The Latest Update
Project Update #2
In March 2020, following a meaningful workshop of Emergence in January 2020, Silkroad considered our hoped-for plans for second and third workshops, a tour, and intermediary activities. With both summer activities and presenters’ future season plans significantly shaken up by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are both now forced and granted the opportunity to thoughtfully approach what the subsequent workshops and intermediary activities can look like. With, likely, more time to develop the community activities in particular, Silkroad may find the opportunity to connect more deeply in an educationally immersive way. Similarly, the level of uncertainty around our ability to gather the artists and develop the music affords Danny the opportunity to consider the conceptual elements of Coltrane’s story and to focus on making a deeper dive into a small set of concepts, thereby enriching the experience both for the artists and eventual audiences.
Project Update #1
In January 2020, artists of the Silkroad Ensemble gathered at Harvard University for a first workshop of a new project by composer and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen. The project, Emergence, celebrates and explores the life and work of Alice Coltrane, whose musical and spiritual influence has been felt and experienced by several of the participating musicians, some of whom joined Silkroad for the first time in January, in a continuation of Silkroad’s important tradition of collaborating with an ever-growing family of artists. Over three days at Harvard’s ArtLab, Danny and the Ensemble combined newly-composed themes with improvisations by the artists and deep explorations of Coltrane’s writing and philosophy, including a meditation to a recorded track played in surround sound that became an introductory element to a work-in-progress presentation open to an audience.. At the end of the workshop, SIlkroad emerged with a road map of the piece and how a performance evening might be shaped; and a plan to reconvene the artists in late summer 2020 to continue developing the concept and music. This second workshop would be followed by a third in spring 2021; a US tour in fall 2021; and, in between, the development of learning- and community-based events reaching a variety of audiences, in which smaller subsets of the Emergence musician group would explore specific themes or concepts in workshop, masterclass, or school visit settings.
Silkroad seeks support to commission and develop Emergence (working title), a new work by Ethiopian-American composer and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen that illuminates the “spiritual jazz” developed by pianist, harpist, singer, and composer Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (1937–2007).
Alice Coltrane was a significant influence on the music of her husband, John, and after his death, forged a new genre of musical expression that drew on the gospel of her childhood, her accomplished career in jazz, and Indian spiritualism. Mekonnen will develop the piece with Silkroad through a workshopping process that will engage the musical traditions of Ethiopia, India, the U.S. and others in a revisionist historical dialogue about the artist’s legacy. Just as Alice Coltrane fused elements of the diverse musical traditions that influenced her spiritual development, Emergence will draw on the rich tapestry of traditions that make up our many-layered contemporary identities in an act of radical cultural collaboration.
The work, for six artists (music and dance), will include sparse moments for soloists, as well as group improvisation. The piece will be ~20 minutes long. Personnel will feature female artists rooted in jazz and Indian traditions, and those aligned with Afrofuturism.
This project will broaden our thinking about what constitutes jazz, who creates it, and who performs it. The 1940’s-1960’s are widely viewed as the golden age of jazz, and this codification eschews the innovations that came after that period, including fusion and spiritual jazz. The work that Alice Coltrane developed at her ashram in the 1980’s-1990’s gives us a new lens through which to reconsider the parameters and possibilities of jazz.
Emergence will generate a discussion about what constitutes American music. Mekonnen believes it essential for American music to source inspiration from a diverse array of cultures within the U.S. and abroad, and Alice Coltrane’s work reminds us that this practice is a central component of the American jazz tradition.
Emergence will be workshopped during late-2019/early-2020 at Harvard and Rice University in an open process that invites community members to observe the creation of the work and explore its themes with Silkroad artists. We will develop learning programs to accompany touring activity and make curricula, learning tools, and videos available on our website. Emergence will premiere in fall 2020, likely in Detroit, MI Alice’s hometown.
Emergence represents a significant departure from the repertoire of Silkroad’s first two decades. As explained in Silkroad’s profile, we made the strategic shift to use the historical Silk Road as a metaphorical framework, rather than a literal one. This project amplifies questions that we grapple with as an organization—Which artistic traditions should be given cultural currency? What is American music right now? Who can be a Silkroad artist? As Danny states, “It is one thing to form a task force on diversity; it is quite another to work together to create an artwork that seeks answers to these questions and disrupts audience’s expectations. Alice Coltrane is a fitting guide for this work.”
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble perform “Musicawi Silt” at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, April 2015. This classic Girma Beyene composition from 1978 was arranged by Colin Jacobsen for the Silkroad Ensemble.
“And All the Light,” composed and performed by Danny Mekonnen (saxophone and keyboards), 2017.
Exceprt from”Wild Seed,” composed by Danny Mekonnen, 2018. Chinling Hsu (crystal bowls and voice), Julia Watson (violin), Juliano Vendemiatti (rabeca), Louise King (cello), Chloe Chung (flute, dizi), and Danny Mekonnen (tenor saxophone).
Start and End Dates
11/16/2019 — 10/17/2020