im’s work as a student and scholar of world music spans over three decades, six continents, and direct life experience with dozens of different indigenous groups. His involvement with world music has from the beginning been inseparable from his work as a composer, and both have led him into deep explorations of the spiritual, ceremonial, cultural and linguistic traditions of the native peoples that have been his teachers. From writing and lecturing to recording and documenting native music, from performing with other indigenous artists in small ensembles to grand theatrical productions, Jim’s ethnomusicological life has been anything but boring, theoretical, or detached. Rather, Jim has always felt that only by enthusiastically living the experience of a culture and its music can it truly be understood.

Beginning as a teenager in North America, Jim’s fascination with native traditions led him to live amongst the Mohawk, Seneca, Powhatan, Lakota, Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo and Aleut, among others. From this period came his Native American-themed opera, “Buffalo Nation”. During his college years at Amherst, Jim was intensely involved with David Reck’s Music of the Whole Earth program, studying the traditional instrumental music of India and Japan, as well as Javanese Gamelan orchestra with Wayne Forrest, and Latin percussion at Hampshire College. He also studied East Indian vocal music with Sushil Mukherjee for two years, and world music/improvisation with Paul Winter at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico.

In his early twenties Jim began travelling to Mexico and Central America, living with the Maya, Nahuatl, Raramuri, Purepecha and Boruca. At that time he connected with Nahuatl musician Mazatl Galindo, and together they formed the duo Xochimoki, dedicating themselves to the revival of pre-Columbian musical traditions, particularly those of Mesoamerica. Out of this collaboration came numerous recordings, museum exhibition and film soundtracks, and years of concerts tours across North America and ultimately worldwide. Finally Jim and Mazatl settled into a seven year residency with the Los Angeles Music Center and Orange County Performing Arts Center, teaching and performing for literally hundreds of thousands of school children throughout Southern California.

Through these programs Jim and Mazatl developed another specialization, performing the music of rainforest cultures in conjunction with environmental education. Simultaneously and subsequently, Jim continued his travel, study, field recording and instrument collecting, living with a family of Shuar musicians in the Upper Amazon of Ecuador, amongst the Aymara and Quechua in the South American Andes, with the Borana, Samburu, Masai, Amharic, Nubian, Egyptian and Dogon people in Africa , with Celtic, Bretagne, Catalan and Greek in Europe, with Hindi, Nepali, Tibetan, Buryat, Russian, Uzbek, Persian, Ainu, Japanese and Balinese in Asia, and with Native Hawaiian, Rapa Nuian, Marquesian, Tahitian and Fijian people across the islands of the Pacific.

Today Jim’s collection of musical instruments has grown to over five hundred, and he has visited more than seventy countries worldwide. He has done field recordings in the jungles of New Guinea and on the Siberian steppes by Lake Baikal. Three times he has basked in the diverse richness of Pacific island culture, music and dance at the Pacific Arts Festivals in the Cook Islands (1992), New Caledonia (2000), and Palau (2004) as well as experiencing the diversity of Native Amazonian music and dance at the Earth Summit/Global Forum in Brazil (1992).

Throughout his musical life, Jim has defied the boundaries that commonly separate people from each other. In both 1980 and 1982, he was invited to perform as the only “non-indigenous” person at the Indigenous Peoples Theatre Celebrations in Canada. In 1993 he was a guest performer at an international conference on Shamanism and the Performing Arts in Budapest, Hungary. And his most recent effort in the realm of world music, his “Psalms of RA”, is a living example of how artists of different religious and ethnic backgrounds can unite to overcome the hate and vengeance that divides the Middle East, by creating beauty and making peace through music.



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Hear the latest podcast fron the DeYoung museum in San Francisco using Jim's field recordings from Papua New Guinea

Teddy Balangu demonstrating his art at the de Young.

de Young Podcast: The Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art

Join curator Christina Hellmich and traditional Papua New Guinea wood carver Teddy Balangu as they tour Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art at the de Young. This edition of the de Young Podcast features music from Papua New Guinea recorded by ethnomusicologist, composer, and artist Jim Berenholtz. Two different versions are available: an audio-only MP3 and an M4A version enhanced with images.
Visit the de Young Podcast page to listen to this and previous podcast episodes.

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San Francisco Chronicle December 3, 2005


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