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Hitting a High Note


By Ashley Kahn

Published Jul 1, 2014 8:00 AM


A dvojnice, or double-duct flute. Photo by Jeremy Samuelson

“One example of that is a new music industry program taught by music industry veterans, many of whom live and still work here in L.A. The courses deal with how to market your music or yourself as a performer, or how to record and produce music and become familiar with a recording studio on a technical level.”

The chair of the music industry minor, Robert Fink, says the program was directly urged by Herb Alpert himself. “Herb really cares about rethinking the way musicians are trained in the 21st century, and he wanted the school to come up with an integrated curriculum that negotiated the lines between the domain of musical performance with the vocational or practical framework of the music business, and the theoretical and historical aspects of music.

“One of my academic specialties is popular music, and I’ve taught courses on Motown and soul, electronic dance music, and the like, and undergraduates consistently come to me and want to expand their knowledge of the music industry. A few incredibly motivated students have incorporated courses on popular music from our division with economics courses and maybe some law and business. So far it’s been an unalloyed success, and the inspiration comes from Herb, who at the very start thought about providing students with the tools so that they can finish at UCLA and act in a more entrepreneurial way than music majors have traditionally.”


A chwa-go from Korea. Photo by Jeremy Samuelson

Indeed, the school could hardly have a more appropriate benefactor than Alpert, whose legendary career serves as a successful, visionary model of a musician who took charge of his own business affairs. In 1962, he co-founded the hugely successful A&M Records in a Hollywood garage; in the ensuing decades he achieved monumental success as a star performer, bandleader and music executive. Today, he stays in touch with the direction of the school and is often present, whether helping judge competitions in the Monk Institute or speaking in the classroom.

Alpert says, “Ken Kragen — the longtime manager who helped put together ‘We Are The World’ in the ’80s and managed Lionel Richie and many others — teaches a music business class. He brings in students from all departments at UCLA, dealing with questions of music, creativity and careers. He brought Lani and me in to speak, and we basically dealt with the nature of success and the idea that kindness is contagious — that whether you’re making music or shoelaces, if you’re involved in a creative process it’s about developing your own uniqueness and appreciating that same thing in others. Your style of music or what country or background you’re coming from is not what’s important — I believe that goes to the heart of what the school’s curriculum is about.” He commends the music industry minor, which he says is in great demand. “I always feel like you need a plan B if you’re going to be a musician.”

The initial experience that led Alpert toward a career in music also inspires his desire to nurture the creative urge in all students — at UCLA, or anywhere.

“When I was 8 years old, I was taking a music appreciation class at my elementary school, and they put us?in front of this round table covered with musical instruments. We each chose an instrument we wanted to learn. I picked up the trumpet, and obviously it changed my life. This is something that barely exists anymore because of budget cuts targeting arts education. It’s a sad commentary on our society that we don’t really value the arts like we should. I’d like to see kids have that opportunity again. The school of music at UCLA is like that — a big, round table full of possibilities. All the students need to bring is their imaginations.”