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Colin McPhee Collection

Born in Montreal in 1900, Colin McPhee studied composition and piano in Baltimore with Gustave Strube, Arthur Friedheim, Paul La Flem, and Isidore Phillipp. During this period and the next five years in New York, McPhee received considerable recognition for such works as his "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra," "Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet," "Sea Shanty Suite," and orchestral scores for two experimental films by Ralph Steiner, H20 and Mechanical Principles.

It was in 1931 that McPhee first heard recordings of some of then virtually unknown music of the gamelan of Bali, ensembles of tuned gongs, gong chimes, metallophones, cymbals, and drums. Fascinated by the new possibilities of timbre and percussive colors, musical form and instrumental technique, McPhee went to Indonesia; what began an exploratory trip became an extended period of residence in Bali until 1939. McPhee made an extensive survey of the many different types of ensembles throughout the island; his house became a center of musical activity; he encouraged and subsidized children's training in music and dance as well as the maintaining of the older musical traditions. McPhee returned to the US and resided in New York in the 1940s, where he was among the talented, young generation of composers that included Aaron Copeland and Henry Cowell.

Besides various musical compositions and articles on music and dance, McPhee's major publications are Music in Bali (1966), one of the definitive works on Balinese instrumental music and orchestral technique, and A House in Bali (1946), a beautifully written account of his stay on the island. Beginning with piano transcriptions of music for the Balinese shadow puppet play, known as Wyang Kulit, McPhee started to incorporate elements of Balinese music into his own compsitions. For his two major orchestral works, Tabuh-Tabuhan (1936) and Symphony No. 2 (1957), McPhee received wide acclaim as well as many wards and commissions "for his unprecedented combination of traditional Indonesian music with western orchestral techniques, which resulted in original music of great distinction. Besides his musical talents, McPhee was an excellent photographer (see the AV slideshow below). As a faculty member of the Music Department at UCLA from 1960 until his death in 1964, McPhee taught composition and ethnomusicology, contributed greatly to the study of world music.

  • A description of the collection, written by Andrew Toth in 1975, is available here.
  • A finding aid for paper documents in the collection is available here.
  • A finding aid for films in the collection is available here.

Detailed finding aids for the entire Colin McPhee Collection are available in the Archive. PLEASE NOTE: The Colin McPhee Collection is stored off-site. If you are planning a visit to the Archive in order to view any part of the collection we require at least three days advance notice so that we can page your requested items.

Multimedia Presentations from the McPhee Collection

The photographs, films, and music featured in the accompanying online presentations have been selected from the McPhee Collection. They were donated to the Ethnomusicology Archive in 1973 by Mrs. Shirley Hawkins.

Audiovisual Slideshow: A Flash presentation that includes audio and nearly 40 photos from the Colin McPhee Collection (click here for technical metadata).

Streaming Movies: Excerpts from 3 silent movies shot by Colin McPhee while he was living in Bali. These are large files, so please be patient while they load (click here for technical metadata).

  1. Klandis kotekan; legong gender (8.8 mb)
  2. LukLuk: arja batuan (8.9 mb)
  3. Sulaan (18.2 mb)
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