Selamat datang, namaskar, akwaaba, zdrastvuitye, and every other kind of welcome! The Robert E. Brown Center for World Music, a unit of the University of Illinois School of Music, is a nonprofit organization promoting understanding and appreciation of the world's performing arts, primarily through active study of their performance. The Center was established after the School of Music received a significant gift from the estate of Robert E. Brown, the ethnomusicologist credited with coining the phrase “world music.” (The idea behind the phrase was not that all kinds of music should be blended together to make a sonic stew, but that the study of music should take in the astonishing variety of the world’s traditions.) The gift to the University, announced in 2006, included Brown’s extensive collection of instruments from around the world, among them complete Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras. Also in the gift was Brown’s large library of recordings and books, as well as paintings and museum-quality artifacts from his private collection.
The Center’s official opening took place in April 2008 with an international symposium on “Canons in Musical Scholarship and Performance” and four days of concerts and workshops featuring music and dance from Zimbabwe, South India, Bali, and Puerto Rico (by way of New York City). But unofficially the Center had already been in operation since Fall 2006, when the School of Music invited the Balinese composer, performer, and teacher I Ketut Gede Asnawa to direct our Balinese gamelan ensembles. In the Fall of 2007 a “special project” of the School of Music was initiated: this was the East-West Ensemble, a group of hand-picked students and faculty from the School of Music and the Department of Dance, as well as guest artists from Professor Asnawa’s extraordinarily talented family. The ensemble, whose repertoire included old and new compositions in traditional Balinese idioms as well as new works combining gamelan with jazz and other Western compositional idioms, rehearsed intensively for the entire school year, preparing for a big payoff in June 2008—a two-week visit to Bali, culminating in an invited performance at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar.
In 2008-2009 the Center engaged three more artist-teachers: a renowned djembe master, Moussa Bolokada Conde, to teach the percussion music of the Mande people of Guinea (West Africa); Priscilla Tse, a graduate of the Chinese Music Conservatory in Beijing, to teach Chinese instruments; and, beginning in the Spring term, a tabla virtuoso, Subrata Bhattacharya, from Calcutta. These artists will continue to teach for the Center in 2009-2010. (For more on our artists, please see the “People” page of this website.)
On our “Activities of the Center” page, you will find a list of our main projects for this year. This website will keep you posted on further developments. We hope to see you in our classes and community ensembles and at our concerts and lectures. If you have questions, you are welcome to get in touch with us and we will try to answer them; and if you would like to contribute suggestions, comments, advice, or anything else, please do!