In 2011 I was invited by the Truman Institute to give a lecture devoted to the music of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan
During Marco Polo’s legendary travels, he encountered rich musical traditions. For example, his descriptions reveal the prominent role music played in the opulent court of Kublai Khan. Indeed, for more than one thousand years, the vital trade route between Europe and the exotic East had led travelers through regions with sophisticated musical cultures. While it is well known that Asian musical instruments were valuable objects of trade, and, in some cases, even influenced the design of later Western instruments, much of the Silk Road music itself is unfamiliar to Western listeners. Thus, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, with the support of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, assumed the role of Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project; its stated goal is “to bring together artists and audiences from around the globe.” This lecture will make use of the recordings, images and research available through the Silk Road Project and Smithsonian, and will present background and context for the unique regional songs and instrumental pieces representing the lands of the Silk Road. Categories for study include the following: court or classical music, nomadic songs, festival music, and religious ceremonies.