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Milken Foundation Gifts UCLA with Center for Music of American Jewish Experience

UCLA announced on Dec. 3 the opening of its first permanent academic home for the study of American Jewish music.
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December 18, 2020
All photos courtesy of Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience

UCLA announced on Dec. 3 the opening of its first permanent academic home for the study of American Jewish music. Housed in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, the new Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience will foster artistic creativity, scholarship, performance, and other cultural expression, all through a Jewish musical lens.

“The Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience will unite the academic and the artistic, showcasing the artists, scholars and educators who reveal to us the authentic voice of our shared humanity,” Eileen Strempel, dean of the school of music said in a statement to the Journal. “We are incredibly grateful to Lowell Milken for his generous gift to endow this center, which builds on our latest learnings, establishes a standard of excellence and an enduring infrastructure at UCLA for [the] music of American Jewish experience, and gives us the ability to plan more ambitious initiatives for years to come.”

The new center, which was a $6.75 million gift from the Lowell Milken Family Foundation, is an extension of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, which was founded by Milken in 1990. Its mission was to record, preserve and disseminate music inspired by more than 350 years of Jewish life in the United States.

The Lowell Milken Center also builds on the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music at UCLA. Established in 2017, the fund has produced a diverse calendar of concerts, lectures and projects, ranging from klezmer workshops to large choral and orchestral performances to artist residencies and commissions of new music. In the first three years of programming, the Lowell Milken Fund partnered with more than 12 different Jewish organizations to deliver both academic events and public performances which highlighted the broad range found in American Jewish music, and featured artists from UCLA, Los Angeles and across the world.

“Shaped by Jews from every corner of the globe, who absorbed their host cultures while retaining their Jewish heritage, the archive is as diverse and beautiful as America itself,” Milken, a UCLA alum, renowned businessman and philanthropist, said in a statement to the Journal. “Our vision was to create a living archive making education central to our mission. The partnership with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music positions the new center as a global leader in the field of music of American Jewish experience.”

“Shaped by Jews from every corner of the globe, who absorbed their host cultures while retaining their Jewish heritage, the archive is as diverse and beautiful as America itself.” — Lowell Milken

In March, the Lowell Milken Fund produced the UCLA American Jewish Music Festival, which culminated in the “Titans of Jewish Music” concert in Royce Hall with performances by various UCLA ensembles. The Center’s inaugural program, “American Culture and the Jewish Experience in Music,” featured the world premiere of the oratorio “David’s Quilt,” along with programs in conjunction with the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. This co-presented event was part of a three-day conference covering major intersections between Jewish and American life. The conference featured lectures on heritage, innovation, key facets of the Jewish-American musical experience and Hollywood pioneers.

Performance of “David’s Quilt”

Mark Kligman, UCLA’s Mickey Katz Professor of Jewish Music, and director of the new center, told the Journal many in L.A. and around the world still don’t realize the rich pool of diverse Jewish music that’s out there. He’s excited to incorporate Ladino, Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Persian Jewish music, among others into concerts, workshops and UCLA’s musical curriculum.  This way, students and community members can expand their grasp on what Jewish storytelling looks like through music.

“I feel Jewish music is both historically driven and… cultural,” Kligman said. “To tell those stories are very important…Our endgame of our center is to help people experience Jewish music on many levels. This ‘Ashkenormative’ fashion, is something that we’re very conscious [of] and aim to really widen people’s knowledge and exposure to Jewish music.”

The Lowell Milken Center is currently producing videos on subjects including the story of “David’s Quilt,” a concert work by 15 composers of different backgrounds and styles, and insights on the scope of music showcased in the UCLA American Jewish Music Festival. The series of videos will be available for viewing on the center’s website. They hope once the pandemic passes, the center can hold an official concert to celebrate its opening.

Kligman, who also worked at Hebrew Union College for 20 years, added that while UCLA teaches a wide variety of musical genres from The Beatles to Ludwig van Beethoven and the history of Hip Hop, the history of Jewish music often is only taught at Jewish seminaries. With the opening of the Center, musicians and performers will learn the complexities and history behind Jewish music.

“What doesn’t exist [until now] is in secular academic culture where Jewish music can flourish as an academic field of study, and a focus for performances, and the creation on new music,” Kligman said. “This gives me the opportunity to work strategically within the school of music to have Jewish music represented in many different ways because it has such a deep historical context.”

Known for his philanthropy in education, music and design, Milken has long supported UCLA. He previously established the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law and the Lowell Milken Family Centennial Scholars Endowed Scholarship Fund for student-athletes. Kligman said the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience will expand UCLA’s already established music programs into the community, and enhance the field of American Jewish music on an international scale.

“This is the beauty of a large university like UCLA and the generosity of donors like Lowell Milken, who really have a passion,” Kligman said. “Jewish music in the United States is not just New York. For decades, various composers and performers in L.A. have been trendsetting and we need to tell all those stories…We want students and members of the community to learn about the diversity and range of Jewish music and meet the artists who are making the music.”

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