UCLA World Music Spring Festival Returns to Live Performances

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The World Music Spring Festival is back, and back in full force. The historic showcase, which dates back to 1960, returns to live performances at Schoenberg Hall May 13-15 and May 20-22. All concerts start at 7:00 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

“The students are the real heroes here,” said Dr. Diane White-Clayton, director of the African American Music Ensemble. “They are the ones who have been most affected by the trauma of recent years. They are so excited to finally be able to perform in person after such a long hiatus.

The festival kicks off on Friday May 13 with music from India and China. The Music of India Ensemble features students of Rahul Neuman on sitar and students of Abhiman Kaushal on tabla. Students will perform ragas in the classical North Indian tradition. The China Music Ensemble, directed by Chi Li, will perform aria texts from the 16th century Kun opera.

The festival continues on Saturday May 14 with Music from Bali, Java and Thailand. The Bali Music Ensemble, led by Nyoman Wenten, performs Balinese gamelan music, famous for its fast tempos, abrupt changes in texture and costumed dancers. The Music of Java Ensemble, led by Pak Djoko Walujo and Kayle Khanmohamed, will perform with UCLA’s Music of the Venerable Dark Cloud: The Javanese Gamelan.

Coinciding with the three-day Asian Performing Arts on Stage and Screen symposium, the concert will feature special guests.

“We will be joined by young musicians from northeast Thailand who are currently teaching Thai music and culture at Thai temples in San Francisco and San Diego,” said Supeena Adler, Poonglaang Ensemble Director and Assistant Professor. of ethnomusicology. Dancers from Southern California will perform alongside the musicians.

The Music Ensemble of Mexico will perform on Sunday May 15th. 2008 Grammy winner Jesús Guzmán leads the Music Ensemble of Mexico, which explores the many manifestations of mariachi music, including son jalisiense, son huasteco, bolero, ranchera and huapango.

The second weekend of the festival features the wide array of acclaimed music ensembles from UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology. On Friday, May 20, the Music of Turkey Ensemble presents art music, fasil, folk and other genres found in Turkey and its periphery. On Saturday May 21, the Persian Music Ensemble and the Old Time String Band perform traditional music from their respective regions. And on Sunday, May 22, the Klezmer Music Ensemble and the African American Music Ensemble will perform.

“We’re often called the Gospel Music Choir,” said White-Clayton, known as Dr. Dee to her students. “But we perform the full range of African-American sacred choral music.” The ensemble’s performance will include traditional and contemporary gospel music as well as hymns, hymns and various interpretations of spirituals ranging from classical arrangements to modified versions known as freedom songs which have been used in the marches for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

One of these freedom songs, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Roun'”, will be performed at the concert with new lyrics written by Dr. Dee. Each verse will end with the chorus “Walk to my destiny”, rather than the chorus of the traditional march to freedom song.

“I encouraged my students to make these words their own as a proclamation of their resilience after enduring these past years,” White-Clayton explained. “With such extreme loss, social and political unrest, and the psychological and emotional hardships of having to learn and even sing in isolation, these students represent our hope for tomorrow.”

The researcher emphasized that African-American music isn’t frozen in time — the messages of yesteryear propel us through the challenges of today. “We want students to know the history of this music, to remember the people who suffered and died so that we can be together, all of us, in a class of different cultures singing with one voice,” said White Clayton.

The entire Spring Festival will be an affirmation of the power of live music and the richness of musical styles from around the world. White-Clayton thinks this is a great opportunity to celebrate. “As we sing songs like John P. Kee’s ‘I Made It Out Alright’ or Donald Lawrence’s ‘Jehovah Sabaoth’ which forcefully proclaims, ‘I am not afraid! Everything is fine ! we hope audiences will be inspired and uplifted by the power of these messages,” she said.

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