1962

Treasures of the UW Ethnomusicology Archives


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The UW Ethnomusicology Archives contain a collection of musical and ritual practices from areas all around the world. They are a unique and precious resource, comprising some 6,000 audio tapes, 150 films, 300 videotapes, 500 historic phonograph recordings, and 300 musical instruments.

Most of the Archives' recordings were obtained as a part of field research by UW faculty and students. Among these holdings are many of exceptional historical value, including Robert Garfias's recordings made in Burma between 1968 and 1974; UW music professor Hiromi Lorraine Sakata's recordings made in Afghanistan from 1966 to 1973; and composer Alan Hovhaness's recordings made throughout Asia during the 1970s.

The Archives' extensive holdings in Hindustani classical music, recorded over a 30-year period, comprise a unique resource for research in performance studies. Also unique is a body of recordings of touring performers, musicians in local immigrant communities, and members of various musical sub-cultures in Washington State. "Long before the success of the popular music genre often called 'World Music,' Seattle had a committed audience for classical and folk musics from all over the world," notes UW ethnomusicology archivist Laurel Sercombe. "Ethnomusicology has been instrumental in creating and serving that audience and in documenting this local phenomenon for over 30 years."

The UW Archives rank among the top three nationwide, following the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music, and the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive. "All contain a great variety of unpublished field recordings with strengths reflecting the research areas of those in the home institution," notes Sercombe, "and all are committed to the dual aims of preservation and providing access."

Sercombe explains that the Archives, as well as the ethnomusicology program itself, developed from the Center for Asian Arts, established at the UW in 1962 with the support of the Ford Foundation. At that time, Shigeo Kishibe of Tokyo University served on the faculty as visiting professor of music, and Robert Garfias joined the music faculty as a specialist in ethnomusicology. In 1965, the Center received a major grant from the John D. Rockefeller III Fund to establish national folk music archives for the Republics of the Philippines and Korea. Audio recordings and films produced as a result of these grants made up the early corpus of the Archives collection. Garfias also made field recordings in Burma, Romania, Mexico, Central America, Japan, Okinawa, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, and elsewhere. In addition, he collected 78 rpm records from many corners of the globe.

As the ethnomusicology division grew, the research interests of its faculty members began to shape the Archives' holdings. Robert Kauffman, Frederic Lieberman, Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, Daniel Neuman, Ter Ellingson, and Christopher Waterman all have contributed to the breadth of the collection. In addition, faculty members in other departments have deposited field recording collections, including Simon Ottenberg of anthropology (see The Masked Rituals of Afikpo), Rene Bravmann of art history, and Alan Entwistle of South Asian studies.

Today, the early research focus on East and South Asia has broadened to a nearly international scope, but the strength of the Archives' Asian collections continues to increase with faculty working in Nepal, with Tibetan communities outside Tibet, and in Pakistan. Individuals from outside the UW also have donated collections--for example Thom Hess of the University of Victoria, and Karine Schomer of the University of California, Berkeley. Most recently, Joseph N. Benezra deposited a collection of historic 78 rpm discs of Turkish instrumental and vocal music.

The Archives' extensive holdings in North and South Indian music represent not only recordings made in India since 1969 by Garfias, Neuman and others, but also hundreds of concert recordings made in Seattle by the Archives of repeated visits over a period of several decades by musicians such as Z. M. Dagar, Ali Akbar Khan, and Zakir Hussain.

Recordings made by the Archives of its artists in residence include performances by Kodo Araki V, Dumisani Maraire, Nyama Suso, Necdet Yasar, Mohammad Omar, T. Brinda, Sabri Khan, Phong Nguyen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Phursang Kelak Lama, I. K. Dairo, and Joe Heaney. The Joe Heaney collection, which includes recordings of the Irish sean-nós singer in performance as well as teaching classes and lessons, is the most heavily used collection in the Archives.

The Archives are the product of the kind of slow, painstaking, and long-term process of collecting and documenting that often is overlooked at a fast-paced research university. "As ethnomusicology archivist, I am keenly aware of the treasures contained in our archival collections," emphasizes Sercombe. "It was forward-looking for the UW to embrace the notion of a Center for Asian Arts back in 1962 and to institutionalize ethnomusicology within the School of Music. Current close relations between the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Rim nations provide increasing opportunities for cultural exchange and interaction. The Ethnomusicology Archives have a role historically in this process, and it continues to be a unique resource," not only at the UW, but beyond, serving the region, the nation and the world.

"It's difficult to separate the research and collecting functions of the Archives," notes Sercombe. "The original holdings were the result of large-scale ethnographic collecting for the express purpose of establishing sound archives, but in general, materials are deposited following field research by a faculty member or graduate student," she explains. "In the latter case, field recordings comprise important data for the collector's research and publications; for graduate students, recordings combined with other kinds of documentation form the basis of the dissertation. All materials, once deposited, become a resource for students and others studying musical traditions from performance or scholarly perspectives."

A case in point: Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, who received both her master's and doctoral degrees in ethnomusicology at the UW before joining the faculty in 1977. In 1966, she began a study of the music of the Hazaras, a Persian-speaking ethnic group in Afghanistan about whom little was known. Between 1966 and 1973, she produced 91 reels of music recordings that provided aural documentation for her masters thesis, Music of the Hazarajat; for her doctoral dissertation, The Concepts of Music and Musicians in Three Persian-Speaking Areas of Afghanistan; for a monograph, Music in the Mind: The Concepts of Music and Musicians in Afghanistan, published in 1983; and for numerous articles. These works include transcription and analysis of musical examples from her field recordings, all of which she deposited in the Archives; the examples are available on tape by request to accompany the print materials. Since 1987, Sakata has worked mainly in Pakistan researching qawwali, a Sufi devotional form. With the support of a UW Royalty Research Fund Grant obtained by Sakata, the Archives has contracted with Mazda Publishers to produce The Radif of Persian Classical Music--a book and a set of compact discs with performances by Darius Talai, a former artist in residence, playing the sehtar.

Scholars, publishers, students, and members of the general public come from far and wide to consult the UW Ethnomusicology Archives. Visitors from off campus number from 30 to 75 each year. Inquiries by phone, letter, and e-mail are answered on a regular basis. Most recordings are available for in-house listening or viewing, though access to copies varies depending on the collection and proposed use. Among recent visitors was a video crew from the National Broadcasting Corporation of Ireland; footage recorded in the Archives was included in the documentary Sing the Dark Away about the life of Joe Heaney.

Northwest Folklife and the Archives are collaborating on publishing a series of music compact discs and cassettes. The first in the series, "Say a Song:" Joe Heaney in the Pacific Northwest, was published in May 1996 and features selected performances from the Archives collection. Publication of the series is funded in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.

"The Archives maintain an interest in local communities and their histories," notes Sercombe. "We receive frequent inquiries from members of local Indian tribes trying to locate archival recordings of family members or spoken language material in Native languages. Since 1993, the Archives has had inquiries from a number of tribes including the Lummi, Lower Chinook, Tlingit, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, the Skokomish Tribal Center, the Siletz Indian Reservation, the Nisqually Tribe, and the Tulalip Tribes.

"The Archives welcome the deposit of collections of unpublished recordings documenting music traditions of all kinds," she stresses. "We are committed to providing a safe environment for sound recordings so they will be preserved for future use; to respecting the rights of performers; and to making collections accessible to those who wish to listen to or study them."


  1. Assistance provided by Laurel Sercombe is gratefully acknowledged.

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