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Posted 08.24.06

Memorial Service Planned for David McAllester

Wesleyan’s Music Department will sponsor a memorial service for David McAllester, professor of music and anthropology, emeritus, at 2 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel Sept. 24.

McAllester, a founder of the Society for Ethnomusicology, died April 29, 2006, after suffering a stroke. He was 89.

“David had a huge impact on generations of Wesleyan students, many of them not music majors or grad students,” says Mark Slobin, professor of music, who worked with McAllester for 15 years. “When I was hired at Wesleyan in 1971 and looked at a college guide, the only course singled out was McAllester’s exciting course on American Indian Music, complete with a pow-wow on Foss Hill.”

A graduate of Harvard University, McAllester studied at the Juilliard School of Music and earned his doctorate in anthropology at Columbia. He began his career at Wesleyan in the Psychology Department, and soon established the Anthropology Department, where he was an instructor of anthropology. In 1957, he was promoted to a full professor and in 1971, he moved to the Music Department, where he co-founded the program in World Music. He remained in the Music Department until his retirement in 1986.

"The twin career in anthropology and music is the work of a man who, faced with the choice between art and science, embraced them both," wrote Richard Winslow, professor of music, emeritus, in the summer 1986 issue of Wesleyan magazine.

One of the founders of the Society for Ethnomusicology in 1952, McAllester served the organization in a number of positions, first as its secretary, and later as the president and editor of the society's journal. His particular field of interest was Native American ceremonial music, especially that of the Navajos of the American Southwest.

Known internationally for his scholarly works and publications, he was a recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research in new Native American music and of a Fulbright grant that provided him with a senior lectureship in Australia. He was a member of the board of trustees for the American Indian Archaeological Institute in Washington, D.C., and did extensive fieldwork with several native American groups, with books that include Peyote Music (1949), Enemyway Music (1954) and Navajo Blessingway Singer (1978).

With a longstanding commitment to nonviolence, he served in conscientious objector work camps during World War II. He was a founding member of the Middletown Quaker Meeting, as well as the South Berkshire Friends meeting, where he set up a tipi on the grounds, as well as helping to construct a swamp trail around a beaver pond.

Predeceased by his first wife, Susan McAllester, in 1994, he is survived by his wife, Beryl Irene Courtenay, a daughter, a son, two granddaughters, and a son-in-law.