Vanya Russell and friend from the Karen Organization of San Diego

Vanya Russell, Volunteer and Donor

Vanya Russell has been volunteering with the CWM for only two years but has made a notable impact. Her heartfelt financial contributions, endless volunteer energy, and catching enthusiasm has made a significantly impact the on the teaching artists, staff, board members, and audience members who have had the pleasure to meet her. She served as a culture bearer of Bulgaria enriching the experience of over 60 students at the San Diego French-American School. Finally, her donations helped us bring world musicians and dancers into classrooms across San Diego County, impacting over 4,500 children in the 2016-17 year.

She is our hero. She is an important reason children in the San Diego area are singing the stories and playing the music of cultures and traditions that reflect the heartbeat of humanity.

Meet the first of our three Center for World Music heroes: an all-star volunteer and generous donor, Vanya Russell!

Hi Vanya, can you tell us where you are from?
I am from Sofia, Bulgaria. I came to the U.S. in 1985 and moved to San Diego 1992.

As a volunteer, what have been some of the most memorable Center events you’ve participated in?
In Spring of 2016, I visited two classes at the San Diego French-American School, where Marie Hayes was teaching Bulgarian folk song. I was amazed at the dedication of the students to learn this difficult material. Marie Hayes did a very good job. At the end of the school year, I went to their concert and was touched to tears!

I have [also] volunteered at six CWM concerts at the Kalabash School of Music and Art. I am very impressed how well these concerts were organized, and how well they were attended, in addition to the diversity and quality of the presenters.

What was the most recent event you volunteered for? What did you think?
The “Music of Burma” event. For me, it was very touching, very special to interact with the young refugees. [You can see Vanya in the picture above posing with a dancer from this performance.]

When did you first encounter the Center for World Music (CWM)?
I learned about the CWM from a friend of mine who is a former volunteer for the Downtown Information Center. He met Monica, learned about the CWM, and suggested I get involved in volunteering. Monica and I met in fall 2015.

How do you see the Center contributing to San Diego communities?
For a small organization, the Center for World Music has spread its wing all over San Diego. Remarkable!

Thank you, Vanya Russell.

Join Vanya Russell and support programs for San Diego children in most danger of losing their access to cross-cultural music education.

Merja Soria

Merja Soria, Singing the Ancient Memories of Finland

Merja Soria, a native of Finland, was the first Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year in 1996. She received a master’s degree in music at Sibelius Academy in Finland and has taught Finnish music at San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. In 2003 and 2006, Ms. Soria was featured in the Who’s Who in America, and in 2005 she received an award at SDSU for Academic Excellence and Community outreach. Merja has performed at the Los Angeles Music Center, Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., Toronto Centre For the Arts, Peninsula Music Fair and many other music festivals in the United States and Europe.

Last December Merja was the featured performer, the “tradition-bearer” at the 2016 Christmas Revels production in Washington D.C. The show celebrates the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year shifting toward light. The performances were seen by over 10,000 people. In December 2017 Merja will perform at the Christmas Revels production in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Ms. Soria’s CD Arctic Silence is a selection of ancient Finnish songs. A song from Arctic Silence was featured on the National Geographic Television’s program Beyond the Movie: Lord of The Rings.

Merja Playing

Currently, Ms. Soria teaches the young children of San Diego at her own music school, Miss Merja’s Music Room. Ms. Soria is dedicated to performing the touching music of Finnish heritage. She combines the kantele (Finnish folk harp) and voice to sing the haunting songs of Suomi. Finnish folk poetry tells that when the first kantele was played for the first time, the sound was so beautiful that everybody started to cry; when the tears touched the water of the ocean, they turned to pearls.

Her vocals are so haunting, her folk songs scholarship impeccable . . . Soria doesn’t need to clutter songs with much instrumentation, her voice carries the day all on its own.

Sing Out!

Shalini Patnaik

Shalini Patnaik, Ambassador of Odissi Dance

Center for World Music teaching artist Shalini Patnaik enjoys sharing her ancient art form with the San Diego community. She is one of the leading exponents in her generation of Odissi, the classical dance of northeastern India, and has a passion for teaching and sharing Indian culture through the language of dance. Born and raised in San Diego, California, she traveled repeatedly to India from a young age to learn the art form directly from dance masters in Orissa. Even today, she visits frequently for further training and performances.

Her teachers include the late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Gurus Aruna Mohanty, Manoranjan Pradhan, and Yudhistir Nayak.

Shalini and her sisters, together known as the “Patnaik Sisters,” were selected by pop superstar Madonna to choreograph and perform for a televised performance at the 1998 MTV Music Awards. She also choreographed for singer Ricky Martin’s 2006 tour. Shalini performed for Pandit Ravi Shankar’s 90th birthday celebration and for other superstars like George Harrison and Sting. Recently, Shalini was invited by Anoushka Shankar to perform as part of her “Traveler” tour.

While Shalini has enthralled audiences across the globe, she truly enjoys sharing her art form with fellow San Diegans, and especially with students.

Shalini and her sisters, Laboni and Shibani, have been instrumental in propagating Odissi throughout North America through performances, lecture demonstrations at universities, schools, and libraries, and teaching in the Center for World Music’s Odissi School. To share their passion for dance with others brings them immense joy; in doing so, they help preserve and propagate this rich, two-thousand-year-old cultural tradition outside of India.


Want to learn more?

Traditional dance helps keep sisters in touch with culture, The Coast News (2012)
She matches steps in India and beyond, The Telegraph (2012)

Shibani Patnaik is a distinguished Odissi dancer, member of the Patnaik Sisters, and Board Member for the Center for World Music.

Máirtín de Cógáin

Máirtín de Cógáin, 21st Century Irish Storyteller

We warmly welcome Máirtín de Cógáin, who joins World Music in the Schools as a teaching artist in residence.

Máirtín de Cógáin-drumming-2Center for World Music artist in residence Máirtín de Cógáin is a singing, dancing, story-telling bodhrán (Irish frame drum) player, who also is a noted playwright and actor. He performs all over the United States, as well as in his native Ireland. An infectious personality, Máirtín pleasantly commands the attention of all audiences, from concert halls to intimate porches.

Descended from a long line of storytellers, Máirtín is the winner of two All-Ireland awards from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. He often tours with The Máirtín de Cógáin Project, The Fuchsia Band, or Gailfean. A true promoter of “the Ballad,” he searches for those forgotten songs of old and breathes new life into them, as well as writing some new songs of his own. Máirtín learned from many famous Irish singers such as Danni Maichi Ua Súilleabháin, Séamus Mac Mathúna, and Ciarán Dwyer. He is a fluent speaker of Irish (Gaelic) who was brought up in a bilingual home, and attended primary and secondary schools taught in Irish. Máirtín holds a degree in the Irish language from University College Cork.

Máirtín de Cógáin-drummingIf not on stage singing, storytelling, dancing, or playing the bodhrán, Máirtín is treading the boards as an actor, notably in the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley. He has co-written many productions with the Be Your Own Banana Theatre Company, recently playing De Bogman off-Broadway in New York.

Máirtín has been playing the bodhrán for many years, learning first from Eric Cunningham (The New De Danann) and later from Colm Murphy (The Old De Danann). Máirtín has taught bodhrán technique at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, Augusta Irish Week, as well as giving workshops at major U.S. festivals including the Kansas City Irish Fest, CelticFest Mississippi, Minnesota Irish Fair, and La Crosse IrishFest. He also gives private lessons in the San Diego area and along the road while touring.

Máirtín de Cógáin-dancing

A traditional brush dance with his father Barry Cogan

Growing up in a house full of dancing, Máirtín helped teach the steps at the family-run céilís (social gatherings) from an early age, and now teaches the folk dances of Cork to dancers everywhere.

Máirtín makes friends wherever he goes. In a very short time, de Cógáin has become a regular performer at some of the most prestigious Irish festivals in the U.S. Although he can often be found leading a tour group in Ireland, or entertaining guests on a traditional Irish music-themed cruise ship, he now spends most of his time in California, where he lives with his wife Mitra and their young son, who shows great promise as a dancer and bodhrán player himself.

Want to learn more about Máirtín and his career? Visit You can also catch him on YouTube telling a story or singing with friends.


Fandango at Eduardo's

Eduardo García, Building Community Through Son Jarocho

Professor Eduardo García, a member of the San Diego-based son jarocho group Son de San Diego, teaches in the School of Arts at California State University San Marcos. He is also, we are proud to say, a teaching artist for the Center for World Music’s World Music in the Schools program. He has delved deeply into the study of son jarocho, the traditional music, dance, and songs of Veracruz, Mexico. His focus includes the instruments, the style of music, and above all creating a safe place for learning music and building community.

cynthia-_-eduardo-garciaEduardo’s interest in son jarocho regional folk music was sparked by an immersive study trip to San Andrés Tuxtla, Veracruz, Mexico in 2002. His journey to the home of son jarocho inspired his study of the tradition, taking him through many varied experiences in community-based music.

He believes it is important for young people to have access to as many musical cultures as possible. This global arts-based approach to learning brings the world to his students, and broadens their perspectives and sensibilities.

This particular music of Veracruz—son jarocho, son abajeño, or música de cuerdas, as it is known in different areas of the Sotavento region—is important because at its core lies the central component of cultivating community. Whether playing, singing, or dancing, this music is not created as a solo venture: it is a shared social activity. The instruments, the call and response nature of the singing, and the communicative percussion of the dancing between singers and musicians, creates myriad social and musical interactions. It is a social music, and Eduardo has tried to remain true to this central aspect of son jarocho music as he continues his efforts to cultivate a similar musical community in the San Diego region.cwm-festival-5-13-son-jarocho

— Cynthia Carbajal, Teacher at Lexington Elementary School in El Cajon, CA and Teaching Artist for the CWM’s World Music in the Schools

Read more about Eduardo García’s contributions to San Diego and his bridge-building efforts through the musical tradition of son jarocho:  

Sharing Music Across the U.S.-Mexico Border’s Metal Fence, New York Times — May 29, 2016

Son Jarocho Creates Community on Both Sides of the Border, KPBS — May 30, 2012

 Wu Man Makes Pipa an Instrument of Change, San Diego Union Tribune — May 8, 2014.

Watch a video:

Wu Man and Son de San Diego collaboration at the Carlsbad Music Festival.

Alex Khalil

Alex Khalil: A Neurocomputational Ethnomusicologist (Yes, really!)

A Supercomputer Center is an unconventional place to find an ethnomusicologist. Yet, this is where we find Dr. Alex Khalil, an unconventional musician-scholar in whom the disjunct worlds of musicology and neural computation converge. This makes him, in a word, “eccentric.” No, not the “zany, frizzy-haired and absent-minded genius” type of eccentric. (Well, the “genius” likely applies, though Alex would deny it vehemently.) Rather, he is eccentric in that he makes a habit of pursuing those questions that carry him far beyond the comfortable center of any one world of standard practice or academic discipline.

Alex Khalil performing on gender wayang

Balinese Gender Wayang Performance, Seaport Village

Alex holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Composition and Performance from CalArts and a PhD with an emphasis in ethnomusicology from U.C. San Diego. He has spent more than twenty years conducting research on several Asian musics (primarily those of China, Japan, and Indonesia), speaks Mandarin and Indonesian, plays a host of traditional instruments (specializing in Balinese gamelan and Chinese guqin), and has worked extensively with the Center for World Music for over three decades, including stints as Executive Director and Teaching Artist in Residence. His current post? Project scientist at UCSD’s Institute for Neural Computation and research fellow for the Temporal Dynamics in Learning Center. How did this happen?

What may appear as a dramatic career shift is really a natural continuation, a fulfillment of Alex’s varied abilities and ideas that were sparked while he was teaching in the CWM’s Balinese gamelan program, which he established alongside Center founder Robert Brown back in 1999. In gamelan, rhythmic precision and tight group synchrony are vital. Gradually, Alex noticed that most children synchronized relatively easily, while a few struggled. “It clearly wasn’t for a lack of effort, nor did it correlate with their musical ability in anything other than rhythm. This was strange.” He later discovered that all of these struggling students also had attention deficits. Through further testing he established a definitive correlation between attention and rhythmic timing.  

Further study could show that musical practice might facilitate improvement, not just in musical timing but beyond gamelan and into interpersonal communication, which is also fundamentally rhythmic.

“Attention is dynamic, that is, changing in time, and so it is rhythmic in nature.” Alex believes that developing proficiency in music, especially rhythm, may improve communication skills in children with ADHD or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and perhaps even for all children. His road from the classroom to scientific research has been a long and difficult one, but it is starting to pay off. Recently, he and partnering institutions were awarded a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation (Science of Learning Center) to further study synchrony in group brain dynamics. “If the hypothesis is true,” he says, “we have an army of skilled music teachers who can offer help.”

“We tend to wonder what happens when music is included in cognitive development, but a musical brain is a normal brain . . . and music just isn’t in our lives in the same ways it used to be.”

Alex Khalil embodies the heart of what the CWM promotes in its youth education program, World Music in the Schools: we solve problems better when we are skilled at listening and acting across the boundaries between cognitive worlds, even those that seem so stubbornly divergent as “science” and “the arts.” Something as seemingly simple as learning an unfamiliar musical style can, in a sense, make us bilingual. Nine-year old Olivia, a gamelan student from The Museum School, makes this crystal-clear when she says that “it’s fun to learn another culture’s music because then you can kind of speak with them, in a way.” You’re right Olivia!  

Cultural fluency can be fun, and, as Alex demonstrates, it can also provide a lens for viewing and solving old problems in new ways.


Japanese Shakuhachi Performance, USD

Speaking of cultural fluency, can you guess Alex’s central passion since childhood? It’s unlikely that Byzantine chant came to mind. But for Alex, who still frequently performs as a cantor in a Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, this is not just another thing he does. Just as gamelan rhythms might improve communication skills, on a cognitive level our various activities don’t stay in neat compartments as we might expect.

The many worlds in which we participate converge, integrate, and become the world we know.

As we depart the supercomputer center where we found Alex Khalil, our world has already grown. But it also imparts a question, really a personal challenge: how will you expand your horizons today?

Read an article written by Alex on the value of music education for kids for The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art here.

Learn more about the CWM’s World Music in the Schools gamelan program at the Museum School.

James Gutierrez, PhD, Northeastern University

Congratulations to Danlee Mitchell on His 80th Birthday

Professor Danlee Mitchell, long time Center for World Music board member and friend and advocate of world music, turns 80 on October 5, 2016. We at the CWM celebrate his career, honor his contribution, and wish him a very Happy Birthday. Here’s a little about him and his accomplishments for those who may not know.

Danlee seems to have been destined to live a life of music. Raised by parents who were themselves both accomplished musicians, he began his music studies at a very early age. His life took a strange and wonderful turn when he attended the University of Illinois in 1959 as an undergraduate and met the American maverick composer and instrument builder Harry Partch. That began a long and wonderful collaboration that lasted until Partch’s death in 1977.

As one of the world’s foremost performers and conductors of the music of Harry Partch, Danlee was caretaker of the famous Partch Instrument Collection. He was responsible for producing, managing, and directing performances of Partch’s music across the United States and in Europe. Professor Mitchell assumed leadership of the San Diego State University-based Partch Ensemble in late 1974, and led it until 1989, when all of the Partch instruments were gifted “on permanent loan” to New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

  • Click here to read a personal tribute to Danlee Mitchell by Lewis Peterman, CWM Board President and CEO, on the occasion of Professor Mitchell’s 80th Birthday.

Jon Szanto and Danlee Mitchell

Danlee and Jon Szanto, Partch Ensemble member, 1982

Danlee had spent the summer of 1958 with Partch in Evanston, Illinois. During that time he organized an ensemble of musicians for a recording and filming of Partch’s U.S. Highball (now available on Innova 400). The group also recorded Partch’s Ulysses at the Edge and San Francisco Newsboy Cries. In the Fall of 1958, Mitchell performed in The Bewitched. Then, in 1959, Mitchell became a graduate assistant to Partch and Jack McKenzie at the University of Illinois. Between 1959 and 1962 Mitchell managed and performed in premiers of Revelation in the Courthouse Park, Water, Water and many of the smaller chamber works of Partch. During the Summer of 1963, Mitchell spent time with Partch in Petaluma, California. During that time, And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma was recorded, with Partch and Michael Ranta. 1968 saw Danlee performing in the film The Music of Harry Partch. Then in 1968-1969 he was ensemble manager, music director and conductor for the influential Whitney Gallery retrospective concert of Partch’s music and the world premier performance and recording of Delusion of the Fury. In 1972, Danlee was ensemble manager and music director, appearing in the film The Dreamer that Remains. Today, Mitchell is the head of the nonprofit Harry Partch Foundation and Archives.

Danlee Mitchell

Danlee with Javanese Gongs

Danlee had a successful career as a professor of music in the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University. There he helped develop a world-class ethnomusicology program with another great American maverick, the distinguished ethnomusicologist and former president of the Center for World Music, Robert E. Brown.  At San Diego State, Mitchell served as director of percussion studies and as professor of music theory and world music. He conducted extensive ethnomusicological fieldwork in Asia (Indonesia and Turkey) and in Africa (Ghana and Togo) from 1980 until his retirement in 2001. As a distinguished performing musician, Danlee served for many years as a professional percussionist and timpanist with the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.


Danlee in Bali

A Personal Tribute to Danlee Mitchell

Danlee Mitchell has been a San Diego institution for over 40 years—as the world’s leading authority on the music of American composer Harry Partch, as a Professor in the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University, and as a distinguished board member of the Center for World Music. As a true renaissance man traveling the world over, he has lectured and performed Western, Asian, and African music in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, and across the United States.

It has been my distinct pleasure to have enjoyed many years being enriched as a colleague of Danlee, both at SDSU and through the programs and projects of the Center for World Music. I have found him to be an artistic visionary—one with a laserlike focus on promoting art, especially music, of the highest quality. On behalf of both SDSU and the CWM, I wish to thank Danlee Mitchell for his many and distinguished contributions to world music in San Diego.

Thank you Danlee for being such a valued colleague of mine and for being such a trusted friend of all San Diegans.

Gracias señor Danlee for your participation and assistance with the SDSU Javanese gamelan performances in Tijuana and Ensenada. I can’t believe you didn’t pull your back lifting the big gong on to the stage all by yourself!

Xie xie Xian Sheng Mitchell for your support and assistance with the numerous workshops, concerts, and classes in Chinese music that the SDSU students enjoyed over ten years. Confucius himself would surely have admired your devotion and industry!

Arigato Danlee-San for your assistance with concerts and classes of Japanese music in San Diego, both through the Center for World Music and through the SDSU World Music Concert Series. Haiku to you!

Kamsa hamnida “Professor” Mitchell for your support and assistance with the SDSU lecture/demo. by the distinguished Korean komungo player Jin Ki Kim. Did you really set up the risers all by yourself?

Danlee GamelanTerima kasih Pak Danlee for mentoring SDSU music students while they were conducting fieldwork for the first time in Indonesia, for your devotion to holding the SDSU and Canyon Crest Academy Javanese gamelan programs together over the years, and for performing public concerts with them as necessary. Aduh! What a gong player!

Suksma pesan Bapak Mitchell for comforting music students whenever they experienced the sting of culture shock in Bali. Thank God they all returned safely to Flower Mountain after all those cremations!

Teshekkurler Bay Danlee for your companionship in Turkey, and for all those fabulous videos of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Experiencing the whirling dervishes, the mehter band, and the Topkapi Palace just wouldn’t have been the same without you there!

Mamnoon Mitchell Khan for your support and assistance with all those workshops, concerts, and classes in Iranian classical music. I know that you have earned the lasting gratitude of the entire San Diego Iranian community!

Ndatenda VaMitchell for your encouragement and support of the mbira classes, workshops, and recitals. I am confident that the Shona ancestors are looking down on you with pride, nay, with gratitude for sharing their precious sacred tradition with Americans!

Akpe “Professor” for initiating the SDSU African Music Program and for patiently mentoring SDSU music students while they discovered wondrous cultures in Africa, of Ghana and Togo. I only wish I could swing those hips as well as you!

Kiitos Mr. Mitchell for helping to raise funds to purchase dozens of Finnish kantele zithers that university and K-12 music students throughout San Diego have enjoyed for many years. Surely no other city in America has access to so many kanteles!

Thank you Danlee for putting San Diego on the world map with Harry Partch’s unique musical instruments and musical compositions, for co-directing the SDSU World Music Program for over 10 years, for co-directing the SDSU and CWM World Music Concert Series for over 10 years, for co-directing national-level summer world music workshops under the auspices of The College Music Society and the CWM and The SDSU School of Music and Dance for over 10 years, and thanks too, Danlee, for continuing to rediscover the beauty and fascination of world music along with me—as a teaching colleague, as a performing musician, as an arts administrator, and just as an explorer of the worlds of music.

Danlee Mitchell at Indonesian Sunset Gamelan Recital

Thank you Professor Mitchell for being such a wonderful friend and supportive colleague. We in San Diego have greatly enjoyed your visionary leadership, your endless support, your helpful assistance, your optimistic encouragement, your tireless industry, and your profound devotion to music in our city on the Pacific. And, when you finally leave America’s Finest City for your retirement island in Puget Sound, we shall truly miss having such a trusted friend right across town.


—Lewis Peterman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Dance, San Diego State University


September is Mbira Month

Celebrating Mbira Month

Mbira Month is a 30-day, global celebration of a Zimbabwean traditional musical instrument called the mbira. Mbira Month provides an international platform for celebrating and sharing traditional spiritual aspects of Zimbabwean Shona culture with all humanity. As both a musical instrument and a type of classical music, mbira is a “telephone to the spirits” associated with centuries-old cultural practices and religious beliefs. It is a vehicle for communicating deep human spirituality, both inside modern Zimbabwe and around the contemporary world.  The Center for World Music celebrates Mbira Month by sponsoring and coordinating a series of events in San Diego and in Japan—lessons, meditations, public concerts, informal presentations, and an informal get-together for mbira players in Southern California. See events here.

—Lewis Peterman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Dance, San Diego State University

Dr. Timothy Rice

Timothy Rice Honored for Career Devoted to Bulgarian Music and Dance

The Center for World Music congratulates board member Dr. Timothy Rice, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, the oldest and most prestigious university in Bulgaria. The award recognized Dr. Rice’s decades of study of Bulgarian traditional music, song, and dance, and his efforts to bring it to a wider audience. “Dr. Rice is an esteemed ethnomusicologist,” said Rick Speer, who first reported this news on the East European Folklife Center message board, “and a fine musician himself!”  The ceremony included a lecture by Dr. Rice on “Four Paradigms for Ethnographic Research on the Bulgarian Musical Experience.”

Upon receiving the award, Dr. Rice commented:

I do not have the words to express my sincere gratitude for this incredible honor. It is very personal and emotional for me because of my long love of Bulgarian culture and music. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
See photos of the event on the Sofia University website.

A long-time member of the Department of Ethnomusicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Dr. Rice has published numerous articles and books in his field. Among these contributions are his books May it Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music (Chicago, 1994) and Bulgarian Music: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (Oxford, 2003).

We at the Center for World Music are proud to have Dr. Rice as a member of our Board of Directors.

For further information on Tim’s career, please see:

YouTube video Music Educator Profile: UCLA Professor of Ethnomusicology Timothy Rice | Radio Bulgaria story An American in Love with Bulgarian Folklore