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eNews: March 2017

From the Chair

Cindy Cox, Department Chair

Cindy Cox, Department Chair

Join us this spring for an exciting roster of concerts in Spring 2017! Watch a wonderful group of faculty artists this semester including guest artist and alum Jared Redmond performing piano works of Scriabin on April 19. The University Wind Ensemble gives a diverse program on April 23 including pieces by Grainger, Schuman, and Nelson, Gamelan Sari Raras presents Javanese shadow play on April 29 with guest artist Heni Savitri, and the Baroque Ensemble performs on April 30 led by interim director Christine Brandes. And of course there is our wonderful array of ensembles, including the African Drumming Ensemble, the University Chorus, Chamber Chorus, University Symphony, Gospel Chorus, Nu Jazz Collective, Berkeley New Music Project, and more.

Our musical activities are enabled by donations to supplement university funding, and as always, we welcome your contributions that help make these wonderful concerts possible.

-Cindy Cox, Music Department Chair 



Hertz Hall Undergoes Acoustic Upgrades

Hertz Hall has been the primary home to the UC Berkeley Department of Music’s performances since it was constructed in 1958. Throughout Hertz’s five decades the building has seen seismic upgrades, new seats, and the addition of a world-class organ. Now thanks to the generosity of the Dodson family, Hertz will have a new sound. A project to install specially-designed acoustic panels to eliminate echoes in the hall wrapped up prior to the spring 2017 semester. The department celebrated the significant improvements to Hertz Hall made by Meyer Sound at the University Symphony Orchestra concert on Saturday, March 18.

The acoustic renovations were made possible by a generous donation from the Dodson family, who boast three UC Berkeley graduates: Jerome ’65, Stephen ’99, and Katrina ’00, Ph.D. ’15.

The upgrades were overseen by technicians from Berkeley’s Meyer Sound Laboratories, a noted professional audio company that has completed acoustic projects around the world. Technicians from Meyer began initial tests to diagnose the cause of the echo by using a 3-dimensional microphone to map sound waves as they travelled throughout Hertz. The acoustic measurements revealed two separate distinct echoes on stage, arriving from the lower rear wall behind the seating, and the upper rear wall of the balcony.

“Hertz Hall is a gem,” noted Concert Manager Katy Tucker “and these upgrades will serve our ensembles well.”

Two sets of custom made panels were placed on the back wall of Hertz, one set just above the audience and another set in the balcony. The lower set of panels are comprised of ceramic to diffuse sound with a custom fabric covering that matches the original Hertz Hall décor. The balcony panels are primarily fiberglass with a porous exterior. Although the audience likely won’t notice the difference, performers will hear less of an echo and more clarity in the hall. The acoustic project is part ongoing improvements taking place at Hertz Hall. A high-definition projector was installed in summer 2016 and a new lighting system is scheduled to be mounted in summer of 2017.

5 questions: Joyce Kwon ‘09

Music alumna Joyce Kwon is a recipient of the Hertz Traveling Fellowship, which is awarded to individuals who have manifested unusual talent in music and who show a bona fide intention to devote their lives to music. She received funding to study the Korean zither in Seoul for the academic year 2015-16 and remains in Korea to finish her project by recording a mini-album of gayageum/voice songs with accompanying music videos.

Joyce Kwon

1-What sparked your passion for music, specifically gayageum/voice?
I started taking lessons in the 12-string traditional Korean zither after I graduated from Cal and moved back home to Los Angeles. Though my teacher had been long retired from teaching gayageum, she took me in as her only student and taught me with patience. I had never considered playing zither before that but the gayageum felt like a natural extension in my lap from the first touch, despite my leg falling asleep from sitting cross-legged for hours. My relationship with my primary instruments, voice and piano, had been fraught and strenuous, and it was a relief to have something my body embraced for a change.

As for voice, it was a traumatic and miraculous start. I attended the prestigious arts high school in LA as a voice major, not because I was a good singer, but because I had been accepted, as a classical pianist, due to a clerical error. By the time the error was discovered and relayed to me, I had nowhere else to go but was told that I would be found out as a fraud the moment I played a single note. And so it was decided that I would enroll as a vocalist, after I managed to get out the most tragic rendition of “Happy Birthday,” since I tested not tone-deaf and could at least hide in choir most of the time this way.

I developed a passion for music over time as I learned how to sing and practice—something I never managed to do playing piano as a kid—and came to the realization that no amount of practicing or hard work was going to get someone who couldn’t sing to sing.  

2-How did you end up at UC Berkeley?
And so, off I went to Berkeley as a pre-business major! I put down a different major for each college I applied to and in retrospect, had no idea what I was doing. Coming from a struggling immigrant family, I didn’t have the luxury of touring colleges or learning about career options beyond the touted doctor-lawyer-teacher trinity but knew I should go to the best school possible. I’m so thankful I ended up at Berkeley; my years there were absolutely instrumental in shaping who I am as a musician and human being.

While in college, I bounced around from major to major while double-majoring in music for fun. At Berkeley, it’s funny that the question that inevitably follows after you tell someone you’re a music major is, “what’s your other major?” I ended up dropping my main major, political economy, and was happily “just a music major” after realizing that my success had never depended on my talent or lack thereof and was liberated to pursue whatever I wanted.

Having attended a conservatory for grad school, I’m now even more appreciative of the solid liberal arts education I got at Cal, which is integral to my development and thinking as an artist. I learned to think critically and got to learn much about different ideas and areas. For my honors thesis, I was able to incorporate my interest in North Korean society and politics with contemporary improvisational practices under the guidance of my mentor Myra Melford, who turned the way I viewed improvisation upside down. Berkeley gave me incredible mentors like Myra and also Ken Ueno and a number of dedicated and outstanding teachers like Christy Dana, all of whom were so generous with their time and made me feel loved and like I was at a small school within the huge university that is Berkeley.

3-You’re also in Nossa Nova, a Brazilian jazz ensemble. What led you there?
I took Portuguese classes in college because I had started listening to a lot of bossa nova in high school after a voice teacher mentioned that a song called “Dindi” by Jobim would be a good fit for my voice. It was a mystery to me why the letter D in Dindi would be pronounced with a soft G sound and I wanted to learn the language and perfect my pronunciation for singing. Once I started taking the language courses, I became interested in the culture of Brazil beyond music and had a chance to go there for three months after finishing undergrad.

Brazil is near and dear to my heart and I love to listen to and sing MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and though I’m less focused on it now as I study Korean music, I hope that I will have many more opportunities to perform Brazilian music in the future. As for my ensemble Nossa Nova specifically, I also had practical reasons for putting the group together: bossa nova duos are a good fit for wedding and cocktail hour gigs, which make for good supplemental income.

4-Your Hertz Traveling Fellowship has taken you to South Korea, can you tell us a bit about your experience?
I arrived in Seoul with no expectations as to where my gayageum lessons will lead me, just excited to play gayageum again after a four-year hiatus in New York City. I planned on learning basic technique and the traditional form of sanjo and seeing where that led me. And it has led me to sing and play gayageum simultaneously, which was unexpected, even though it might seem a natural combination given that I am a singer and an aspiring gayageum player. My style of singing seemed so far removed from the traditional Korean practices that I didn’t see it coming together with the 12-string traditional zither but it did, sort of out of boredom and necessity.

Not having a piano to accompany myself singing here, I decided on a whim to try accompanying myself singing on gayageum. On chordal instruments, I tend to favor dense, crunchy harmonies but on gayageum, that wasn’t an option. I enjoyed the challenge of creating counterpoint and decided to arrange one song a month for 2016 which made up my Gayageum in Turtleneck video series. For this year, I am looking forward to arranging and recording a new video series that I call The Great American Songbook on The Traditional Korean Zither.

5-What’s next after your fellowship?
Other than the American Songbook Korean Zither series, I am planning to record a mini-album of original compositions and arrangements on gayageum and voice once I return to the States in the fall. I’m in the process of composing songs and seeking out a bit of funding to get the project off the ground. I’m looking forward to working with my pianist/harmonicist/composer buddy Ross Garren as he gives feedback on my compositions, adds light electronics to complement the sparse gayageum/voice texture, and mixes the songs. Ross is actually the only person who has sat in on one of my gayageum lessons with my late teacher and it’ll be good to reconnect and be a part of the LA music community again, even if for a short period.

As I work on this new material, I wonder what my old teacher would think of the music I’m making on the gayageum now … she passed down her gayageum to me before she passed and gave me lessons free of cost twice a week for my two years in LA. Thanks to the Lyon Prize from Music Department, I was able to give her what was a tiny honorarium for the time and care she invested in me. And thanks to the Hertz Fellowship, I was able to take private lessons in gayageum for one more year in Seoul.

I am deeply indebted to UC Berkeley for more than I could possibly list. My baby sister is a second-year studying computer science there now and my other sister not only went to Cal but was the interim director of the Asian Pacific American Student Development office on campus before she went next door to Oakland to work for a unicorn of a nonprofit. I’m happy to say that I belong to a proud family of Cal bears!