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!