While it is known that UCLA prides itself on promoting diversity within the dorms, the classes and the campus organizations, the school also promotes diversity in music.
The UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology is dedicated to the understanding and performance of musical traditions from around the world ““ the only one of its kind in the U.S.
Leaving Beethoven to classical performers, ethnomusicology students and professors turn their ears toward a more global perspective on music. From Indonesian percussion orchestras, to dissonant choral music from the Balkans, to meditative Indian textures, the department gives all continents a musical voice. And understanding those voices can provide much understanding of the cultures that produced them.
Considering the diversity of UCLA, this sort of global representation is bound to strike an interesting chord. The department does this literally with its world music ensembles. Delving into the myriad cultures on this campus, the ensembles offer a chance for music and nonmusic students alike to recreate global sounds.
And the reasons students participate in these ensembles are as diverse as the cultures they represent, ranging from curiosity to exploring one’s culture to simply satisfying academic requirements.
Matt Luskin, a third-year economics and geography student who performs in the Music of Bali ensemble, represents a sort of circuitous path to the experience of world music. At first, being a part of the performance group was a way for Luskin to hang out with his buddies and play some cool instruments.
“In my frat we had some guys from Bali who introduced my friends to the music and group. Soon I got involved because of my friends and I joined the group to play some of the easier instruments,” Luskin said.
“But now being a part of the group is not just about hanging out with friends, but about enjoying an out of this world professor, (Professor I. Nyoman Wenten), and being a part of replicating Balinese culture.”
And though he is not an ethnomusicology student, he found that just by playing in the Music of Bali ensemble, Luskin was able to learn about the culture. Rehearsals for the Music of Bali ensemble were quite different from the typical dorm room guitar shredding session.
“We take our shoes off before we practice or perform, and we can’t walk over the instruments, because it is said that each instrument has a spirit,” Luskin said.
And while students like Luskin perform songs from a culture foreign to them and see the world through different musical eyes, others can get in touch with their roots, remembered or forgotten. Professor Jacqueline DjeDje, chair of the ethnomusicology department, insists that these groups make the connection between sound and culture ““ they are not simply making music in the abstract.
“We try to address the needs of the students who are attending UCLA. That is why we have a large number of ensembles dealing with Asia, or Mexico, the African Diaspora, or the Balkan ensemble, which deals with Europe,” DjeDje said.
“So students who are interested in their ethnic heritage and want to know more about their heritage may choose from those groups.”
For students involved with the ethnomusicology major however, there is more to the journey than just performing in the groups. To learn about music and culture, the department requires a combination of general classes and performance ensembles so students get the practical knowledge along with the theoretical.
“In addition to taking the ensembles, students who are in the major also take academic courses in musical cultures of the world,” DjeDje said.
“One of the things that is important for us is that you need to understand the culture of the people in order to understand their music.”