Nicholas M. England, a composer, performer and ethnomusicologist who served as an interim president of California Institute of the Arts during the 1980s, died Tuesday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center after a brief illness. He was 79.
England, who was dean of CalArts’ School of Music and founding director of the institute’s World Music Program, was an internationally recognized authority on the music of Africa.
He was the author of books on the music of Namibia, Botswana and Angola as well as articles for the journal Ethnomusicology, Grove’s Dictionary of Music, and American Anthropologist. With filmmaker John Marshall, he made noted movies in the genre of musical ethnology, including “N/um Tschai” (1966) and “Bitter Melons” (1971). Most recently, England composed the score for Marshall’s documentary “A Kalahari Family” (2002).
“Nick’s thoroughly international approach to music has played an essential role in shaping not only the School of Music but the entire CalArts artistic and educational approach,” said CalArts President Steven D. Lavine. “Equally important, he was a steadying influence through all the ups and downs of CalArts’ early years and a beloved colleague.”
England was born in Greenville, Texas, in 1923. He served in the Pacific theater as a signalman in the Army Signal Corps during World War II. After returning home, he earned degrees from Baylor University, Yale University and Harvard University, where he received his PhD in ethnomusicology in 1968. He was a composition student of Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Randall Thompson.
Before his appointment as associate dean of music at CalArts in 1970, England was an associate professor of music at Columbia University. He was dean of CalArts’ School of Music from 1972 to 1983 and was the institute’s acting president from 1987 to 1988. In 1999, he was the first appointee of the Nicholas England Chair in the School of Music.
England made his first research trip to Africa in 1961, doing field work with the sixth Peabody-Harvard Kalahari expedition. He returned to Africa throughout his life, doing field work in Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, and developed a specialized knowledge of the music of the Khoisan peoples, and of Ewe music and the musicians of Ghana.
He served as a consultant in folk music to the Juilliard Repertory Project and lectured frequently at colleges and institutions throughout the United States.
England is survived by his wife, Margaret; children Alison and Timothy; and four grandchildren. Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at St. Mary of the Angels Church, 4510 Finley Ave., Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Nicholas M. England Scholarship Fund, California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355.