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UH Mānoa's Ethnomusicology Program Pioneer Dies at 101

UH News
Barbara Smith demonstrating the koto with music students holding a Chinese pipa lute and Korean changgo drum, 1951.

Barbara Smith, the pioneer of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s ethnomusicology program, died Saturday evening. She was 101 and recently had a birthday on June 10.

Smith began teaching piano and music theory at UH Mānoa in 1949. She soon noticed the gap between the music department’s Eurocentric curriculum and her ethnically diverse students.

Now, UH Mānoa has an internationally recognized ethnomusicology program — offering ensemble and dance classes from Hawaiʻi, Japan, Indonesia, and many other cultures.

Ricardo Trimillos, who began studying under Smith in 1962, is a UH Mānoa Ethnomusicology and Asian Studies Professor Emeritus.

"It’s a very important aspect of the study of culture because it’s looking at music, but looking at music in a way that sees it as social behavior and social meaning," he explains.

"What’s nice about it is that you not only get to know something about the artistry of the music, but also how it works and how it is used in the society that generated it," Trimillos tells HPR.

Trimillos says her true legacy is represented by her many students who have become leaders in the field internationally.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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