International Performers Hold Cross-Cultural Music Workshops For Windsor Students

Jan 5, 2017

International musicians and dancers will be performing the Islamic opera Layla and Majnun at the Dartmouth Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover this weekend. But before the world-class performers take the stage this weekend, they stopped by a local music class for a cross-cultural music workshop with the students.

Layla and Majnun originates from central Asia and tells the story of two star-crossed lovers

In the music room of the Windsor Schools, in Windsor, Vermont, students are thrilled to miss their regular fourth-period classes. Instead, they're equipped with their instruments and voices, learning from the performers of the Silk Road Ensemble.

The ensemble will be performing with the Mark Morris Dance Group in the production of Layla and Majnun at the Hopkins Center this week as part of their 2017 world tour.

The Silk Road Ensemble was started by the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma with the intention of weaving together musical traditions from a variety of cultures. Shane Shanahan, one of the musicians, told the Windsor students about the power of music to connect.

“I think music reaches everybody on some level. And it's different music for different people, but there's always some connection to music,” he said after the workshop in the Windsor Schools music room. “And I think it helps people feel like they're home. When they travel, they bring their music with them. It's something that's familiar; it's something that allows them to tap into a positive feeling."

"I think music reaches everybody on some level. And it's different music for different people, but there's always some connection to music." — Shane Shanahan, Silk Road Ensemble musician

Josh Epstein is a seventh-grader at the Windsor Schools. He plays the pocket trumpet and says he learned a lot from the workshop.

“You can listen to music through hearing and you can learn to play music just by listening to other people play,” says Epstein, before rushing off to his next class.

Mark Morris Dance Group performing with The Silk Road Ensemble

Mark Morris, the choreographer and director of the show at the Hopkins Center, says the plot shares similarities to the plot of Romeo and Juliet.

“It's a series of poems originally about a pair of people who fell in love very young and were separated for various familial and cultural reasons and these two never met again,” Morris explains. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, the couple in Layla and Majnun never marries or consummates the relationship. 

“So their love isn't just a personal one, but representative in the Sufi tradition of the all-consuming eternal love that is not merely physical," Morris says.

Morris says the ancient poems and stories on which the show is are well-known in Islamic cultures throughout Persia and Southeast Asia, but not in Western cultures.

"[T]he piece itself is absolutely not any kind of political or, from my angle, religious point of view at all, except that it's the culture it comes from. It's complete in and of itself, and it's very beautiful." — Mark Morris, choreographer and director of "Layla and Majnun"

But, he also says the show doesn't have a thesis or particular lesson.

“There are outreach programs where we're giving historical, referential points of view so people can understand something further," says Morris, "but the piece itself is absolutely not any kind of political or, from my angle, religious point of view at all, except that it's the culture it comes from. It's complete in and of itself, and it's very beautiful."

Performances of Layla and Majnun will take place at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover, Friday, Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 7 at 2 and 8 p.m.

Correction 9:25 a.m. 1/6/17: A previous version of this story incorrectly called the Mark Morris Dance Group the Mark Morris Dance Company. We regret the error.