Tradition and Innovation: Nothing, and No One, in Isolation
Can you envision a tradition that is “pure,” untouched by another culture or art form? Point to one, and we’ll show you the result of successful innovation.
The question for us as artists is not whether to innovate but how to create innovative music that is authentically rooted in tradition. We share a responsibility to the cultures we represent, on stage and off. We are curious about how they intersect—both as the origin of richly layered musical traditions and as a catalyst for musical innovation.
As a form of communication, music making transcends language and enables us to collaborate even in the face of cultural and political differences. We search for what we have in common, rather than what sets us apart. And far from abandoning our “home” traditions, we return to them with broader perspective and deeper understanding.
Connected Nomads: What Happens When Strangers Meet?
We first answered the call to join Yo-Yo’s magnificent experiment at a workshop at Tanglewood in 2000. Most of us were strangers then, many not even sharing a language. Some came from Western classical orchestras, some from improvisatory traditions. We played using different scales, different notations—or none at all. Some of us had been trained only as soloists and had never played with a group. We brought into question even the notion of an ensemble.
Over the years, as our family has grown, we have learned that our work at the edge between cultures requires us to be intrepid. We must take risks and give one another permission to fail.
Barely a year after the Silk Road Ensemble was formed, we were tested by the events of September 11, 2001. In that climate of fear and suspicion, we questioned the real value of our cross-cultural experiment. And we carried on, with renewed purpose.
We knew that something as fundamental as trust was at stake—a cultural currency that we cultivate together. With the same understanding, flexibility, patience, and humor that we bring to our music making, we can all approach other cultures as students and share our own traditions generously.
Inclusive Independents: Agents of Change
Every day—on television, radio, the internet, and in our own communities—we see reminders of the urgent need to better understand our neighbors. As artists, we respond through our creative work, through a respectful and generous exchange of ideas, and through a commitment to seeking our commonalities and celebrating our diversity.
Some of our musicians have launched independent endeavors around the world, from a festival dedicated to reestablishing Galicia as a cultural crossroads to a platform for artists to collaborate and address the plight of the marginalized in Indian society.
So how can we create understanding across cultures? Our music may not be the answer, but perhaps it is a way to begin the conversation.