Click to listen to Pomona's
Balinese Gamelan Ensemble.
a child-sized piano to Cuban folkloric Bata drums, Assistant Professor
of Music Katherine Hagedorn, the 2000 California Professor of the Year,
has traveled an extraordinary road.
A New Jersey native and the daughter of an architectural
preservationist and a physicist, she began what would evolve into a career
in ethnomusicology at four-and-a-half years old by plunking out television
commercial jingles on a wooden piano, a gift from her parents. "It wasn't
like I was Beethoven or anything, I played with my tiny two fingers,"
In December, Hagedorn was selected to be the California
Professor of the Year for the year 2000 by the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support
of Education. The award noted her excellence and creativity in the classroom.
"I was astonished and shocked and even a little embarrassed,"
says Hagedorn of the cellophane-wrapped certificate in her otherwise cluttered
office. Amid piles of papers and folders that meander around bookshelves,
a piano and assorted drums, Hagedorn sits perched behind a computer monitor
plastered with notes, shyly explaining away her recent honor. "The only
way I could wrap my mind around the award was to think of myself as representing
all my remarkable and talented colleagues. "
With a humble smile, she explains that she was "all
right" during her first year at Pomona in 1993. "I'm serious," she says,
"I wasn't good. Students complained that I was too hard and too uptight."
Today her classes are lively and often loud since she practices a pedagogy
that emphasizes participation. "If we are learning about West African
music, if we're reading about it, listening to it, we're playing it too.
If we're learning about Bulgarian singing styles, then to the best of
our abilities, we sing in half steps and whole steps right next to each
other. Same with Tuvan throat singing and Balinese Gamelan. I try to get
the students to do it."
Drawing images in the air with her hands, as she often
does when she talks or lectures, Hagedorn illustrates the path she took
from New Jersey to Claremont--and from that toy piano to the Bata drums.
During her childhood, her family visited new locales outside the U.S.
each year. "My mom would spend the year planning where we would go, and
during the winter we'd go someplace warm--one year it was Mexico; another
year it was Puerto Rico, then Venezuela and the Dominican Republic."
With an avid interest in languages, Hagedorn completed
a bachelor's degree at Tufts University with a triple major in Russian,
Spanish and English and a minor in classical piano. She then graduated
from the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies with
a master's degree in Soviet and Latin American studies and got a job with
the State Department during the Reagan administration. But after serving
in posts with the Bureau of Public Affairs and the Bureau of Near East
and South Asian Affairs, Hagedorn found the job at odds with both her
ideals and her style. "I didn't like having my thoughts and creative impulses
channeled toward a goal that was not of my own making or with which I
did not agree. I could do the job, but I wasn't flourishing."
So, combining her love of cultures and languages with
her love of music, she entered Brown University's ethnomusicology program.
"I figured that if I had to earn a living, I might as well do something
that I really like and train myself for it."
It was during her stint at Brown that Hagedorn attended
a concert that featured Orlando Puntio de los Reyes, a Cuban folkloric
musician who played Bata drums. "That concert pretty much changed my life,"
she says. "It kind of hit me in the solar plexus, and I decided right
then that I needed to go to Cuba to hear more." So in 1989, only a year
later, she made her first trip to Cuba to begin her research on Afro-Cuban
Under the tutelage of Cuban-born Alberto Villareal Penalver,
chief percussionist for Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba (National
Folkloric Performance Troupe of Cuba), Hagedorn has spent years studying
the numerous rhythms of the Bata drums. Bata drumming is central to the
rituals of Santer’a, a religious form that dates to the slave trade to
Cuba from West Africa. A combination of the West African Yoruba tradition
of worshiping several deities and the monotheistic rituals of Roman Catholicism,
Santer’a emerged in the 19th century and today is practiced in many nations
of the world.
Hagedorn's research focuses on the intersection of religious
drumming of the Santer’a rituals--"toques de santo"--and secular or theatrical
performance. "You have to make a distinction between religious drumming
and popular drumming," she says. Much of the repertoire of Conjunto Folklorico
is based on religious drumming, but because the group is a folkloric ensemble,
the drummers theatricalize their performances. In bringing the music to
a larger audience, they transform sacred into secular.
Hagedorn is interested in the way each style influences
the other. "Now," she says, "practitioners of Santer’a, priests and priestesses
known as santeros and santeras, will go to Conjunto Folklorico performances
and get ideas for their own toques de santo from these Ôtarted-up' and
very Vegas-style performances."
That interaction between divine and mundane, in fact,
is the basis of Hagedorn's first book, Divine Utterances: Religion
and Folklore in the Performance of Afro-Cuban Santer’a, to be published
in 2001 by Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hagedorn's research often spills over into her course
syllabi. A course on Gypsy or Roma music of Europe, for instance, enabled
her to explore a new research interest in the classroom. She describes
her teaching style as experimental, energetic and participatory. She tries
to foster critical engagement, "so that students aren't simply reading
the text, so that they're reading beyond it, in fact kind of interrogating
Being collegial with students is not something Hagedorn
has to work at. "It's something that makes me feel more comfortable,"
she says. "I'm not the omniscient narrator. I don't know everything. And
if I treat my students in a more collegial manner, I think they'll learn
more effectively, and they'll feel more free to develop and to pursue
more particular lines of inquiry or action."
In raising her students' comfort level, she alsoŃnot
incidentallyŃseems to raise her own.
"For someone who is as deeply shy as I am, sometimes
I can't believe the stuff I do in the classroom. I just forget the fact
that I'm shy, and I just jump right in," she says. "Apparently I'm flourishing!"