International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

24th ICTM Colloquium “Plucked Lutes of the Silk Road: The Interaction of Theory and Practice, From Antiquity to Contemporary Performance", 20-23 October 2016, Shanghai, China

Human culture includes much music that is not isolated but rather interactionally constructed. The Silk Road (in the generalized sense that also includes the Ancient Tea Route, Maritime Silk Road, and Fur Road) provides many examples of this phenomenon, as found in the various and colourful civilizations stretching from China and other parts of East Asia to the Mediterranean sea and beyond. Nowadays, human conflicts are becoming increasingly fierce among countries, religions, and even individuals. It is necessary to look back into the fortune, wisdom, and merit that the Silk Road brought us from the past. Drawing on our experience of the way that the cultures have developed, we can improve communication and understanding through music cultures and, even further, bring smiles of peace to all the lands connected by the Silk Road.

Religious, literary, and artistic studies about the Great Silk Road in the past usually focused on its history and archaeology, including decorative patterns of bronze, inlaid jade, frescoes and coloured paintings, grottoes, carvings, and Bianwen scriptures (Buddhist "transformation texts"). In terms of music and dance, relevant studies are mainly about the restoration of dancing accompanied by music, adaptations of ancient melodies, and images of musical instruments; these studies have become an important basis for research on ancient Chinese music history and music exchange history. However, is there a possibility that we can put documentary conclusions aside and stress the concrete cultural performances from nations along the Great Silk Road by relating the macroscopic properties of culture to the live details? Perhaps in this we can perceive the cultural nature and depth of the historical term “the Great Silk Road” based on real living music.

Plucked lutes, of which the East Asian pipa (biwa in Japan) is a notable example, are chosen as an original and charming motif of the Great Silk Road in this seminar. In fact, in ancient times, while still a young type of musical instrument, the plucked lute travelled from the Mediterranean area to Japan, and from the subcontinent of South Asia to the islands of Indonesia. By spreading to different regions in Asia, even in periods of historical turbulence, and absorbing the cultural wisdom of various civilizations, plucked lutes are now a musical instrument family that features lutes of many different shapes, each abundant in national features.

As an instrument played while being held in the hands, is the lute’s widespread development related to the singing and playing traditions of nations along the Great Silk Road? In the road of exchange that includes grasslands, deserts, and oases, how did the features of the lutes of different nations evolve? Was the process of indigenization completed by just one generation or over several generations? It seems difficult to trace back the answers to such questions, but it is worth imagining these through historic literature and iconology. Therefore, we will invite scholars from different regions and nations to discuss these issues. The colloquium will include live music performances featuring lutes from different regions, nations, and periods. When participants experience both academic presentations and musical performances, scholars can put aside their preconceptions and develop new insights that they can apply to their research, while performers can get a better sense of how their music is presented and interpreted by scholars. Bringing together a diverse assembly of distinguished scholars and performers will provide new insights to both groups, and will help to bridge the gap between them that exists in many of our cultures.

This is why we stress the music and playing of the lute, exchanges and interactions between the subject and the music itself, and features found in studies of contemporary performance practice. By centring on the pivotal juncture of music and performance, we will include the shape, performance skills, musical scales and melodies of lutes, playing and singing, and performance contexts and musical life related to the lute, as well as discussions of its music trajectories and social history.

  1. History of lutes
  2. Instrument-making processes for lutes: from myths to reality
  3. Technical characteristics, playing techniques, and performance practice (in solo, accompanying, and ensemble contexts)
  4. Lutes in the daily life and celebrations of people of the Great Silk Road
  5. Aesthetics, improvisation, and composition

In accordance with ICTM’s guidelines for Colloquia, all participants in this seminar will be invited. Participants will be scholars whose research focus and specialization relate to lutes of the Great Silk Road, as well as performers of various lute types from the region. Scholars from different countries and from different disciplines will present their respective studies together and share them with performers; this will enable the colloquium to develop a unique framework with great potential for academic importance. Those who are interested in attending the Colloquium as observers should contact Xiao Mei via e-mail. 

Colloquium date

20-23 October 2016

Colloquium site

Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Shanghai, China.

Colloquium Language

English, with Chinese and Russian as auxiliary languages. Simultaneous interpretation will be provided by the LAC.

Programme Committee

Stephen Blum (Professor Emeritus, City University of New York)

Virginia Danielson (New York University, Abu Dhabi)

John Morgan O'Connell (Cardiff University)

Svanibor Pettan, ICTM Secretary General (University of Ljubljana)

Anne Rasmussen (College of William and Mary)

Razia Sultanova (Cambridge University)

J. Lawrence Witzleben, Program Chair (University of Maryland)

Richard Wolf (Harvard University)

Xiao Mei, Local Arrangements Co-Chair (Shanghai Conservatory of Music)

Zhao Weiping (Shanghai Conservatory of Music)