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On the Silk Road with Professor Ted Levin
The Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes linking Asia with Europe, winds its way through Dartmouth this winter, thanks to Theodore Levin, chair and professor of music and the Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities.
levinTed Levin (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)
Academic and impresario: Levin, an expert ethnomusicologist who has produced sound and video recordings for the Smithsonian, identifies himself as both. He is also the former executive director of Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, which was created to promote the study of the cultural riches of the Silk Road’s people and places. “I like doing the two together, both scholarship and musical production. The combination is good for my teaching-it brings the world into the classroom,” he says.
Levin’s syllabus for his winter term course “The Silk Road” includes guest lecturers from Dartmouth’s departments of anthropology, geography, history, religion, theater, and Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures (DAMELL). The course, says Levin, considers the Silk Road and its cultural legacy from a profoundly interdisciplinary perspective.
An activist as well: A consultant and advisor to both the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia and the Soros Foundations’ Open Society Institute, Levin champions the role music and musicians can have in preserving and revitalizing traditional cultures. He continues to be instrumental in bringing musical artists to Dartmouth, including Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that grew out of the Silk Road Project and that often collaborates with “world music” musicians. Among them is Japanese shakuhachi virtuoso and composer Kojiro Umezaki, a 1993 graduate of Dartmouth’s M.A. program in digital musics. Brooklyn Rider and Umezaki are artists-in-residence at the College in February, and premiered a Dartmouth-commissioned piece by Umezaki.
silk roadStudents in Levin’s course “The Silk Road” remove bandhani cloth from indigo dye. Master dyer Joan Morris (foreground) of the theater department guided the students through this ancient Indian method of textile patterning. “They are getting, literally, a hands-on experience of the sort of goods traded along the Silk Road,” she says. From left: Elizabeth Kemp ’11(hidden), Evelyn Fisher ’11, Emma Frankel ’12, and Samantha Kaplan ’09. (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)
Digital revolution: The impact of the digital revolution on the world’s music, says Levin, is on two fronts. First, the Internet is transforming accessibility; listeners now have access to music from anywhere in the world. Equally important, musicians can have access to an enormous potential audience. Second, digital tools empower creative work in sound, “giving access to musical creativity,” Levin observes, “without the need for arduous training. Dartmouth’s music department is poised at the cutting edge of these changes. We’re forging links not just with digital movements in the humanities, but also with engineering, computer science, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience.”
By KELLY SEAMAN