From its founding as the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) in San Francisco in 1963, the Center for World Music was inspired to high standards in music and dance by its first two artist-teachers, sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and the legendary Indian dancer Balasaraswati.


Early Years

For the following sixteen years the Center sponsored hundreds of concerts, introduced many prominent Asian artists and companies through national tours, and was instrumental in creating the rich mix of world performing arts activities in the Bay Area by training hundreds of American students. Many of them are now leaders in their fields. At its height in the mid-1970s, the Center had no fewer than forty-five artists in residence, many from India and Indonesia, two areas of specialty that have remained through the years.

Beginning in 1971, the Center began to organize summer study abroad for American students. Over the years programs have been held at Flower Mountain in Payangan, Bali, using facilities built for that purpose by the Center’s founder and former president, the late Dr. Robert E. Brown. These performance study programs are sometimes given in cooperation with an Indonesian foundation, the Center for Traditional Arts of the World (SenDuTra). The officers of this organization consist largely of artists who have taught in the past for the Center for World Music in the United States and who occupy important teaching positions at major universities in Indonesia.

The year 1973 was a pivotal one for the CWM due to its monumental Asian and African performing arts workshop at the University of Washington in Seattle. Some of the distinguished master teaching artists included K.R.T. Wasitodipuro, Dalang Oemartopo, S. Maridi, Pak Kanto, Bu Bei Mardusari, Nyi Supadmi, Irawati Durban Ardjo, Pak Rutjita, Nyoman Wenten, Nanik Wenten, Nyoman Sumandhi, Goro Yamaguchi, Hi-Ah Park, Dumisani Maraire, T. Viswanathan, and T. Balasaraswati, the patron saint of the Center for World Music. Engagement with these master teaching artists inspired many influential directors, performers, artists, composers, and teachers in their own right: Steve Reich, Julie Taymor, Philip Yampolsky, Marc Hoffman, Kathy Foley, Alex Dea, Larry Reed, Alan Feinstein, Nancy Florida, Kristina Melcher, John Pemberton, Andy Toth, John Suter, David Rocshe, Daniel Schmidt, Eva Soltes, Beth Gilbert, Judith Caporale, Tom Ross, Jody Diamond, Jody Cormack, Deena Burton, Karen Elliott, Marjie Suando, Lauren Paul, Nancy Karp, Carol Brown, Richard Brown, Peggie Dey, Kristin Womack, John Badanes, and Garit Imhoff.

Move to San Diego

The Center moved its headquarters to San Diego in 1979, and continued on a smaller scale its long tradition of sponsoring leading performers in concert. It continued to provide instruction by accomplished teachers in music, dance and theater, mainly from Asia, but also including–as its name indicates—a range encompassing Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America. In San Diego, the CWM funded projects with the local Indian, Persian, Hmong, Chicano, and Filipino communities.

Distinguished Visiting Artists

The Center has a history, going back to the early days of the ASEA, of bringing highly distinguished traditional musicians and dancers from abroad to conduct concert tours, workshops, and residencies in the United States. These include important artists from Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Senegal, Iran, and Peru. A list of these artists going back to 1979 is linked below.

Study Abroad Programs

Beginning in 1971, the Center for World Music sponsored educational programs and cultural tours abroad, most involving hands-on music and dance workshops. Participants have studied in regions across the world, including Indonesia, India, China, Ghana, Turkey, Mexico, and Peru. Unfortunately, this program has been suspended due to safety concerns brought on by global circumstances beyond our control. We hope to revive it when travel conditions improve.

World Music in the Schools

In 1999 the Center for World Music embarked on a new comprehensive World Music in the Schools program. This K-12 program was inspired, in part, by music educator Shinichi Suzuki, who wrote, “If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”

Through the World Music in the Schools program, the Center has established numerous successful partnerships that connect San Diego area students with master artist-teachers. Perhaps most notably, the Center collaborated with The Museum School and Canyon Crest Academy to cosponsor the first permanent year-round Balinese and Javanese gamelan programs at K-12 schools in the United States.

Subsequent Growth

In 2008-09, the Center experienced dramatic growth in all four of its programs: Concert Series (40 concerts), World Music in the Schools (4,000+ students), Special Events (festivals), and Cultural Tours Abroad (Asia and Latin America).

In 2009-10 and in 2010-11, the Center continued to experience impressive growth in all four of its programs: Concert Series (30+ concerts each year), World Music in the Schools (4,500+ students each year), Special Events (6 world music festivals each year), Local Workshops (son jarocho, Balinese gamelan, and Odissi dance), and study abroad workshops (Indonesia, China, India, Turkey, Mexico, and Peru (Machu Picchu).

In 2012 the Center sponsored 70+ concerts, reached 10,000 K-12 students through its World Music in the Schools Program (with 30 artist-teachers and 20 ensembles-in-residence), produced a 17-day Zimbabwe Music and Dance Celebration, produced the 2nd Annual San Diego Gamelan Festival, produced and hosted a College Music Society world music workshop for American university music professors, organized a 10-city national Odissi Dance tour, and continued offering its local workshops (son jarocho, Balinese gamelan, Odissi dance) and its study abroad workshops in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

During 2013 the Center celebrated its 50th Anniversary

Please enjoy this video documenting our 50th Anniversary.

For more videos, be sure to visit our YouTube Channel.

Passing of Robert E. Brown

In November of 2005, we were saddened by the passing away of Dr. Robert E. Brown, our founder and longtime president. Bob’s presence and inspiration are sorely missed by the Center and the world music community. Locally, an obituary in The San Diego Union Tribune reminded us how Bob “brought world music to San Diego schools.”  See also “Robert E. Brown: Coiner of the Term ‘World Music,’” a reflection on Bob’s work by Ken Hunt in the The Independent (UK). There is also a Wikipedia article on Bob’s contribution and a fine tribute by Lewis Peterman.

Overview of CWM History

  1. Beginning Years of the American Society for Eastern Arts, 1963-65.
  2. ASEA Programs in San Francisco and Oakland, 1965-73.
  3. Center for World Music in Berkeley, Seattle, and Madison, 1973-1976.
  4. Center for World Music at Fort Mason, San Francisco, 1976-1979.
  5. Center for World Music at San Diego State University, 1979-1982.
  6. Center for World Music in San Diego, 1982-present.