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Music school gift includes instruments, books, art, artifacts, property

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


one of largest gift to U of I School of Music
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
One of the largest gifts to the U. of I. School of Music to date includes a veritable treasure trove of instruments from Indonesia, India, Turkey, Afghanistan and elsewhere; an extensive library of recordings and books; Balinese paintings; museum-quality artifacts from around the world; and various properties.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The School of Music at the University of Illinois has long been home to one of the nation’s top ethnomusicology programs. Now, a major gift has increased the size and brilliance of the school’s star on the world music map by several orders of magnitude.

The multifaceted package – one of the largest gifts to the music school to date – originates from the estate of Robert E. Brown, the ethnomusicologist credited with coining the phrase “world music.” Brown, who received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and taught at Wesleyan University and San Diego State University, died in November 2005.

The gift to the U. of I. music school includes a veritable treasure trove of instruments from Indonesia, India, Turkey, Afghanistan and elsewhere; an extensive library of recordings and books; Balinese paintings; museum-quality artifacts from around the world; and various properties.

Most notable among the properties is a seven-acre educational compound in Bali called “Flower Mountain.” The site, located in Payangan, in the hills near the town of Ubud, includes rustic dormitory-style accommodations, rehearsal halls and performance spaces, a library, kitchen and dining facilities, and adjacent rice paddies.

It also comes equipped with several gamelan orchestras. The Indonesian equivalent of the Western symphony orchestra, a gamelan consists of percussion and string instruments, metallophones of all shapes and sizes, gongs, chimes and drums.

The gamelans at the Bali site are in addition to three others that arrived at Illinois recently along with Indian sitars, vinas and tamburas, Turkish-Arabic takhts, African drum ensembles and scores of other instruments and artifacts in a 55-foot tractor trailer.

Robert E. Brown
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Robert E. Brown is the ethnomusicologist credited with coining the phrase “world music.”

Also moving to Illinois as part of the gift is the Center for World Music, originally founded by Brown in Berkeley, Calif., and most recently located at San Diego State. At its new home in the U. of I.’s Levis Faculty Center, it will be known as the Robert E. Brown Center for World Music, and will be administered by an executive director to be appointed.

“This gift will have a profound impact on the things we do here,” said Karl Kramer, the director of the U. of I. School of Music. The center will “quickly establish the university as the world leader in this area” and will “contribute to the drive (on campus) to improve understanding of social diversity and work towards the integration of American society at large,” he said.

“We have one of the finest music schools in the nation, and Dr. Brown’s generous gift is a wonderful complement to its activities,” said Richard Herman, the chancellor of the Urbana campus. “As our campus becomes increasingly global, the Bali site – as well as Dr. Brown’s other gifts – will offer a unique opportunity for our students, faculty and others to study, create and learn about world music.”

Details of how the center, the Bali property and other items will be put to use to benefit the school most are still unfolding.

“When you get a gift of this magnitude, with so many tentacles reaching out in so many potential directions, the worst thing you could do is to immediately begin planning and sifting and managing it to the nth degree,” Kramer said. Instead, the music school director expects a more complete program and plan for the acquisition will likely evolve over four to five years.

One thing is certain, he said: “The music education and ethnomusicology faculties will be heavily involved. And, of course, we will want to get input from the executive director as well.”

native Balinese musicians
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Rehearsal space is used by native Balinese musicians on Flower Mountain.

Kramer does have a few other directions and goals in mind. Chief among them is a desire to keep alive, and build upon, Brown’s own legacy, which included fostering cross-cultural understanding through music appreciation and participation, particularly among young people.

“One of the principal goals of the center would be to integrate non-Western – and perhaps vernacular – music traditions into the curriculum of music education majors, who after graduation typically teach at public schools and community organizations in Illinois and elsewhere throughout the United States,” he said. “This would add to their experience in Western music a component of musical and cultural diversity that would, in the long run, provide an inestimable service to the music programs in Illinois and elsewhere.

“Ultimately, I would like to develop and implement a revolutionary degree program specifically geared toward preparing teachers in world music studies that would be recognized and be appropriate for public-school teaching.”

Kramer and others – both in the school and across the campus in a variety of international programs and studies units – also are enthusiastic about the variety of possibilities associated with the gift, including research, performance, study abroad, and community outreach opportunities. One avenue ripe for exploration, Kramer said, is the Bali site’s potential for study and research trips as well as “cultural tourism” excursions for visitors from the U. of I. community and elsewhere.

“Bob’s mission in life was geared to the experiential side of music – from authentic enjoyment to participation,” said Charles Capwell, a U. of I. ethnomusicologist who specializes in Indonesian musical traditions. Capwell, who had known Brown since 1967 and first visited him at “Flower Mountain” in 1994, was one of a number of individuals who helped convince him that his collection and center would have a solid, supportive home at Illinois.

Capwell said personal connections to colleagues at the U. of I., such as himself and professor emeritus of ethnomusicology Bruno Nettl, were important to Brown, as was the U. of I. music school’s reputation as a leader in the field.

“The tradition of ethnomusicological scholarship at the U. of I. is very strong and widely recognized,” Capwell said, noting that the center’s location at the university will not only cement that reputation for scholarship, but allow the school to expand in areas previously not possible, due to a lack of resources.

“We have one of the strongest groups of people in our discipline, but we have not had a program involving performance that is as strong as at other institutions, such as UCLA,” Capwell said. “We’ve always had performance, but more as an adjunct activity. This will strengthen our position in terms of performance at large, and among people in a variety of disciplines.”

Bruno Nettl
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Retired U. of I. ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl was among the Illinois faculty members instrumental in helping the U. of I. obtain the collection.

“It might change the identity of the school,” Nettl added.

Capwell has brought a succession of three Javanese musicians to the U. of I. to teach gamelan performance in the style of the central Javanese courts while they studied for master’s degrees at Illinois. During 1999-2000, the last year of the program, he also led 13 students on a study tour to “Flower Mountain” in 2000 as part of a campuswide, Ford Foundation-supported program called “Revitalizing Area Studies: Crossing Borders.”

“The students had studied Balinese musical performance at the U. of I. with a Balinese teacher, I Ketut Gede Asnawa, the semester preceding the trip, and continued their studies with him in Bali that summer,” Capwell said.

Asnawa, who most recently was on the faculty of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, will return to the U. of I. this fall as the new center’s first faculty appointment. Asnawa will lead three sections of Balinese gamelan, which will be open to U. of I. students as well as interested community members.

“One of the most important concepts associated with this gift and new center,” Kramer said, “is that we will have native musicians teaching native music.”

Furthermore, he emphasized, the sizeable collection of instruments included in the gift will be tuned, reconditioned as necessary, but above all, put into service.

“These instruments are meant to be taught and and to be played, and that’s what we’re going to do with them,” Kramer said. “This is not a museum by any stretch.”