Course Syllabus

MUSIC 194: Performing Musical Difference: Case Studies from the Silk Road Project

To download a copy of the syllabus, click here.
To download readings, see Assignments pages

This class is entirely online. Extension School students will watch the weekly lectures and participate in a one-hour discussion each week via Zoom.

Professor Kay Kaufman Shelemay

Spring Term 2017                                                               

Wednesday 1-3pm (lectures available online 24 hours later)


Teaching Fellow: Dr. Matthew Leslie Santana


Featuring Blodgett Distinguished Artists in Residence from the Silk Road Project Ensemble:

Cristina Pato (gaita, Galician bagpipes) (also Silk Road Ensemble Education Advisor)

Shane Shanahan (percussion) (also Silk Road Ensemble Education Advisor)


With Visiting Artists:

Mike Block (cello)

Nicholas Cords (viola)

Sandeep Das (tabla)

Johnny Gandelsman (violin)

And Yo–Yo Ma (cello) (March 20-23, 2017)


With Silk Road Advisors:

Cristin Canterbury Bagnall, Director, Artistic and Learning Programs

Liz Keller-Tripp, Artistic Administrator

Ben Mandelkern, Director of Communications

Lori Taylor, Education Specialist


Course Description

This course, a collaborative venture in the classroom with musicians of the Harvard-affiliated Silk Road Ensemble, will explore the social processes and ethical challenges of intercultural musical exchange, composition, and performance. For more than fifteen-years, the Silk Road Project and its signature ensemble have sought to enhance intercultural communication through their music making, bringing together performers and composers from across the world to perform together. With an articulated humanistic goal of creating “unexpected connections, collaborations, and communities in pursuit of meaningful change,” the Silk Road Project provides a rich laboratory for appraising how dimensions of difference have been conveyed through artistic performance as well as the many issues that such initiatives raise. Critical and reflexive theoretical approaches from ethnomusicology, anthropology, and performance studies, among other disciplines, will be used to frame selected case studies from the Silk Road Ensemble experience. Topics will include questions regarding the cultivation of cultural difference through the arts; the ethics of intercultural musical collaboration; the potential of social engagement to mitigate pressing social and political problems; and the role of the arts in community building. Class sessions will include dialogue with musicians from the Silk Road Ensemble who will serve as interlocutors and provide insider perspectives of the ensemble’s work in various domains. Each student will complete a term project with a critical written component in one of three main areas. Options will include 1) an ethnographic and archival project to prepare critical notes for selected open source Silk Road compositions; 2) participation in a local Silk Road-related social engagement/community service project connected to a final, group performance at ARTS FIRST; or 3) an independent project of the student’s choice to be approved by the instructor.


Session Schedule, Topics, Assignments

Jan. 25: Introduction to the Course and to the Silk Road Ensemble, Course Structure and Requirements, and Semester Goals; Introduction of Silk Road Ensemble participants in course

Introducing Silk Road Ensemble Musicians, Blodgett Distinguished Artists in Residence: Cristina Pato and Shane Shanahan 

Research Question: What is reciprocal and collaborative ethnography?

Readings:Lassiter, pp. 3-14; Shelemay 2015, pp. 258-270; Wood, pp. 9-25.

Viewing and Listening:


Film: View The Music of Strangers in advance of Feb. 1 discussion session.



Feb. 1: Silk Road at the Movies: A Discussion of The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Cristina Pato; Silk Road Advisor Cristin Canterbury Bagnall

Research Questions: What are the goals of the Silk Road Project? How does negotiation of cultural and musical differences shape the ensemble’s work? How do musicians’ individual careers reflect and shape the ensemble’s agenda?

Reading: Small, “Sharing with Strangers,” pp. 39-49.


Feb. 8: Making Ethical Musics

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Nicholas Cords

Research Questions: What ethical questions surround processes of music making and its study? Can music instill positive or negative social values?

Readings: Etherington; Shelemay 2013; Shank; Warren, pp. 1-11 and 184-189.

Viewing and Listening:  “Recursions”  and “Chahagir”


Feb. 15: Experiencing Dynamics of Cross-Cultural Musical Composition and Performance

Silk Road Ensemble Musicians: Shane Shanahan

Research Question: How is performance shaped in the Silk Road Ensemble?

Reading: Blum; Clayton, Dueck, Leante, “Introduction.”  

Listening Assignment: Silk Road Recordings; selections by Shane Shanahan and other ensemble members

Writing Assignment: Write a review, 1000 words in length, on a selection of your choice from the Silkroad recordings on our website.  CDs include:

Silk Road Journeys. When Strangers Meet. (2001)
Yo-Yo Ma. The Silk Road Ensemble. Silk Road Journeys (2005)
New Impossibilities. Yo-Yo Ma. The Silk Road Ensemble (2007)
Off the Map. The Silk Road Ensemble (2009)
The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. A Playlist Without Borders (2013)
Yo-Yo Ma. Sing Me Home. Silk Road Esemble (2016)


Feb. 22: Collaborative Initiatives and The World of Applied Ethnomusicology

Session Participants: Silk Road Advisors Cristin Canterbury Bagnall, Liz Keller-Tripp, Lori Taylor and Silk Road Ensemble musician Cristina Pato

Research Questions: Considering the field of applied ethnomusicology and its goals, where does a venture like our collaboration with the Silk Road Project fit within this framework? What materials are found in the Silk Road Archives?

Readings: O’Connell; Campbell and Higgins.

Viewing and Listening:


Mar. 1: Interrogating and Understanding Difference: Interviewing Silk Road Musicians

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Sandeep Das

Research Question: What can musicians’ lives tell us about bridging and reconciling difference through music?

Listening:  (Listen to “Rela” and “Tarang”) (Listen to “Raghupati Raga Raja Ram”

Additional reading  assignment:  Be sure to read the biographies of Sandeep Das and Mike Block on line.


Mar. 8: The Dynamics of Cross-Cultural Musical Exchange, Past and Present

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Evan Ziporyn

Research Questions: What is the historical background of cross-cultural musical exchange? How does musical exchange in the present differ from that in the past?

Readings: Born and Hesmondhalgh, pp.1-58; Huseynova, pp. 255-269; Shelemay Soundscapes 3rd ed: (Chinese migration to US, pp. 166-174; Hawaiian music, pp. 244-249; Balinese gamelan, pp. 249-258; Lei Liang, pp. 387-395)

Listening/Viewing Assignment:
Silk Road Ensemble: “Layla and Majnun” (on website)
Silk Road Ensemble and Mark Morris Dance Group, “Layla and Majnun;”
Evan Ziporyn’s “Sulvasutra” and scenes from “A House in Bali”

Writing Assignment:  Prepare a 1000-word discussion of cross-cultural elements in “Layla and Majnun” as well as a question about the work to discuss in class.


March 15: Spring Break (no class)


Week of March 20: Silk Road Ensemble residency at Harvard University

Wedneday, March 22: Regular Class Session: “Cultural Navigation” and Performance Rehearsal with Shane Shanahan

Wednesday, March 22, 5pm, Paine Hall: Music Department Louis C. Elson Lecture by Yo-Yo Ma

Thursday, March 23 TBD : Silk Road Ensemble Concert Concert in Sanders (Rehearsal TBA)

Reading: DeWalt and DeWalt, “Writing Field Notes,” pp. 157-178.


March 29: Discussion and Follow-up from Residency

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Cristina Pato

Research Question: How did the residency bring goals of the Silk Road Project to life?

Cristina Pato visits Extension Sections!


Apr. 5: Forming New Communities, Enlivening Old Ones

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Sandeep Das

Research Questions: How does music-making inform and shape new communities?

Readings: Shelemay 2011; Higgins, pp. 133-143.

Viewing and Listening


April 12: Community Based music education Initiatives

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Shane Shanahan

Madeleine Steczynski, Co-founder and Executive Director of Zumix

Research Question: What educational and social engagement projects are ore could be part of Harvard campus life?

Reading: Pettan; Sommer, pp. 1-13.

Viewing and Listening:


April 19: Student Presentations: Social Engagemen and Independent Projects

Silk Road Ensemble Musician: Shaw Pong Liu

Viewing and Listening:


April 26: Student Presentations: Archival and Ethnographic Initiatives  

Silkroad Advisor: Liz-Keller-Tripp



CLASS PERFORMANCE on Saturday, April 29

At ARTS FIRST Festival!

Silk Road Ensemble Musician:  Shane Shanahan

***We hope it will be possible for you to participate in the performance virtually. Details TBA.


Course Summary:

Date Details