Tuesday, July 17

Bruin bluegrass band to play at Fowler


When looking for something to do, most students might check citywide publications like L.A. Weekly or the Los Angeles Times. Others might seek more localized events through UCLA Happenings or the Campus Events Commission.

But for graduate student and longtime folk singer Douglas Morier, the UCLA Registrar housed the best happenings on campus.

“I was just searching through the Registrar trying to see what was happening in the music department,” Morier said. “I study public health. I’m in epidemiology, so I wanted to see if there were any ensembles to play with on campus.”

Morier, a second-year public health master’s candidate, stumbled upon a bluegrass band and immediately e-mailed the band’s supervisor, ethnomusicology Professor Anthony Seeger, to get involved. Now Morier and the band, the UCLA Old-Time and Bluegrass Ensemble, will perform today in part of the Fowler Out Loud series.

“I’ve been playing with them all year,” Morier said. “It’s just good fortune, I think. I didn’t realize there was a bluegrass band happening right under my nose.”

However, Seeger is quick to point out that it isn’t as easy as signing up for a class to sign up for one of these ensembles.

“There is an audition process, and then the ensemble is pretty steady through the rest of the year,” he said. “People find out about it or they look in the Registrar’s office and write me, then we work out the balance of the instruments and the ability to play from there.”

Among the various ensembles offered on campus, Seeger thinks the Old-Time and Bluegrass Ensemble has a particularly relevant sound.

“We’re bringing it out here partly because it’s already here, and because it was really absent from the offerings in our own department here. There are some students here who really like to play it,” he said.

Though only around since last year when a student pitched the idea to Seegar, the band has already accumulated a large and artistically diverse group of musicians.

“We have a fiddle, mandolin, bass, banjo and guitar, the traditional elements of an American string band, but we also have a harmonica and we bring in a kazoo for some songs,” Seeger said. “Most of the students in it are extremely good musicians in other genres. They’re coming together and trying out a different, very specific style of music.”

The bluegrass ensemble, focusing on American string band music from the 1920s to the present, is fairly new, but Morier’s folk career has spanned almost his entire life.

“I started when I was very little. My dad got me started,” Morier said. “He was part of that folk revival back in the ’50s and ’60s, and I started playing a little more guitar. That’s kind of how I got into bluegrass.”

Aside from his demanding schedule as a graduate student and his time spent with the bluegrass ensemble so far this year, Morier has also managed to keep going as a solo singer-songwriter with a very unique offering for fans of a certain counter-culture figure.

“I do finger style. I like a lot of old-fashioned songs like Doc Watson and old Bob Dylan records. I write my songs primarily in that style,” Morier said. “It’s been quite a bit of fun.”

Those who attend the concert will get a taste of this, as Morier will perform solo before the ensemble’s act.

“I’ll do a solo act ““ just me and my guitar ““ and then we’ll change out and have the bluegrass outfit,” he said. “It’s going to be a little more upbeat.”

Seeger had his own take the venue.

“I used to work at the Smithsonian,” said Seeger, who also serves as the director emeritus of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. “I always thought that the museum was far too quiet. I think museums are excellent places to contextualize music, and it adds to the experience and what museums can offer.”

For those just in search of something to do, like Morier once was, look no further than the pairing of music and art at tonight’s Fowler Out Loud concert.

“There’s truly a gold mine of old tunes out there, and lots of them you don’t hear from bluegrass bands or festivals,” Morier said. “So I think it’s really a great opportunity for people to learn these tunes.”

Either way, this is far from the final act for the ensemble.

“We’re just doing old-time tunes right now. I think maybe later on we’ll do a few originals in there,” Morier said. “I think we’ll keep playing in some incarnation or another.”

With additional reporting by Christie McCollum.

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