Creativity and Originality in Action with Silkroad Ensemble

Kelly Gallagher ‘22

Chief Features Editor

Two flowerpots, one blue and the other yellow, waited between an enormous marimba and a drum set. Six artists from Silkroad Ensemble took their positions with an unusual collection of percussion instruments, but the first sound to grab the audience’s attention was the pure, exhilarating wail of a conch shell. As its sound reverberated throughout Brooks Concert Hall, musicians began tapping drums, tinkling cymbals, and shaking maracas and fans. The music swelled into a joyful song that had the audience nodding their heads in time to the rhythm.  

Silkroad Ensemble’s January 28th concert, Percussion All-Stars, was a bright, cheerful celebration of creativity and originality. The musicians visibly delighted in their collaborative work. They paid close attention to each other’s actions, leaning toward and smiling at each other as they played together. Their exuberance was contagious, inspiring vigorous applause from the audience at the conclusion of their first song. 

The rest of the show featured several original compositions by members of Silkroad Ensemble. Haruka Fuiji introduced her work “Switches,” which was inspired by the switches in her brain as she navigates between the roles of mother, musician, or friend. The grand finale was a performance of Silkroad composer Edward Perez’s “And the Walls Became the World All Around,” inspired by Maurice Sendak’s book Where The Wild Things Are. The fun, funky, vibrant music brought the “wild rumpus” to life before winding down for the book’s tender ending. 

During the Q&A session following the performance, tabla-player Sandeep Das talked about how the group creates cohesive music even when coming from very different traditions. Das discussed how the group members’ respect for each other allowed them to learn from each other, concluding that “diversity is our biggest strength.” 

Over the course of the following two days, Silkroad Ensemble took their craft beyond the performance as they lead several workshops in Brooks Concert Hall with various Holy Cross classes. There, they shared their journeys as musicians both in their individual rights and within the Silkroad Ensemble group. In a Wednesday workshop, Sandeep Das, Haruka Fujii, and Joseph Gramley’s discussions took the theme of finding their voices, and how learning about others helped them to learn about themselves. They encouraged students to really listen to others in order to learn or to build trust, and to remain open and engaged. 

In an interview with The Spire, Shane Shanahan, who’s been with Silkroad Ensemble since the group first formed, talked about Silkroad’s journey at Holy Cross. “We’ve been learning from all of the faculty who have been collaborating with us, all the folks at Create Lab. We’ve learned a lot about how they approach that class and their interest in collaboration and creativity and interaction. I think we’ve learned from the different ways that different classes engage,” he explained. 

Regarding what Silkroad Ensemble has tried to teach, Shanahan continued, “One thing we’ve tried to do is instill some sense of curiosity in the students and get them thinking about the things that they see and hear, and thinking about questions that will help them learn about something…. We’re trying to show them there isn’t just one right answer to a lot of things, especially in the arts. There are many different answers and sometimes it’s exploring outside the box that people really find their own voice.” Silkroad Ensemble’s performance was sponsored by Arts Transcending Borders. Clear your calendar for March 24, when ATB will host Las Cafeteras, another musical group dedicated to creativity, originality, and unity. They will perform at 7:30 P.M. in Hogan Ballroom. Tickets can be purchased at https://las-cafeteras.eventbrite.com.

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