August 29, 2012

Passages: Remembering Franya Berkman

Franya Berkman, assistant professor of music died on Sunday, August 26th after a yearlong struggle with cancer. 

We are mourning the loss of our colleague Franya Berkman, associate professor of music. Franya passed away on Sunday, August 26 after a yearlong struggle with cancer. In the words of her colleague Assistant Professor of Music Kathy FitzGibbon, “Franya was a passionate and dynamic teacher, dedicated mentor, and beloved colleague. She held her students to high expectations, helping them both through excellent teaching and gifted advising. She viewed her role as facilitator but not actor, ultimately leaving power with the students themselves to take control of their own lives and visions. She was also a compassionate friend and devoted wife and mother who would ‘lay down everything for her tribe,’ in her own words, and who valued the strength of community. Her unique mixture of joy, grounded energy, deep and broad intellect, and serene wisdom will be impossible to recreate.”

Franya received her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence in 1992. She went on to earn a master’s degree in 1999 and a PhD in 2003 at Wesleyan University. A classically trained flutist, she explored and became adept in numerous performance traditions, including jazz, Klezmer, Brazilian, and South Asian genres.

As a scholar, Franya pioneered an experimental approach to musical biography that integrates individual life history and musical expression. In 2010, her first book was published. Monument Eternal: The Music of Alice Coltrane (Wesleyan University Press) was a study that integrated interviews with Coltrane, examination of her spiritual writing, and her music.

Franya was well on her way toward a second book, this one centered on Obo Addy, the celebrated Ghanaian master drummer and a colleague of hers here at Lewis & Clark. She had made two trips to Ghana with Obo and assembled a rich and informative account of his life and musical development, based on extensive interviews with him as well as ethnographic work in Ghana. Moving beyond ethnomusicological analysis that often placed primary emphasis on the influence of local tradition, Franya’s work explored transnational and transcultural dimensions of his work.

Franya leaves behind her husband Kris and three children, Sadie (7), Max (4), and Sonja (1). Our hearts go out to them for their grievous loss.

To celebrate our colleague’s life and contributions to our community, we will hold a memorial service on campus on Sunday, September 30, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel.

Submitted by Tuajuanda C. Jordan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.