Bringing the Sounds of the World to Wesleyan

Wesleyan has long been a center for ethnomusicology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many think that the very idea of “world music” began here in Middletown, and our students and faculty have been active participants in playing and doing research on music from all over the world. When I was a student, Javanese Gamelan and African Drumming were very popular among my friends, and it has been wonderful to see how these programs remain vital parts of our campus culture. Over Homecoming/Family Weekend, the Wesleyan Taiko drummers were out in force at the soccer game — a wonderful example of the integrated nature of arts and athletics here at Wes.

This weekend Wesleyan hosts the 34th annual Navaratri Festival. This may be the largest gathering of Indian arts and music outside the subcontinent. There will be world class players, singers and dancers performing from Thursday through Sunday, with concerts by students as well as by some of the great emerging artists in India.

When I traveled in India last year, I heard that a video of some of our students performing South Indian music had been seen by tens of thousands of viewers there. Someone asked me how it was possible that these students in Middletown CT had mastered the intricate melodies and rhythms of this music? Had they really been studying in India, I was asked?

In Mark Slobin’s recent book on the history of the Wesleyan music program, he shows how the infusion of world music and avant garde Western music transformed our curriculum and our culture. This year’s Navaratri Festival continues the tradition with a stirring array of performances in a variety of genres. There’s even a dance party Saturday afternoon at 2 pm in the World Music Hall!

2 thoughts on “Bringing the Sounds of the World to Wesleyan”

  1. President Roth:
    Am delighted to see this window on Indian arts for the greater Wesleyan community.
    Back in the day, I was the first Princeton-in-Asia Fellow to go to India, and am of course partial to such cross-cultural events.
    Here’s to hoping for a great turn-out,
    Dana Dreibelbis P’14 (Emily)

  2. I think it’s wonderful that the 34th annual Navaratri Festival gives rise to a variety of musical genres and from what it sounds like it was a huge success. I was unaware of that fact that Wesleyan “was” on the cutting of Ethnomusicology and that Western avant garde Music transformed the curriculum and culture. Interesting.

    Is Wesleyan at a strategic inflection point if the culture is transformed by music? In a reversal of musical trends that usually move from top to bottom, we have seen bottom-feeder music going from bottom to top. This trend initiated by inner city ghettos and from there, rose upward into city and suburban streets transformed many cultural attitudes. Yet, as the depression continues and emotional attitudes change especially on the poor the charm of rap or satorial defiance may be expected to reverse itself.

    So, what’s next? Will history repeat itself and will Wesleyan be on the cutting edge of the next trend? After the 34th annual Navaratri Festival isn’t it time for the first annual Classics Festival?

    Will Wesleyan be fundamentally transformed by the classical music of Wagner, Rossini, Verdi, Strauss and Beethoven? Can you see it now! The football team charges the field while the band plays Ride of the Valkyries and the fans are dressed to the nine’s. The fundamental transformation of Wesleyan is under way as students and professors begin to realize that if you look sharp, be sharp, you will feel sharp!

    When will the first annual classics festival be held?


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