Drum Roll Please: Preview of the World Festival of Sacred Music

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Drum Roll Please
Preview of the World Festival of Sacred Music

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Monday, September 26, 2005

I take two steps into the office, and there my journey ends abruptly. There is literally no more space to walk into, and the only direction I would be able to move would be back toward the door from which I entered. Luckily, I know my purpose, so I take a seat and get comfortable.

The man behind the desk in this office/closet hybrid-so called due to both its infinitesimal size and seemingly infinite amount of clutter-greets me warmly and enthusiastically. Dr. Paul Humphreys is a busy man, especially since last February when he got the ball rolling on arranging to have LMU's Sacred Heart Chapel play host to one of the 43 events of this year's World Festival of Sacred Music.

"The festival is a tri-annual event started in 1999 to observe the millennium as a suggestion of the Dalai Lama as a way of affirming our common humanity through music," Humphreys explains carefully. "I've had the privilege of performing in the other two festivals, but this time LMU will be hosting, and we're very excited to be sharing our performance with the LMU community and with the larger community as part of the festival."

Humphreys grins widely and speaks excitedly, like a child telling Santa what he wants for Christmas. He knows he has been a good boy and worked hard all year, and he's pretty sure he's going to get what he has been wanting and waiting for. Even so, he knows it might be a hard sell at the beginning of the concert this Friday.

"In the first hearing, you might turn your head a little bit and wonder 'Whose idea of music is that?'" Humphreys continues calmly and confidently, "As the Dalai Lama says, music is a vehicle that reaffirms our common humanity. We can make sense of other people's music without even having grown up with it. It's this realization that we're all interconnected, that we're all in this together, and that we all share in the well-being of one another."

Throughout our chat, Humphreys is caught in a whirlwind of interruptions, but he handles them with the fluidity of someone who is accustomed to not being able to accomplish anything without a number of intrusions. In the short 20 minutes of my visit, he had at least three visitors and a phone call, and gave each enough time to solve the most immediate issue while hardly skipping a beat in answering my questions about his pet project.

"I've had the good fortune to have a department and a university that have supported my efforts," he conveys graciously. "We've been laying the groundwork for this since last February, getting the clearance for the Chapel, and contacting the musicians involved."

Even with such an early start, a concert of this magnitude can take much more work than anticipated. "We rehearsed this summer for eight solid days with the student gamelan group. We're used to performing at the end of the semester, but the timing of the festival was such that we had to be ready by the end of September.

"We held summer performance intensives co-taught by Jeffrey Dent, the guest director for this performance. They were very successful, and we learned a lot of music-a nine movement work, in fact. So we had a very productive month in August."

The Balinese-influenced student gamelan group, called Gamelan Kembang Atangi-gamelan being the percussion instrument used and Kembang Atangi meaning "flower of awakening"-will perform with a Western vocal group called Zephyr: Voices Unbound, "an ensemble that dates back to the 18th century. The two styles are being juxtaposed and woven together in the performance, and it embodies a sort of reconciliation between East and West. It's a wonderful thread of shared purpose." Humphreys promises that all performers are "fabulous musicians, and when you put them all together it makes for an experience you won't forget."

The event at LMU-entitled "Visions of Conflict & Reconciliation"-was born out of reactions to major events of the past few years. "The piece really has its motivation in the big calamities of the early 21st century. We had 9/11 in America, and then in Bali a year, a month, and a day later on Oct. 12 (there was another terrorist attack). Bali is a very small island, so it really shook them on a large scale the way 9/11 shook us. With my experience as an American in this country in 2001 and as a friend to the Balinese in 2002, it almost seemed inevitable that a piece like this would come about."

Though it may seem heavy, Humphreys has high hopes for the kind of effect the concert will have on those who attend.

"I'm certain that students will come away with a sense of discovery, particularly of the gamelan since most students have not heard traditional Indonesian orchestra music, so that will be an ear-opener for them. They'll also realize the notion that this music is compatible with music with which they are more familiar."

Perhaps most importantly, Humphreys knows that those in attendance "will be witnesses to an intercultural dialogue, and I'll be very interested to know what they make of that."

I leave the tiny walk-in closet known as Dr. Paul Humphreys' office knowing that I, for one, will be one of those witnesses.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400127]
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