Remembrances of Ray Giles, UCLA Ethnomusicology's Instrument Curator / Museum Scientist

We were all saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Giles, UCLA Ethnomusicology's Instrument Curator / Museum Scientist for many years (and a student of Mantle Hood's in the late 1960s and early 1970s).  I well remember Ray and wanted to write a column in his honor.  I invited people to send me their remembrances of Ray and have included those I have received.  If you would like to add your voice to Remembrances of Ray, please email me.  I thought I would also share some images from Ray's famous "green boxes" (his instrument files), select images from Ray's instrument photo collection, an exhibit card he wrote for an instrument exhibit, the bio and first page from his article for Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology and one of Ray's organograms (no doubt inspired by his studies with Mantle Hood).

Ray's obituary, written by his wife, Yuka:

RAY GILES, beloved husband, father and friend, passed away peacefully at home in the company of his family and friends on April 10, 2013, with his sense of humor intact.  Ray, a proud son of the State of Arkansas, studied the art of piano performance at the University of Oklahoma under Digby Bell.  He served in the US Army during the Cold War, using his superb ear to detect the movement of Russian tanks, and mastering the German language.  As a student of ethnomusicology at UCLA, he studied Javanese music and culture, and later, as Museum Scientist, was responsible for curating and repairing the department’s extensive collection of musical instruments.  He was passionate about Formula I racing, was a skilled VW mechanic, a fine luthier, a teacher of music at El Camino College, and a maker of exquisite furniture.  He will be greatly missed by his wife, Yuka Giles, his daughter Melanie, granddaughters Gianna and Tiber, and a multitude of friends.

Ray Giles, c. 1986

Gilbert L. Blount (Ph.D. in Musicology, 1974)

The room was uninviting and full of people I had never seen before. There was an unkempt gray steel desk near the center, and behind it was a chalkboard with some miscellaneous scribblings that were difficult to decipher. The lack of any apparent central oversight created an atmosphere of confusion and uneasiness, and some of us began to wonder why we were there. Sensing our feelings of apprehension, an older man who had just returned from a two-year Fulbright to Germany came over to two of us, hand extended, and said his name was John. Being the closer of the two, I replied that my name was Gil, and the man to my side, wearing a big, broad smile and thick, rimmed glasses said he was called Ray. The three of us talked on, and the conversation slowly, but surely, turned to quiet laughter because we discovered, almost at the same instant, that all three of us were really quite human and so very full of life and eager for new experiences.  This was surely true of Ray Giles who sparked many a similar encounter whether in the hallway, in his office, in the gamelan room, or anywhere our paths crossed. And Ray, Yuka, Charlotte and I shared many an elegant German repast on West Pico in Santa Monica, every evening filled with frivolity and friendship. Ray also entertained and enlightened the students in my ethno courses when we visited UCLA for his knowledgeable after-hour tours of the Department's extraordinary musical instrument collection. And having photographed most of the collection, with John's help, and with the blessing of Dr. Mantle Hood back in the 1960s, I was eager to fill the gaps in my slide library when I returned to the Los Angeles area. Ray was happy to grant supervised access to the collection, as our schedules permitted, and several hundred USC undergraduate and graduate music students have benefitted from UCLA's resources and Ray's insights.  Ray knew a tremendous amount about the instruments in the collection, including a lot of micro detail rarely, if ever, discussed in the literature. He also had a thorough knowledge of wood chemistry and musical instrument restoration and repair, and, in Ray's skilled and creative hands, many instruments in the collection were given a second life in a better-than-new condition. Ray was also a consummate carpenter and cabinet maker, and the offices of several Los Angeles professionals are graced with Ray's post-retirement imagination, expertise, and functional artistry.  I have benefitted for more than fifty years from Ray's knowledge, his wisdom, his generosity, his friendship, and his keen awareness of the trials and tribulations of the human condition. In Ray Giles was vested the vital essence of the human spirit, and all of us who knew him will miss him terribly.

Alfred Bradley , Undergraduate Advisor Music/Ethnomusicology:

Ray Giles was a real Renaissance man.  He could and did conduct lengthy discussions on such varied topics as piano pedagogy, Javanese gamelan, African drums, Volvo motor cars, furniture design, and department history, just to name a few.  A visit to his office/workshop/mancave always meant a cup of coffee, and usually several stories.  Much has changed at UCLA  since 1985 when I first became the undergraduate advisor.  One of the more significant changes was when the Department of Ethnomusicology decided they could no longer maintain a fulltime  Museum Scientist/Curator, which prompted Ray’s retirement from UCLA.  His incredible craftsmanship, knowledge, humor, curiosity, and love of beautiful forms,  has never been replaced.  Ray was a unique and treasured friend, and I will miss him.

Kimasi Browne (Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, 2005):

Thanks for the notice of Ray's passing and his impressive bio.  I remember him well and had many heartwarming conversations with him while I was in Grad school at UCLA. His passing was like his personality, graceful.

Wanda Bryant (Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, 1995):

Ray Giles was instrument curator while I was at UCLA.  The nature of my Masters research required an in-depth analysis of as many keyless double reed aerophones as I could examine.  Ray made the entire UCLA instrument collection available to me, raiding locked display cabinets, finding long-forgotten and neglected examples, and opening his office/workshop to me.  He guided me through much of my investigation of UCLA’s collection.  On the day that I began my comprehensive exams for my doctorate, Ray gave me a big hug, wished me well, and by way of encouragement told me that I would never be smarter than I was on that day!  Although both Ray and I have been away from UCLA for many years, each time I walk down the corridor by the gamelan room, I remember Ray in his corner office, with a huge grin, always ready for an academic discussion or a friendly chat about life’s vagaries over a cup of coffee.  Peace, Ray.

Sue Carole DeVale (Assistant Professor in Ethnomusicology and Music of Java instructor, 1983-1993):

When I first came to UCLA in 1983, Ray spent hours with me checking every gamelan instrument to be certain all the keys and resonators and ropes were aligned and tied correctly. We reminisced and traded gamelan stories and, with his delightful sense of humor, enjoyed every minute of it.  I remember how he smiled his way through giving me a tour of the wonderful historic harps in the collection which I, of course, ooohed and aahhhed over.  He was always ready to help with any instrument issues and his solutions were often ingenious and clever but always sound (so to speak!) Ray was an essential element of UCLA instrument collection.  I'm sure he is still watching over it. 

Sue Carole De Vale with students on the Javanese gamelan

David Martinelli, Ethnomusicology Electronics Technician:

Ray’s official job with the Ethnomusicology Department was Museum Scientist, which meant he was responsible for maintaining and repairing musical instruments from every part of the world except for western classical orchestral instruments.  In addition to this, he designed and built many custom-made equipment cabinets of every sort that were used throughout the building.  These were hand built from many types of wood that were cut in his workshop right here in the building.  Particle board and laminations played no part in any of his designs.  There are probably a few of them still around, because they were indestructible.

Tom Owens (Ph.D. in Musicology, 1974):

Ray Giles—kind, thoughtful, gregarious, humorous, and intelligent—played a number of roles in my life: fellow student of historical musicology, usher when Karen and I married, piano restringer, Ford engine rebuilder, teaching colleague at El Camino College (Music Cultures of the World, Music Appreciation, Counterpoint), lunch buddy, and especially, friend.  Those lunches started in the early 1960s in grad school, continued when he joined the Camino faculty in the 1970s, and became weekly events—Tuesdays with Ray—after he retired from UCLA.  Following lunch at a local restaurant, there would be a DVD showing at his house, in a room dominated by two great examples of his craftsmanship: a large, elegant dining room table and a beautiful entertainment center.  In another room is perhaps his masterpiece—a chair inspired by master furniture maker Sam Maloof.  It sits next to his treasured 7’ Baldwin.  Conversations with Ray seldom rushed.  His side of the exchange often took a bit longer than mine, as he searched his mental thesaurus for the word or phrase less used.  Often his comments concluded with laughter, as we both delighted in his elegant and/or witty turn of phrase.  And his laugh—spontaneous, unfettered, and infectious—could lift anyone’s spirits. He certainly lifted mine, in good times and bad, for 50 years.  Though we mourn his passing, when we consider how much less interesting our lives would have been without him, we are grateful for our times with him.

Maureen Russell, Head of Cataloging & Archivist, UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive:

I think of Ray nearly every day because I am daily surrounded by his work.  Ray made the large custom wooden LP cabinet in my office as well as a number of smaller LP cases throughout the Archive.  As David mentioned, anything that Ray built was well built and virtually indestructible.  Because the Archive and Ray's office (now Publications) were close-by, I saw Ray daily.  He always greeted you with a smile and was ever ready for a friendly chat.  I know the students regularly sang his praises because of how well he cared for the Department's instrument collection.  Ray you are sorely missed.

Gordon Thompson (Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, 1987):

Ray Giles already seemed to have done it all.  He had served in Germany during the Cold War.  He had studied to be a concert pianist.  He had worked on one of the original Melographs.  He was a link to the UCLA of the sixties.  He could repair violins, kotos, and cars.  He had a great daughter on whom he doted.  One could easily be surprised to learn what he knew or what he had done.  I first met him when I was replacing the tabla heads, a process that usually left my hands red and raw from lacing the hide straps in a W pattern around the drum.  He immediately designed a tool that I still use to accomplish the task in less time and without rendering my digits useless for an hour.  He loved musical instruments and the sounds they made.  What could be a more pure enjoyment?  Most of all, his laugh could resonate through the halls, unbridled and unchecked, like a mischievous elf taunting the too-serious among us.  Indeed, perhaps he was such a being, always searching for some new adventure, something else to learn.  I regret that we lost touch over the years.  We shared many meals and stories while we lived in Los Angeles.  I fondly remember his wedding with Yuka, perhaps one of the happiest memories I have of him.

Ric Trimillos (Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, 1972):

Ray's life is one to be remembered and to be celebrated.  When I entered the UCLA PhD Music program in January 1966, Ray was one of the first grad students who befriended me. This was serendipitous, because I had just arrived from two years of study at the University of Cologne, and as a German speaker Ray was the facilitator sine qua non for my re-entry into US-SoCal culture.  In many ways he was my senpai.  He provided useful strategies for getting along with the Germans ("be nice to Rubsamen's wife"; "Wachsmann likes to have tea in the afternoons") and was a formidable raconteur.  I particularly remember our long conversations about Kulturkreislehre, in which he argued that it was not totally without merit.  He also helped me pass the acoustics doctoral exam.  I had learned acoustics in Cologne and didn't know the many technical terms in English, so Ray was the simultaneous translator for the glosses of schwingende Schwingung over bottles of Münchnerbräu in various Westwood pubs.  I admired his indefatigable energy and his caring generosity.  After I completed the PhD and joined the ethnomusicology faculty at the University of Hawai'i, he would occasionally update me on the waxing and waning fortunes of the UCLA program in the subsequent turbulent decades. Although after that we communicated less often, he was an important part of my UCLA years. Me ke aloha, Ray.


The Ethnomusicology Archive, c. 1982.  You can see some of Ray's handiwork, holding tape reels, on the tops of the metal cabinets.


One of Ray's legendary instrument cards

Contrabass balalaika


Pueblo drum

Instrument exhibit card

Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology, Volume II, No. I, 1974.  "Ombak in the Style of the Javanese Gongs" by Ray Giles.  The first page of Ray's article, plus the included biography.


Veracruz harp organogram

For those unfamiliar with organograms--basically, a highly detailed form of musical notation that can even include the performer's location--check out Chapter III of Mantle Hood's The Ethnomusicologist (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1982), call number ML3798 .H66 1982 in the Archive. 


(Special thanks to Aaron for all the scanning!)

All photos © The Regents of the University of California, All Right Reserved.

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