come from Holland and having interested himself in modern Greek Music, is at the University of Illinois. Robert Brown, whom we met in the India Room, looks forward to his appointment at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Hormoz Farhat, from Iran, is presently at Long Beach State College. Interest in the theory of his native Persian music led into poetry, philosophy, mathematics and highly technical terminology. It also made him a successful teaching assistant in the three semester sequence of basic harmony courses of the Music Department while he was a student at U.C.L.A.

We wend our way through the gender wajang, a quartet of Balinese instruments, each pair of which is tuned a few cycles out of phase resulting in the beats which give the characteristic shimmer associated with Indonesian music.

Mr. Hood's eyes pop. Something is out of place. In the corner of this hall which was thought to be ample for the Indonesian aspect of the Institute, is an instrument that was obviously not from that part of the world. A zither type, it belongs to Sam Chianis, an American-born Greek who, with his father and brother, are the musicians called to play for old-country festivities in the Los Angeles area. As a student, Sam leads the studies in this field, and his group seems to have pitched its tent, as it were, in a corner of Bali.

After leaving the other set of double doors at the further end of the Indonesian Hall, nearly as crowded with instruments and objects of art as the Island of Bali is crowded with people, we pass a door the window of which is clouded with moisture. "This isn't a Turkish bath, but I would like you to see the collection of instruments which David Morton, the first recipient of a Rockefeller grant, acquired in Thailand." Through a hot fog sputtered out by a machine attached to the ceiling, we see an array of instruments which constitute a piphat ensemble. Mr. Morton, whose western musical training is thorough both academically and professionally, is the teacher of the Thailand performance group.

As we leave the Institute and pass through other corridors of the Music Building, Mr. Hood nods towards the door of an ordinary classroom and tells us that Mr. Colin McPhee, whose transcriptions of Balinese music for the piano are so reliable that they can be retranscribed back to the original medium without loss, is holding a seminar in which the current discussion is the exact nature of the sonority of the many bronze instruments found throughout the middle and far East. Had we been here yesterday at this time we could have participated in one of the lively seminars of Boris Kremenliev who, in the field of Balkan music, has contributed substantially to ethnomusicology by his studies of the "elongated beat" so characteristic of the rhythmic structures of Indo-European cultures.

The door of another classroom is open. We can see that it would accommodate nearly one hundred students, and we learn that on three days a week this room is occupied for one hour by general university students who elect to take course number one-thirty-six, "Music Cultures of the World." Formal lectures are supplemented by demonstrations in instruments, moving pictures, and by specialists in related fields of art, dance, and literature. One of the most popular courses on the campus, it is not an easy one and even the music majors have their difficulties.

The feeling that we are being followed by someone trying to catch up with us is substantiated by a call to Mr. Hood. Breathless, Miss Edna Strom, the young lady who, from behind her desk in the office of the Institute, has all the answers to questions over the counter, over the telephone, through the mail and whose tireless efforts have done much to keep the business of the Institute in order, reminds him that he is overdue in his appointment with Hazel Chung. Miss Strom hands him a sheaf of papers on which are some hieroglyphics and then disappears in the same pace that she caught up with us.

Mr. Hood thanks us for our attention and sincerely invites us to return. He starts across the campus to the women's gymnasium, and, as he reaches the end of the corridor, three small and graceful figures join him. Now we know that those hieroglyphics are a choreography. Hardja Susilo, from central Java, shows his three years at U.C.L.A. by the western qualities developing in his rich baritone voice and by his guitar playing with the Mexican performance group, is also a dancer. Tjokorda Mas, from the town of Ubud in south Bali where he was principal official at the art museum there, is a teacher and composer. Wajan Gandera is not a stranger to the United States. In the early 1940's as a boy of fourteen, he toured the western hemisphere as a member of the gamelan from the village of Pliatian.

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. . . the joy of music—Indonesian: Wajan Gandera (front) and Tjokorda Mas, invited to teach at the Institute for a few years . . .

 

The smiles never leave their faces, and their direct and simple kindness is a Christian ideal. Music and the dance seem to be their only world; and, indeed it is, for in Indonesia music is so much a part of the culture that it literally accompanies everything from birth to death. Tjokorda and Wajan were amazed at the competence and attainment of their western colleagues in the ensembles, but their western colleagues were more amazed at the incredibly fast tempos nonchalantly taken by them on the most difficult and intricate of instrumental passages.

We regret that the appointment with Hazel Chung had to be kept. But we know that this is the start on another project, perhaps another festival. In no less a way than the crossing of disciplines in the inter-departmental seminars will this collaboration with a specialist in Balinese choreography, the dancer, the singer, the composer, and Mr. Hood produce something for added credit to U.C.L.A.'s Institute of Ethnomusicology.

 

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