Saturday, March 24

Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz kicks off the ethnomusicology department’s yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary

Fifty years ago, UCLA became the first university in the United States to have an independent ethnomusicology department. Today, it remains the only one. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the ethnomusicology department is kicking off a yearlong celebration featuring concerts, symposiums and other commemorative events.

The first event of the celebration is the yearly Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz. Though it is an annual event, the festival this year focuses on commemorating the anniversary of the department. Performances will feature many different groups, including the Music of India Ensemble, the Bluegrass and Old-Time String Ensemble and the UCLA Jazz Orchestra.

Part of the reason these performance groups exist is because of the department’s founder, Mantle Hood. Hood believed that theoretical learning of music and culture was not enough, and that students should learn to perform on the instruments they studied.

“What’s significant about (the performances of the festival) is that the celebrations will coincide with the first concert that happened about 50 years ago,” said Jacqueline DjeDje, chair of the ethnomusicology department.

Within the ethnomusicology major, there are two concentrations: jazz studies and world music. Both programs not only study the music itself, but also the contexts from which it was derived.

“Sometimes when people hear the word ethnomusicology, they think the prefix means ethnic music, but that’s not it. Ethnomusicology means the study of music in culture,” DjeDje said. “We study the music and the people, their history, the way they think, their religion, their sociology, because we believe all of that is important to understand their music.”

Kenny Burrell, noted jazz guitarist, is director of the jazz studies concentration, as well as a featured composer for the jazz performances on Tuesday.

“The jazz studies program has enhanced the ethnomusicology department in the sense that it broadens the whole perspective of ethnomusicology, and vice versa,” Burrell said. “The multifaceted aspects of ethnomusicology have certainly helped the jazz studies program, especially because ethnomusicology deals with cultures from all over the world. Jazz is a musical art form that all kinds of things feed into, and it relates to all different sounds and cultures.”

Jazz and world music alike rely on immersion in the culture, which is part of the reason Hood found it necessary to create a separate department for ethnomusicology. Many university music programs, including UCLA’s before the founding of the ethnomusicology department, place an emphasis on Western classical music. However, the curriculum for that concentration isn’t always applicable to a wider variety of music.

“Before they split off, people had to study either German or French (language), but that wasn’t applicable if you were studying Arabic music,” said Kathleen Hood, director of publications for the ethnomusicology department. “We need to study things like anthropology and fieldwork methods that you wouldn’t normally do in Western music. There are a lot of specialized courses that are specific to ethnomusicology ““ you don’t waste your time studying things that don’t apply to your field.”

As the department observes its 50th year, its members continue to plan for improvement while celebrating how far they have come.

“One of the things that makes me really happy is that every year since we started, the level of the students coming into the program ““ the quality level and talent level ““ has been getting better all the time. We’ve got better and better students, and I think it’s because our reputation has grown as a good program,” Burrell said. “One of my friends, Herbie Hancock, said we’ve got the best jazz program in the country.”

Like the ethnomusicology major itself, the Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz will showcase the multifaceted array of music studies that have become available to UCLA students.

“The world needs the diversity and the contributions. All people in the world need to be recognized and celebrated,” DjeDje said.

“We all have the same challenges, the same problems, so we all need to work together to deal with those problems and challenges. Ethnomusicology is a very good avenue or tool to learn about traditions from other cultures. All cultures.”

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