Students from Danville region treated to musical experience

Silkroad Ensemble
The Advocate-Messenger

By Jennifer Brummett

Gus Crow wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the hourlong program Thursday by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

Except for the obvious, of course: The 13-year-old expected to hear “awesome music.”

Gus was at Danville High School with his dad, Matthew Hallock, who thought it important for Gus to experience a program with musicians the caliber of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

“It is an incredible experience to be in the same room (with them),” Hallock said. “I wanted him to get the feel of that.”

Students from throughout central Kentucky — about 500-600 — assembled in Gravely Hall for a program that meshed music with world history and cultural study.

“Through music, stories and a focus on musical instruments, students (were) introduced to the historic ‘Silk Road’ from Eastern Asia to Europe and how that trail bridged geographic and cultural boundaries, and its impact on today’s society,” explained Mandy Prather and Steve Hoffman of the Norton Center for the Arts, where the ensemble was performing Thursday evening.

Prather and Hoffman added the school event that complemented the Norton Center performance was devised for numerous reasons. The special program: 1) provides an opportunity for regional students to get a deeper experience in a program that crosses disciplines and features some of the world’s best musicians; 2) is used as a resource by area high school teachers to call upon world-renowned artists to deepen student experiences that meet state and national curriculum standards including history, arts and humanities, social studies and music education; and 3) furthers Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts mission to engage its visiting artists in our community and provide meaningful and relevant experiences that demonstrate the value and importance of the arts.

“An experience like this, with or without attending the actual evening performance, can have deep and long-lasting impact for its audiences, sparking passion, innovation and understanding of new ideas,” they added. “Young or old, educator or student, we all gain new insights into ourselves, past history and our futures when engaging with artists. 

“The insights might not solve the world’s problems, but they allow information to be processed in a different format than how we traditionally process information from a book or a lecture. In that respect, perhaps impact from activities like the Silk Road Ensemble lecture-demonstration do help address global and personal issues.”

The students attending the daytime program applauded enthusiastically when the ensemble — especially Yo-Yo Ma — took the stage. It immediately launched into a tune, and instruments not often seen in a traditional Western orchestral ensemble blended with the cellos, contrabass, violins and viola.

The Silk Road Ensemble, which was founded by Yo-Yo Ma, started its journey in Japan. An instrument called the shakuhachi, an end-blown bamboo flute, was introduced to the assemblage. Kojiro Umezaki performed a brief number that was meant to remind listeners of a crane.

Next on the musical journey was China, and the first instrument introduced was a bawu, another flute-like bamboo instrument with a reed. Then the sheng was added, providing a sound reminiscent of both an organ and a harmonica.

The pipa, a plucked lute, was next. As the pipa moved West, it became the guitar.

The fifth instrument added was a popular drum from India called the tabla, followed by the kamancheh from Iran, a fiddle-type instrument that was smaller than a violin but played more like a cello, with it upright. Other instruments introduced to the students were a variety of percussion from countries such as Azerbaijan and Pakistan. Then Cristina Pato told the group about the gaita, the Galician bagpipe, which she said is the national instrument of bagpipe.

The program ended with a Q&A and a final musical visit to the Silk Road provided by the world musicians onstage. One of the questions was, “Do you ever get nervous?” Yo-Yo Ma answered that one.

“Never, when I’m surrounded by my friends.”

To which the audience replied, “Awwwwww.”