From family and friends to colleagues and students, many gathered on Jan. 25 at UCSC’s Music Center Recital Hall, not to mourn for the late professor of music Fredric Lieberman, but to celebrate his life and all the influential work he contributed to the music world.
As an ethnomusicologist, or a scholar of music and its cultural and social aspects, Lieberman was profoundly interested in the indigenous musical styles and traditions of China, Japan, Tibet and other Asian countries. Along with musicians Mickey Hart, who played drums for Grateful Dead, and Jay Stevens, co-author of Hart’s book about his journey into the history of percussion, Lieberman was instrumental in bringing the Grateful Dead Archive to the UCSC campus.
Upon entering the hall, attendees were greeted by a symphony of Balinese instruments, featuring different kinds of gongs and the angklungs, an Indonesian instrument made of carved bamboo tubes. The UCSC Balinese Gamelan Angklung, a traditional music ensemble from Indonesia, directed by Linda Burman-Hall and I Gedé Oka Artha Negara, performed the welcoming music.
“I lead with my Balinese assistant music that in Bali, Indonesia is used for the Hindu-Buddhist cremation ceremonies and other parts of death ceremonies,” Burman-Hall said. “In a way it is quite appropriate to send Fred off with music he himself taught in his first teaching job at Brown University.”
A slideshow of Lieberman’s life accompanied the music, showing pictures of his life from baby photos to those of him and his family.
The Venerable Monks of Gyoto Monastery from Tibet led a prayer after a short greeting by arts dean David Yager. Performed by only five monks, the prayer vibrated throughout the room and featured chanting and harmonizing in deep tones.
The first official performance of the memorial celebration was a solo of Yi Guren’s “Thinking of an Old Friend,” played by colleague Josh Michaell on a Guqin. Lieberman helped this Chinese seven-string instrument become declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2003. Michaell played at a slow pace, letting each string ring while his fingers glided against the strings.
Next, Lieberman’s wife, Mariko Kan, gave an expressive yet peaceful performance with a calm tempo on the harpsichord. She played a prelude in C major from “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2” by J.S. Bach.
After every performance, a colleague of Liebermann shared a special moment they had with him.
“Fred was Yoda. Wise and curious, his force was reflected in his family and friends,” colleague David Marglin said. “He taught the Grateful Dead [class], the Beatles [class] … His vision, like his passion, will always shine on.”
For the third performance, music professor Amy Beal played a five-movement piano suite composed by Lieberman himself.
“I played [the piano piece] for my undergraduate students, many of whom had known Fred through his Beatles, Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan classes,” Beal said. “It seemed like a nice way to honor and celebrate him, all the way back to his humble beginnings as a young music student himself.”
A solo guitar improvisation piece was performed by musician Henry Kaiser, called “Requiem for Fred Lieberman.”
“Fred and I both liked eccentric and eclectic music,” Kaiser said. “A week [after his death], I was at a friend’s house getting ready to play at a concert. I just plugged my guitar into my laptop and started playing and thinking about Fred, about all the things we shared. I just realized I was playing a requiem for him.”
Kaiser started playing a constant and hypnotic riff on his guitar with an echoing bass line in the background. After a minute passed, Kaiser started to play with a faster tempo, his fingers quickly pressing down on the guitar strings, creating a profound, electronica-influenced guitar riff.
To finish the celebration, an Asian tribal-influenced track filled the room before musicians Mickey Hart, Henry Kaiser and Steven Feld came out of the curtains to play an improv piece. The music consisted of guitar riffs, stomping on the stage and the audience’s participation to clap along. Hart even began to slap the podium to make a beat.
As the performance concluded, the audience clapped and began to reunite with old friends around the room.
“The event was lovely,” said Santa Cruz resident and Lieberman’s colleague Melisa Walker. “The diverse collection and quality of players was amazing and a lovely testament for Lieberman’s service.”