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UCLA

Yin and Yang of Music

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By UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Published Apr 1, 2016 8:00 AM


UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music balances scholarship, performance and composition across myriad genres and tastes. Regents approval establishes our 12th professional school and continues pioneering work.

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UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, photo by Amanda Friedman.

Failing to regularly make time for music and poetry, Charles Darwin once lamented, may have hampered his mind as he aged.

“The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness,” he said, “and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

Music nourishes our souls, challenges our minds, releases rage and expresses joy. Scholarship in music is no less essential than treating disease, designing rockets, writing laws or — like my own research — examining the neurobiology of circadian rhythms. Since UCLA’s inception almost 100 years ago, we have excelled not only in the sciences but also in the arts and humanities, which is essential to any leading research university.

But approval by the University of California Regents in January to formally establish the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music — the first music school in the UC system — takes us to a new level.

It’s a natural evolution of UCLA’s trailblazing work in music education, scholarship and performance. The ethnomusicology department maintains one of North America’s largest collections of instruments from around the world. Royce Hall has been a beacon for musicians of every imaginable genre. UCLA helped make mariachi music mainstream. Alumnus John Williams has received an astounding 50 Academy Award nominations for his movie scores, and James Horner, whom we tragically lost last summer, earned another 10. Members of seminal punk bands Bad Religion and Black Flag attended UCLA.

Consistent with our heritage, the music school balances composition and performance with the scholarly work of musicologists and ethnomusicologists. Similarly, our music school places equal emphasis on Western classical music such as Bach, world music like the ragas of northern India, and contemporary music from jazz to rock and roll.

Judith Smith, the interim dean, aptly refers to it as the school’s two sets of “yin and yang” — a balance between music making and research, and a balanced embrace of Western classical music and world music, as well as jazz and popular music. We think this sets us apart from other music schools and establishes a model for music studies in our increasingly interconnected world.

This symmetry was the vision of Herb Alpert, the Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, bandleader and founder of A&M Records, whose foundation made a $30 million gift to create the school in 2007. Prior to Regents approval, the music school was managed under the auspices of the School of the Arts and Architecture.

Even before Regents action formally established a stand-alone academic unit and cleared the way to search for an inaugural dean, significant steps were taken to realize Alpert’s vision. For example, faculty developed a yearlong introductory course required of all music students, created a music industry minor, and initiated a master’s program in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at UCLA.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive plan — now approved — was developed to transfer the ethnomusicology and music departments from the School of the Arts and Architecture and the musicology department from the humanities division of the UCLA College.

The Herb Alpert School of Music — our 12th professional school, and our first since the 1994 creation of what is now the Luskin School of Public Affairs — will confer its first bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during commencement ceremonies in Spring 2017.

I am proud of the students, faculty and staff who worked so hard to establish the music school.

Some may have drawn inspiration from Confucius, who once said: “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

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