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 (spotlight.ucla.edu) Gina Fatone
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Gina Fatone, Ethnomusicology

  • By Jacqueline Tasch
  • Published Aug 1, 2002 8:00 AM

Gina Fatone's dissertation was born at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she was taking a course called, "Indian Music on Western Instruments." The students were required to learn to sing part of an Indian raga. Then, "once you had it firmly in your vocal memory, you had to play it for the class on your instrument," Fatone recalls.

She sat down in front of her harpsichord, expecting to hunt and peck on the keyboard as she tried to find the notes for the song in her head. Instead, "there was this stunning, almost automatic transfer of what I had learned vocally to my hands."

Fatone's perception: "It appeared that singing had burned the melody into my memory in a way that was translatable to my trained hands almost immediately." Deeply impressed by the experience, Fatone decided that some day she would investigate this phenomenon.

"Some day" arrived almost 10 years later, when Fatone developed the thesis for her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. Her fieldwork and dissertation focused on the cross-domain learning process that appears to be built on a special relationship between vocal expression and motor skills.

To Western minds, this may recall the charismatic charlatan Professor Harold Hill of "The Music Man," who told his young students they could learn to play band instruments by singing the same tune together, over and over. But other traditions look more benignly on the sing-and-play strategy. In China, India, Japan and Korea, singing has played an important role in learning musical instruments for some time.

Then there's canntaireachd, a traditional way of using sung notes to learn the classical Scottish bagpipe repertoire. As part of her fieldwork, Fatone traveled into the redwoods north of Santa Cruz, Calif., where bagpiper Jay Salter, who lives in a cabin without electricity, taught her this system. Last summer, she studied how the canntaireachd tradition is maintained in the Scottish strongholds of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Fatone brought a rich musical background to her dissertation. She earned an M.M. in harpsichord performance at the New England Conservatory and an M.A. in music at UC Santa Cruz, where she studied Indonesian music and learned to play and teach gamelan, an orchestra composed of bronze percussion instruments. She also spent a year in doctoral studies at the University of Hawaii before concluding that UCLA was the best place for her to pursue her study of the voice-hand connection.

After arriving on campus in 1997, Fatone assembled a supportive team to advise her about the project, including Helen Rees, assistant professor of ethnomusicology, and Frank Heuser, associate professor of music education in the department of music.

Besides being an accomplished musician in Western and Balinese genres, "Gina is a very creative thinker," says Rees. "She reaches across disciplinary boundaries in novel ways . . . to produce a genuinely original and minutely researched piece of work." Heuser adds that Fatone "has the kind of mind that takes pieces of information that usually don't connect and finds a way to connect them."

Fatone's unusual combination of interests, however, created practical hurdles. "We always say we want students to think outside the box," Heuser recalls, "but when we find one who does think outside the box, we can't find ways to fund them."

For Fatone, that hurdle was crossed with a Canadian Studies Grant and a Dissertation Year Fellowship, obtained with help from Rees and Heuser. "Without their absolutely unfailing advocacy and genuine interest in my work," Fatone says, "I might well have yelled uncle quite some time ago. I can't overstate how important this level of true mentorship is."

Fatone received her Ph.D. in June 2002.

Gina Fatone is now an Assistant Professor at Bates College in Maine, teaching courses in Ethnomusicology, World Music, and Music Theory. - (Updated 1/07)