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Hitting a High Note


By Ashley Kahn

Published Jul 1, 2014 8:00 AM


A biwa from Japan. Photo by Jeremy Samuelson

Another exciting advancement came in 2011, when veteran music industry executive Mo Ostin ’51 — legendary for his years at the helms of Reprise and Warner Bros. Records — donated $10 million to erect a music-focused facility on the UCLA campus. The complex provided much-needed space for performing, recording, producing and even socializing. “Mo’s generous gift will create state-of-the-art technology and teaching facilities that support the vision of music at UCLA and enrich our commitment to a holistic education for young musicians,” says Waterman.

The complex was designed “to take existing space and buildings and reimagine what they could be so they would tie in with the goals of the Herb Alpert School,” he says. In addition to a café and social area for students, with a bandstand for student performances, there will be more rehearsal spaces and a concert room, mixing bays for students to do post-production on recordings, and more faculty offices. “The second building,” Waterman says, “will be a stand-alone recording studio with room for small or large groups to play and record. This should all be ready in time for our next school year, so you can imagine the excitement that Mo has made possible.”

The Herb Alpert School also prides itself on its inner structure, with three departments — music, musicology and ethnomusicology. Daniel Neuman, interim chair of the school, notes how these three allow students a variety of experiences that is unique in music studies.

“We now have a faculty of 118 spread over three departments, giving more than 500 music majors a wide spectrum of choices,” he says. “So if students want to study rock or classical music, or the musical traditions of a specific culture, they can. Or if they want to focus on playing the pipa or the oud — traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern stringed instruments, respectively — this really is the only campus that can make that happen. As a result, the strength in our curriculum translates to the wide spectrum of students we attract. Our student body is probably more diverse than at any other campus — certainly in the U.S., and probably the world.”


A goblet drum from Côte d'Ivoire

An expert on the classical music of India, Neuman points to the experience of a soon-to-graduate student, Gaayatri Kaundinya. He says she was able to both expand her musical horizons within the curriculum offerings and take advantage of the school’s excellent relationships with music industry professionals in the Los Angeles area.

“She’s of Indian origin and arrived here already very well-trained, so she didn’t need to study Indian music,” Neuman says. “She came here to major in ethnomusicology and experience world music in general, and also to gain exposure to the music business. We connected her with A.R. Rahman, the famous Bollywood composer who won an Oscar for his work on the movie Slumdog Millionaire. He’s based in India but has an office here in L.A.”

Kaundinya adds that “Rahman is kind of like the John Williams [a former UCLA student himself] of the East — the most famous film composer in India today. Working with him was incredible. When he heard my voice, he gave me the opportunity to intern with him — I ended up singing on the soundtrack for an upcoming Disney film, Million Dollar Arm.”

She credits the Herb Alpert School for pushing her beyond one style of music or approach. “I was surprised in many ways — good ways — by the classes. I took a couple of music composition and music theory courses that helped me a lot, and I got to meet musicians from many different disciplines and understand what’s different and the same between us. That was important, because once you leave school, it becomes difficult to know people outside your own circle and style of music.

“The ethnomusicology courses,” she continues, “I thought would be like I heard they are at other schools — listening and studying and analyzing. But here, they emphasize performance. So while we did listen and study, we also had to learn to play instruments and perform. I explored singing Balkan vocal ensemble music with Professor Tsvetanka Varimezova, who’s famous in Bulgaria for her singing and conducting. I had the opportunity to join a Balkan choir that she put together and travel to Mexico City to perform. It was an experience I’ll never forget — something unique to UCLA. There are so many great things about the school, and it made me love Los Angeles, too. I’m planning to stick around after I graduate.”

Neuman emphasizes that the school aims for a lot more than instrumental expertise. “We want to ensure that when students graduate, no matter what their emphasis may be on whatever instrument, each leaves us with the intellectual and practical skills to enter into the world of music as a productive artist and into productive employment.