Reunion Celebrates World Music Anniversaries By GRAEME VANDERSTOEL Special to the Planet

By GRAEME VANDERSTOEL Special to the Planet
Friday August 13, 2004

One of the first uses of the phrase “world music” was in 1974, when the Center for World Music opened its doors at what is now the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts on College Avenue in Berkeley. The Oxford English Dictionary lists it first in 1977, apparently missing all the previous uses in the Bay Area press coverage of the period. Today, a Google search on “world music,” brings up a list of 13,500,000 references within a half second.  

How did 45 performers from Asia, Africa, and Western traditions, medieval and modern, burst upon the scene that summer of 1974? A few of the now famous alumni from that era are Vincent Delgado, Richard (Baba Ram Dass) Alpert, Ingram Marshall, Joshua Redman (at the age of 9), Sandy Bull, Perry Lederman, Julie Taymor, Lou Harrison, and Steve Reich. This weekend there is a reunion to celebrate four decades of the American Society for Eastern Arts and the Center for World Music, and in commemoration of the first Berkeley World Music Festival in the summer of 1974. 

It all began 1963, when Samuel and Luise Scripps founded the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) “to foster and encourage education in the performing arts of the various Asian countries.” The previous year, she had seen the legendary Indian bharata natyam dancer T. Balasaraswati dancing in the U.S. and wanted to start an organization to bring her back here to teach. Luise moved to Madras to study with Balasaraswati, and then after ASEA was started, the Scrippses joined Balasaraswati on a European tour, with performances at the India Festival at the Edinburgh Festival. Other Indians there were Ali Akbar Khan, his brother-in-law Ravi Shankar, and M.S. Subbalakshmi, a renowned South Indian vocalist. 

ASEA opened with an advisory board which was a small “who’s who” in ethnomusicology, including Mantle Hood, Charles Seeger, Robert E. Brown, and Robert Garfias.  

The first summer program opened in 1965 at Mills College in Oakland with Balasaraswati and Ali Akbar Khan—he taught classes in North Indian music and her dance class was complemented by the music taught by her brothers, the flautist T. Viswanathan, and drummer, T. Ranganathan. There were local concerts, and in the fall national tours. These performances attracted great critical acclaim and drew many to study at ASEA the following year. 

In 1966, the sound of the sitar could be heard in the background of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” LPs of Indian music were being recorded and released in the U.S., and the 1966 ASEA summer program moved to Berkeley. By 1967, many things Indian—not only music—were in the air, especially on Haight Street, and the summer school moved to a fraternity house on Durant. The brilliant sitar player, Nikhil Banerjee, and Ali Akbar’s son, Aashish Khan, joined to teach the growing number of students. Japanese music was added with shakuhachi player Kodo Araki, and koto musician Keiji Yagi. 

KQED’s Bill Triest was a major supporter. Arrangements were simple: ASEA provided artists at no cost and paid for recording tape, while KQED produced and distributed the programs via the old Educational Television System, pre-runner to PBS. Half a dozen programs were seen nation-wide. After taking lessons from Ravi Shankar, George Harrison with the other Beatles left London to stay with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. India was in. 

In 1968, the first of the many ASEA spin-offs appeared, when Ali Akbar Khan decided he wanted a permanent California branch of his Calcutta college. The Ali Akbar College of Music was established and thrives to this day in San Rafael, now in its twenty-sixth year. At the age of 82, he will perform at Marin Center this Saturday. 

Telegraph Avenue was hectic that summer, so when ASEA moved back to Mills College the faculty and students appreciated the peaceful surroundings. Now classes were fully accredited. Sarangi player Ram Narayan joined the Indian faculty while Benedictus Suharto and his wife, Senik, started Indonesian dance classes. In August, KFPA in cooperation with ASEA held an Indian Festival including 18 radio programs, many being interviews and performances by ASEA artists. The festival included two concerts at the Berkeley Little Theatre, the first by Banerjee being broadcast live. Kanai Dutta joined Banerjee on tabla for the fall tour and then returned to teach for the next three summers. In 1969, the Indonesian program included gamelan and shadow puppet master Oemartopo, who gave an all-night outdoor performance at Mills in 1969. A summer program started in Bali in 1971. 

In 1974 an opportunity arose. Old St. John’s Presbyterian Church on College Avenue, designed by Julia Morgan, was threatened with demolition after the congregation moved to a new church, so Sam Scripps stepped in and bought the building. A stage was built, space was arranged for classrooms, and ASEA opened the Center for World Music (CWM).  

Bob Brown assembled a large cast, first for a spring session and for the summer a faculty of 45 including master Indonesian dancers Maridi, Nugraha, Irawati, Nyoman and Nanik Wenten, and other dancers, musicians and puppeteers from Java, Sunda, and Bali.Balasaraswati returned with her daughter Lakshmi to teach dance, and Lakshmi made her U.S. debut on the newly built stage. 

The South India music faculty also included the finest musicians available including vocalist K.V. Narayanaswamy, violinist T.N. Krishnan, drummer Palgut Raghu, and the ghatam clay pot drummer Vinayakram. C.K. Ladzekpo taught African dance and music. Medieval European music classes by Music for a While provided counter-point to Steve Reich’s New American Music, and Laura Dean offered new ideas for dancers. Composer Lou Harrison joined the faculty for the Chinese and World Music courses. During that year sixty concerts were presented, culminating with the First Berkeley World Music Festival in August. But by year’s end funds were running out. 

During 1975 there were many benefit concerts and a smaller faculty, and there was a Second World Music Festival. Ultimately the old church building had to be sold, the ASEA organization became the Center for World Music, and Sam Scripps donated the Javanese gamelan, with a fund for Wasitodipuro to continuing teaching, to the University of California at Berkeley’s Music Department where it is still played today. It was only due to the perseverance of Robert Brown that the Center survived, first with summer programs at various venues, finally settling in San Diego in 1979. The summer program in Bali has continued over the past three decades.  

Balasaraswati and many of her fellow musicians from India and performers from Indonesia are no longer with us. However, on Friday, August 20, the Julia Morgan Center stage will see dancing by Balasaraswati’s grandson Aniruddha, accompanied by his father Doug Knight on mridangam and musicians from India. The next day, Saturday, Aug. 21, there is a reunion of students, faculty, and staff at the new St. John’s Presbyterian Church, across the street from the old church, now the Julia Morgan Center. It is fitting that later the same day, Ali Akbar Khan and his son Alam will perform at Marin Center in San Rafael. The two artists who inspired the first major programs at ASEA, Balasaraswati in the form of her grandson, and Ali Akbar Khan, will thus provide the beginning and the end of the reunion. 


Graeme Vanderstoel was director of programs at ASEA 1966-1970, and concert manager for CWM in 1974.