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‘Music and Justice’: Connecting the past and present through music, performances

From left to right, composer and jazz pianist Dave Brubeck converses with Erich Kunzel and Duke Ellington during a recording session for “The Gates of Justice.” The cantata, which Brubeck wrote in an attempt to unify Black and Jewish communities following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., serves as one of the central components of the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s upcoming concert and conversation series, “Music and Justice.” (Courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Wilton Library)

“Music and Justice”

Feb. 26 to Feb. 28

By Maya Rego

Feb. 21, 2023 1:47 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article’s photo caption incorrectly credited the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. In fact, the photo is courtesy of the Brubeck Collection, Wilton Library.

This post was updated Feb. 22 at 8:29 p.m.

Conversations of the past are coming alive in the present at “Music and Justice.”

From Feb. 26-28, the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music will present a collection of talks and concert pieces merging conversations regarding social justice, racism and antisemitism with music. Although the center was established in December 2020, the program will serve as the center’s inaugural piece, as the pandemic prevented the center from conducting any public programs until recently. All works will be presented in their entirety on Feb. 26 at Royce Hall, then again on Feb. 28 at Holman United Methodist Church located in Jefferson Park, said ethnomusicology and musicology professor Mark Kligman, who serves as the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music and director of the center.

“Our goal with this project is to raise consciousness and have a conversation about civil rights and social justice,” Kligman said. “To lead towards mutual understanding, and hopefully unity is where we want our conversations to go.”

The series is centered around “The Gates of Justice,” Kligman said, a 1969 cantata composed by jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It was created in an attempt to heal the rift between the Jewish and Black communities that emerged throughout the civil rights movement, he said. In addition to its series of live performances, Kligman said, the School of Music will hold a conference to discuss both Brubeck’s cantata and the historical relationship between the Black and Jewish communities on Feb. 27.

[Related: UCLA’s Jazz Combo Concert showcases student passion, musical growth]

Brubeck’s sons, Darius, Dan and Chris Brubeck, will perform “The Gates of Justice” as the accompanying jazz trio. The piece will also feature second-year music performance student Remy O’Hara, who will play the opening solo on an instrument called the shofar, an ancient Jewish instrument constructed from a ram’s horn. The use of the shofar, O’Hara said, will both expose the UCLA community to a different sound and style of music and showcase the coalescence of multiple musical genres within “The Gates of Justice” performance.

In addition to “The Gates of Justice,” ethnomusicology lecturer Diane White-Clayton will premiere her new piece titled “Dear Freedom Rider.” White-Clayton said the contemporary classical piece was an homage to the 13 civil rights activists – known historically as the Freedom Riders – who traveled through the Deep South in 1961 to challenge the segregation of local buses. Part of her motivation behind the composition, she said, was to stimulate a cross-generational conversation among UCLA students and those of the civil rights generation and promote ideas of awareness and consideration.

As part of her tribute, White-Clayton took the words from letters written by the singers, who will perform “Dear Freedom Rider” to the still-living Freedom Riders, and incorporated them into the libretto of the soon-to-be-released composition. While combing through the letters, she said she kept seeing certain themes emerge, such as appreciation, respect, and questions of how these individuals possessed the courage to embark on such an undertaking. Furthermore, individuals with special connections to the Freedom Riders will be attending the performance, including alumni Helen and Robert Singleton, who were part of the original 1961 Freedom Riders.

“I just feel like we as human beings, we’re so much more alike than we are apart,” White-Clayton said. “What is important, for any setting, for any human being, with another human being, is understanding and dialogue. So, I thought how cool would it be … (to) set up a scenario where college students can somehow communicate with these Freedom Riders.”

Global jazz studies professor and associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at the School of Music Arturo O’ Farrill will premiere his new work titled “I Dream A World.” O’Farrill said the composition is inspired by the 1941 work of the same name by poet and activist Langston Hughes. The arrangement is written for a string quartet jazz trio and will be sung by alumnus India Carney, he said. O’Farrill said there is a thematic overlap between his piece and “The Gates of Justice,” as both compositions embody the spirit of truth telling and respond to significant events.

“Dave Brubeck broke a lot of rules,” O’Farrill said. “You’re supposed to stay in your lane … (but) jazz was created by revolutionaries, and Dave Brubeck was acting in consistence with what the mission of jazz is, which is to tell truth.”

[Related: Alumnus Angel Blue to perform at Schoenberg Hall, host opera masterclass]

The program seeks to reignite the pivotal work and conversations had during the 1960s, Kligman said. Recognizing and discussing this era, he said, will hopefully spark dialogue regarding the recent wave of racist and antisemitic sentiments seen in the United States – the latest being the Feb. 15 and Feb. 16 shootings that occurred in the heart of Los Angeles’ Jewish community.

White-Clayton said she hopes the program will answer the polarizing questions many of her students iterated in their letters to the Freedom Riders. By crafting this conversation between the present day and the pivotal moments in American history that happened in the 1960s, she said she aspires to assist the current generation in reckoning with their thoughts and feelings about these issues of race, religion and resistance.

“The emotions don’t know generations,” she said. “An angry person can be 2 years old and 102 years old. … When people have faced what they have faced, even if it is a different time, the heart is not different.”

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