Judith Becker, professor emerita of Ethnomusicology, retired from teaching in 2008 after over 40 years of scholarship and teaching at the University of Michigan. Judith received her PhD from the University of Michigan, and co-founded the Center for World Performance Studies and was its first director as well as directed for several years, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.She also served as gamelan ensemble director after establishing the ensemble in 1967.
Judith is author of three books, Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion and Trancing (2004),awarded the Merriam prize as the best book published in Ethnomusicology for that year, Gamelan Stories: Tantrism, Islam and Aesthetics in Central Java (1993), and Traditional Music in Modern Java (1980. She is the editor of Art, Ritual and Society in Indonesia (1979) and the three-volume set of translations entitled Karawitan: Source Readings in Javanese Gamelan and Vocal Music (1984/1987/1988), published by the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies. These three volumes are the first substantial set of translations ever made of musical works written by Southeast Asian scholars and musicians.
In 1967 Judith Becker was awarded the Charles Seeger prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology. Since then her research has been honored and supported by the Society for Ethnomusicology, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institute, the Social Science Research Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Fulbright Foundation, as well as grants from the School of Music Faculty Research Fund, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan. She was the first recipient of Michigan’s John D’Arms Award for graduate student mentoring, and most recently was awarded the Glenn McGeoch Collegiate Professorship of Music (2000).
As a tribute to Judith, in 2010 the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs established a prize in her honor. The Judith Becker Award for Outstanding Graduate Research on Southeast Asia is awarded each year and carries a $1,000 cash prize. The award is administered by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
The Center for Southeast Asian Studies held a celebration in Judith's honor on the occasion of her retirement. At that event, tributes to Judith from her past students were presented. Read on for excerpts to get a sense of this amazing woman, who even in her retirement continues to inspire us.
"There aren't that many people writing nowadays who match her multifarious interest or boldness in combining musical theoretical, historical, aesthetic and anthropological approaches, so her scholarship in increasingly valuable."
"I learned from reading Judith's publications how to address a readership. Judith has always written with clarity and an uncanny attention to an audience."
"As a gamelan leader, Judith was inspiring. She exuded a kind of inner calm, and at the same time wibawa, a presence that leads other to behave harmoniously."
"Your work opened up many new vistas, not only for those of us working on gamelan in Java, but for a younger generation of students interested in the meanings of music, musical change, and musical aesthetics."
"Judith embodied all the lessons one needed on combining scholarship, art, family life and an international career with tremendous skill. She was intellectually committed, attentive, and down to earth. Call it bedrock midwestern values, Buddhist pragmatism or a gift for harmonious living - whatever it was, Judith had it."
"In our present academic milieu, we like to think that our advocacy of new approaches to Philippine music instruction are extensions of Judith's own legacy of empowerment and her trusting openness that encourages learning and self-discovery."
"When I was younger and devoted to classical music, I was inordinately proud that I shared the initials of my name with Johann Sebastian Bach. Now that I am older and dedicated to Southeast Asian music, I am happier that I share them with Judith Becker."
"Soft-spoken, the most attentive listener, Judith is anything but easy, soothing, and soft. Her tender unassuming manner is deceptive. She is a fighter, and (invisible to us), a large powerful woman, fearless, stubborn, probing, changing others and herself."
"Together with [her husband] Pete, Judith taught me to take intellectual risks. Instead of trying to shape my scholarship into some sort of standard mold, she encouraged me to develop my own voice, my own approach, and my own interests."