International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

25th ICTM Colloquium: Double Reeds of the Silk Road: The Interaction of Theory and Practice from Antiquity to Contemporary Performance

The Silk Road in the general sense, that includes the Ancient Tea Route, Maritime Silk Road, and Fur Road, provides many examples of interactionally constructed musics within the space reaching from China and other parts of East Asia to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. Religious, literary, and artistic studies about the Great Silk Road in the past usually focused on its history and archeology, including decorative patterns of bronze, inlaid jade, frescoes and colored paintings, grottoes, carvings, and Bianwen (Buddhist "transformation texts") scriptures. 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 and Asian music history and music exchange. Can we put earlier descriptive conclusions aside and stress the concrete cultural performances of peoples along the Great Silk Road by relating the macroscopic properties of culture to the actual details? Perhaps in this way, we could perceive the cultural nature and depth of the historical term "the Great Silk Road" based on experienced musical practice.

Double reeds, of which Zurna and Piri are notable examples, are chosen as an original and strong motif of the Great Silk Road for this colloquium. In fact, since ancient times double reeds travelled from the Middle East to both ends of Eurasian continent forth and back, to North and East Africa and to the islands of Indonesia. By spreading to different regions and continents, even in periods of historical turbulence, and absorbing the cultural wisdom of various civilizations, double reeds are now a musical instrument family that features many different shapes, each abundant in national, regional, and local features.

As instruments played with great loudness, double reeds are often related to secular or religious rituals of various communities along the Great Silk Road. They became an essential part of musical practices of diverse communities inhabiting a variety of environments such as grasslands, deserts, oases, waterways, and port cities. Was the process of indigenization completed by just one generation or over several generations? It may look difficult to answer such questions, but it is worth consulting historical literature, iconology, and living praxis. Therefore, we will invite scholars from different countries and regions to discuss these issues. The colloquium will include live music performances featuring double reeds from diverse regions, communities, and periods in their present musical contexts. 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 double reeds, exchanges and interactions between the subject and the music itself, and features found in studies of contemporary performance practices. By centering on the pivot of music and playing, we will include the shapes, techniques, temperaments and scales of double reeds performance contexts and their music trajectories and social histories, in hope of acquiring more exuberant musical details.

The envisioned thematic frames include:

  1. History of the double reeds and their relation to other reed instruments, social and cultural implications: from legends to reality, from assumptions to facts
  2. Technical characteristics, playing techniques, and performance practices as single instruments and in ensemble contexts
  3. Double reeds and their sound symbolism in daily life and rituals of people on the Great Silk Road
  4. Aesthetics in performance, improvisation, and composition of music incorporating double reeds from past times to modernity

In accordance with the ICTM’s guidelines for Colloquia, all participants - scholars from different countries and from different disciplines with research focus on double reeds of the Silk Road - will be invited.

Colloquium size

20-25 scholars from various countries and regions will be invited.

Colloquium date

29 November to 1 December 2018

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.

Program Committee:

Gisa Jähnichen (Germany/China) & Terada Yoshitaka (Japan)

Zhang Zhengtao (China)

Jürgen Elsner (Germany)

Xiao Mei (China)


Local Arrangements Committee:

Xiao Mei

Shi Yin

Liu Hong

Gisa Jähnichen

Chen Daiying