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Gertrude Rivers Robinson
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Gertrude Rivers Robinson




Memorial Citation by
Portia Maultsby and David Lewis

Indiana University



Gertrude Rivers Robinson was a pianist, composer, Balinese music specialist and student of Mantle Hood in the 1950s at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Robinson played piano from an early age and attended Cornell University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in composition and performance in 1947.  During her time at Cornell, she became involved with the Cornell Dance Club.  While performing as a dancer, she explored the relationship between musical sound and dance, a relationship that would shape her later career.  It was also during her years at Cornell that she attended a concert of the Peliatan Gamelan ensemble in New York City, likely her first exposure to Balinese gamelan music.  After graduation, she began graduate work at Cornell and received a teaching appointment. 


In 1950 Robinson continued her graduate work at the Eastman School of Music to further refine her compositional skills, with particular interest in writing more effectively for modern dance.  She was also engaged to Spencer M. Robinson around the same time and the two relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1951.  While her husband was employed in the aerospace industry, she worked as a composer and accompanist with the influential Lester Horton Dance Theatre. 


Robinson began playing Javanese gamelan in 1956 at UCLA under the direction of Dr. Mantle Hood, then director of the new ethnomusicology program.  Though she would later become a composition student, her gamelan experience and interaction with visiting musicians to the UCLA ethnomusicology program left a deep mark on her future musical compositions and educational work.  In addition to her compositional work, she began a program in the late 1960s in the Los Angeles area public schools that allowed elementary school students to play gamelan music.  In service of completing her M.A. thesis at UCLA, she made a research trip to Bali and Java in 1970, collecting recordings that would later be released as Bali South: Compositions of Wajan Gandera, Teacher, Composer, Gamelan Master, Peliatan, Bali, published by the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA in the early 1970s.  The influence of her recordings and field experience can also be seen in her M.A. thesis composition, Bayangan: piece for Western septet and Balinese octet (1972), for an ensemble of gamelan instruments played in the gong kebyar style alongside a Western ensemble and dancers.  Robinson described the piece as "exploring sonorous and coloristic possibilities” created through the paired tuning of gamelan instruments, while the septet and octet "share melodic, ostinato, rhythmic and punctuation functions in shifting proportions throughout the composition.”  In another piece, Moods for Flute and Piano (1989), dedicated to Kwabena Nketia, Robinson suggests an improvised guitar part "in the manner of a West African master drummer.” 


Robinson began teaching at Loyola Marymount University in 1970 and eventually purchased a Balinese gamelan angklung ensemble for the university.  During her time teaching at Loyola Marymount until her death in 1995, she would make two more research trips to Bali and introduce many students to the field of ethnomusicology as well as to her beloved gamelan music.  Robinson was an active member of SEM, joining the society in 1962 and serving on the SEM Council from 1976 to 1979.  She twice served as president of the Southern California chapter and hosted several chapter meetings at Loyola Marymount.  Above all, though, Robinson was an innovative musician and staunch advocate for the inclusion of ethnomusicological content and methods in the academy.  In the midst of departmental changes at Loyola Marymount in 1986, she wrote to the music department chair that "given the reality of the Pacific Rim, the pluralistic nature of the State of California and the ever increasing intrusion of technology, I should think that a part of our stated departmental goals could reflect the need to provide music students with a flexible approach that allows awareness of the manner in which our world (musical world) is changing in the twentieth century.” 

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