A community of music: remembering three Oregon world music visionaries

Last Saturday, I attended a memorial service for a Lewis & Clark College music professor, Franya Berkman, who died at age 43 on August 26. It was the first of three such services this month, all involving beloved figures in the state’s world music community. This Saturday, August 6 at 5:30 pm, the same venue, Agnes Flanagan Chapel on the L&C campus, will host a similar public remembrance of the life of Obo Addy, the Ghanaian drummer, composer, teacher and L&C prof who died September 13. Berkman was completing a book about Addy when she died.

On Sunday, October 7th, a Buddhist memorial for Addy will be held at Oregon Buddhist Center, 17555 Bryant Rd. In Portland. And on October 20, the University of Oregon will honor the life and work of the former dean of its School of Music and Dance, Anne Dhu McLucas, who was killed September 8, at a public memorial service at at 4 p.m. in Beall Concert Hall at the MarAbel B. Frohnmayer Music Building, 961 E. 18th Ave., on the UO campus. Like Berkman, McLucas was an ethnomusicologist.

The sad coincidence of the passing of three figures so critical to increasing our understanding of the role of music in many cultures, including America’s, has occasioned much grief, of course, but remembering them also reminds us how much they broadened our horizons. I’ve written about Addy’s legacy, which includes not just his glorious music but also the Obo Addy Legacy Project (formerly known as Homowo) that has brought world music to thousands of Oregonians. Here are some memories of Berkman and McLucas from their friends and colleagues.

Creating a Community

The variety of music played at Franya Berkman’s memorial service symbolized how much territory she covered in her scholarly work, performances, and teaching in too short a time. Musicians from the L&C community performed traditional music of India and Java, a poignant original composition, “Memento,” by Prof. Michael Johanson, played by her brother in law, Blue Cranes  saxophonist Reed Wallsmith, and organist David Wills. A friend who teaches at the New England Conservatory, Hankus Netsky, flew in at the last minute and played a lovely piano ballad inspired by her memory.

Former students spoke eloquently about how Berkman inspired their exploration of musical cultures. Faculty colleagues described her vision of world music and explained how she helped make its appreciation a bigger part of the education of all L&C music students, while also advocating policies to make the institution more family friendly. Friends praised Berkman and Wallsmith’s lively household, teeming with visitors, children, pets, and of course music. One of Berkman’s L&C colleagues and friends, Katherine FitzGibbon, paid tribute to her scholarly work. Here’s an excerpt.

I was asked to speak today about Franya’s magnificent mind. But I realized as I was formulating these remarks that I had an impossible time separating Franya’s mind, which I have always deeply admired, from her huge heart, her fostering of a loving community here, her spiritual passion and energy, her creative musicianship, and the fact that, for lack of a better phrase, this was a woman who had guts.

But I realized that, in an unusual way, that combination of attributes was exactly what made Franya’s scholarship unique. Franya infused her scholarship with that heart, passion, energy, musical understanding, and yes, guts. It’s what made her book on Alice Coltrane’s music receive awards from the American Musicological Society and the Jazz Journalists Association. Her scholarship was praised by reviewers as transcending traditional scholarly boundaries.

Before I tell you a bit about her scholarship itself, I imagine that a number of you may share the question, “so what exactly does an ethnomusicologist do, anyway?” Franya came and spoke to one of my classes about exactly this question a couple of years ago. She stressed that ethnomusicology was the study of music’s significance within a culture or a community…. The challenge and the beauty of this discipline involved, as much as possible, seeking to understand what was important about the music for a community – its cultural meaning as well as the way the musicians conceived of, analyzed, and evaluated the music itself.

Part of what was unusual about Franya’s landmark study of Alice Coltrane, “Monumental Eternal,” was that she considered Alice Coltrane from the point of view of an ethnomusicologist rather than jazz historian. In other words, instead of writing a jazz biography with historical details and anecdotes, she looked more broadly at the significance of Coltrane’s music for her community….

Franya was in the middle of another book project, this one about Lewis & Clark’s long-time faculty member in West African drumming, Obo Addy. Obo was a master drummer from Ghana who, in a strange coincidence, also passed away last month after liver complications from cancer. Franya and Obo had become dear friends, and she spoke fondly about how her research for the book would entail going over to Obo’s house and interviewing him and taking notes, while Obo held baby Sonja in his arms. Even the act of creating scholarship, in Franya’s world, involved a kind of creation of community.

Rising from his seat in the front pews next to their three young children, Sonja, Max, and Sadie, Berkman’s husband, Kris Wallsmith, spoke with remarkable eloquence about how Franya, an award winning flutist and jazz musician, had begun composing music only after her cancer diagnosis gave the impetus to write down ideas that had long been incubating. “None of us know how long we have left,” he said, urging the rest of us to consider doing those things we’ve perhaps thought about doing someday now, and thereby help give her untimely death more meaning.

After the spoken tributes, Reed Wallsmith joined other Portland jazzers, pianist Andrew Oliver, bassist Jeff Leonard and drummer Charlie Doggett, to play Berkman’s own “Holy Moment.” Their upbeat performance soon had heads nodding to the beat, even drew a few smiles — a reminder that the music goes on bringing joy even after its creator is gone. As do her other legacies. The closing visual tribute, set to her song, “With You,” showed Berkman with her children and friends in almost every shot. “Even in the darkest of nights,” she sang, “when you call my name, I’ll always be there.”

An Expansive Vision

Anne Dhu McLucas, who died at age 71, had much more time than Berkman to leave her mark on Oregon and world music. And as I wrote in Eugene Weekly, she made the most of that opportunity. In her decade as dean that ended in 2002, she boosted the school’s enrollment from 325 students to around 500, increased the quality of the performance ensembles, invited more non majors to participate in the school’s offerings, and conceived and helped raise the funds for a major, much needed expansion of the music school building itself. She was also a renowned scholar in her field and served as president of the Sonneck Society for American Music.

One of her colleagues, trumpet professor Brian McWhorter, had the rare double perspective of knowing McLucas as both student and fellow faculty member. For all her acclaim as a scholar, McWhorter (who after his UO years became one of the stars of New York’s avant garde music scene) remembered her most fondly as a constant advocate for the students, and recounted his own experience with her as a teacher.

Her first year as dean also happened to be my first year as a student at UO. She implemented many things that year: a comprehensive listening exam with the goal of exposing much, much more music (standard and not) into the ears of the students; the oft-talked about student forum which served to build a lot of community in the school nearly every Thursday at 1; and she also continued to teach while she was dean (a bit unusual). “On the Nature of Music” was a fantastic class that exposed me to a great deal of music. I was with [composer] Mark Applebaum in Holland last week, co-teaching a class on interdisciplinary improvisation , and he asked me what music would sum up my undergrad experience….EVERYTHING I told him, all the music that I think back to when remembering college….was music I was introduced to by Anne and this class.

I hated the student forum. In fact, I booked a regular gig that first year at exactly the same time as forum so I could get out of it. When it came time for me to graduate, she told me that I really needed to have gone to forum, but she was willing to work with me — if I agreed to send her a 20-page paper on the subject of music and silent film (she loved my work in this area) she would release my transcripts.  I agreed.  And then I never did it.

When I was hired at UO, that paper was on my mind every time I saw her – and she would occasionally throw me a knowing glance – but I ALWAYS felt like she was more proud of me than disappointed, more willing to forgive than rub it in, more naturally happy to discuss the future than the past. And I know that she treated everyone this way….aware of people’s shortcomings without reducing them to their shortcomings.

I want to write that paper now. but more, I want her to know that I am so appreciative of the ‘break’ that she gave me. That she trusted me…and when I blew it, that she was happy to remain patient. She gave me time and respect and trust.

 

McLucas’s achievements transcended academia. She bridged the town-gown divide by participating actively in Eugene’s music scene, serving on the boards of the symphony, the opera and the Oregon Festival of American Music, whose founder, James Ralph, wrote this about her:

Anne came to Eugene to be dean of the School of Music the same her we founded Oregon Festival of American Music and she immediately came onto our board (“I thought I was going to have to found another American music festival in Eugene, but I you’ve done it!” I remember her saying.) She was a huge advocate not only of American and 20th century art music but also of the broad range of musical experience. She respected so many musical journeys, knew so many, and could inspire even the most hardened cultural partisan to find value where no value seemed apparent before. I deeply admired her, argued with her constantly and learned from her always. She was on the Shedd’s board for 12 years and had a great impact on our work. We missed her when she stepped down. We’ll really miss her now.

Her UO colleagues had already chosen to create a symposium in McLucas’s honor when she announced her retirement, scheduled for this December. Her colleague and friend, Robert Kyr, a Philip H. Knight Professor of Music who also serves as president of the UO Senate, contributed this remembrance.

Anne Dhu McLucas was one of the most remarkable human beings that I have ever known, someone who, by her very nature as well as determined efforts, continually inspired others to realize their dreams, aspirations, and highest goals. She was a brilliant scholar, a dedicated and exemplary teacher, and an accomplished musician in all regards. She was a visionary dean of our School of Music during one of the most difficult periods in its history, and a tireless advocate for students and faculty. She was a devoted mother and grandmother, an avid skier and hiker, a lover of nature, a community-builder, a transformer of lives, and someone who lived a life of service, as a selfless art and personal calling.

Anne loved challenges and adventures, and never turned away from facing the moral and ethical dilemmas that face those who accept responsibility for improving the lives of others. She did all of this gladly, and with boundless energy and commitment. In every instance where she was called upon to help others (and which I observed), she reached out and gave the very best of herself with hope, optimism, and courage, as well as a great sense of humor and a joyous spirit.

To say that Anne will be missed is a vast understatement. And yet, as I remember her, and witness the community that she nurtured and cherished, I am certain of this: her love of music and life remains alive in all of us, and so does she.

What’s clear from these memories and so many others that have emerged of Berkman, Addy, and McLucas, is that they shared a vision of music as part of a community, a view perhaps more common in the cultures many ethnomusicologists study than it is in Western classical music as we find it today. Maybe that vision inspired them to build expansive musical communities in their homes, their schools, and their cities – a legacy worth celebrating even as we mourn their passing.

 

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