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Music major worked with Jorge Torres, associate professor of music

This summer, Ray Epstein ’09 (Warren, N.J.) was stepping to the beat of a very different drum. The music major made significant contributes to a unique encyclopedia of Latin American music.

Epstein helped organize, edit, and write articles to compile The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music to be published by Greenwood Press in 2009. He worked under the guidance of Jorge Torres, associate professor of music, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program.

The program allows students to conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. It has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

According to Epstein, this single volume encyclopedia contains over 250 articles totaling around 200,000 words.

“Around 40 musicologists from all over the Americas are contributing to the volume, each writing a handful of articles in their areas of specialization,” says Epstein. “By the end of the summer, I had also written five articles for the encyclopedia: Machito – a famous Cuban singer who helped pioneer Latin Jazz in the United States; tresillo – an essential rhythm in Cuban music; Tex-Mex – popular music from the areas of Northern Mexico and South Texas; boogaloo – popular music in New York City during the mid-1960’s which fused Cuban and Puerto Rican music with funk, R&B, and soul; and descarga – a Cuban jam session featuring a lot of improvisation.”

Torres, the official editor of the text, emphasized the preparation needed to write and research the encyclopedia. This included being familiar with the entries that form the body of the text and managing word limits and designing prefatory sections such as introduction, timeline, and other front and back text. The team also had to learn how to write in encyclopedic style.

This unique text has expanded Epstein’s knowledge of music and inspired him to take his studies further.

“Latin American popular music has spread throughout the entire world over the last 40 years with a huge amount occurring in the U.S. from immigration,” he explains. “Before the research began, my knowledge of the field was next to nothing. The research enabled me to learn about this omnipresent music and even recognize that I had been hearing a lot of this music my whole life, without even realizing it. The encyclopedia itself will be the first of its kind, dealing principally with the popular music from Latin America.”

He adds, “This research obviously increased my knowledge and awareness of Latin music, but also helped me understand better the people making the music and the connections between the musicians and the society around them. I’m also a guitarist, and the research has led me to music that I would love to play on my own.”

Epstein credits the success of the project to the dedication of his mentor.

“[Torres] was of utmost importance during my 10 week research period,” he says. “He not only directed me to key resources and CD’s, but carefully went over my initial drafts of articles, as this was my first time writing in the encyclopedia style. [Skillman] Library and Williams Center for the Arts was invaluable in providing me with the information to research and the spaces to conduct the research.”

Epstein plans to take on an additional major in philosophy and study abroad during the spring semester at the Amsterdam School of Music.

He is a McKelvy Scholar and plays with Lafayette’s guitar ensemble, jazz combo, and percussion ensemble. In addition, he is a member of Students for Social Justice.

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