At the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, besides providing world-class training in Western music, we have a strong commitment to providing our students a broad exposure to the music traditions of the world. Why? It could be argued that the well of Western music is so deep that our students will need every available moment to even begin to plumb its depths. This view has been typical in conservatories across the US and Europe. Even the name “conservatory” implies the act of preservation and conservation of our Western music traditions. Although I completely agree that Western music provides a nearly endless landscape to explore, I do not believe that a student, especially in the 21st century, should limit her studies to only this one area. As an ethnomusicologist, I am passionate in this belief.
At our conservatory, we believe that in order to achieve the highest level of musicianship, one needs to bring a breadth and depth of learning that extends well beyond the practice room and rehearsal hall. Part of this breadth comes from an exposure to music traditions from around the world. Just as studying a foreign language gives a student a deeper understanding of her native tongue, studying world music traditions can provide surprising insights into Western musical thought and performance.
So we have taken a holistic approach to the exploration of world music at music at Lawrence. This allows our students to access world music traditions in a variety of ways. We are thrilled to have Professor Sonja Downing on our faculty. She is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of Bali. She teaches all of our core world music academic classes. Ethnomusicologists study music within culture. They ask the question: how does music fit into the larger society? These approaches can be applied equally well if you are studying musicians from Peru, a rap group from Chicago, a chamber choir from Appleton, or even musicians from 13th century France!
In addition, we believe that knowledge of non-Western music shouldn’t come solely from the class room. The students should have the opportunity to play the music, experience it first hand, feel it, groove with it. So our Conservatory is thrilled to offer five separate opportunities to dive directly into performing world music. Our Brazilian samba drumming group, the Sambistas, is celebrating its 29th year at Lawrence. Hundreds of students over the years have immersed themselves in the rhythms of Brazilian samba. We also offer classes in Cuban drumming and singing, as well as Ghanaian drumming and dance. We have also added Australian didjeridu classes, and a Balinese Gamelan ensemble. This 20 piece bronze gong orchestra is led by Balinese master musician I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana. I am thrilled that a University of our size offers our students an array of world music performance opportunities usually found only at schools with the largest graduate programs in ethnomusicology.
Our World Music Concert Series and our World Music Film Series round out our offerings. Our concert series brings in virtuoso performs from all over the world to perform and give hands-on lecture demonstrations of their instruments and music traditions. In the past two years we have had performers from China, Mongolia, Russia, Ghana, India, and Tuva; along with leading experts in Cuban Music, and the music of Central Asia. These performances give our students an unprecedented opportunity to see master musicians from around the globe present their music traditions in a concert setting. Our film series does the same through the art of cinema. We bring in the best films about music from around the world. These two new performance series have been a great complement to our Artist Series and Jazz Series.
At Lawrence, our offerings in world music help provide the broad knowledge that is at the heart of a liberal arts education. By studying world music, our students become better informed musicians, better informed scholars, and better informed citizens of the world. And that, in a rather large nutshell, is why we value world music at our conservatory.