Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music

Member of the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra during a performance

So tonight, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra is having their “Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music” event that I mentioned in a previous post.

The performances details:

Thursday March 3, 2011 at 7 pm
Vancouver Public Library Central Branch
350 Georgia St.
Alice MacKay Hall (Lower Level)
FREE Admission

But what really sold me to this group–other than the fact they are doing what I would love to be doing with an ensemble, is this:

For the third presentation in the 2010-2011 edition of our educational series Music of the Whole World, the VICO is proud to feature the future of intercultural music, in the making: student composers from Seycove Secondary School in North Vancouver will present new pieces they have written for tar, oud and santur, performed by VICO musicians. This event is part of VICO in the Schools, an innovative workshop program through which VICO musicians and instructors introduce students to a selection of non-Western instruments and impart techniques for composing intercultural music.

This is something I can stand behind and fully support.  The type of outreach, especially for such an “unorthodox” ensemble that I would think should be part and parcel of any performing groups’ activities.  If anyone reading is on the left coast and near the border of Canada  I would highly recommend this concert just out of principle!

Eric Edberg has an insightful blog post about Education and Outreach and I think this description of Adrian Ellis’ (Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center) talk at an event he attended last month says it all:

He elaborated on a variety of topics, outreach being perhaps the most critical.  With much of country “two to three generations beyond routine arts education,” the task falls to arts organizations.  Jazz at Lincoln Center, he said, is “basically an education machine with programming.”

Drew McManus posted a link to an article about Orchestras and touring written by Janelle Gelfand that is interesting because of what is omitted as a reason for Orchestras to tour.  Sure, there is talk about the growing number of residencies – National Symphony Orchestra (which is currently doing a statewide Kentucky Residency–they were in Louisville a couple weeks ago), Cleveland Symphony Orchestra – but these are still rare and probably going to be rarer still given the economic climate and travel issues.

But as I talked about  in the comments section to one of Drew’s other posts about the DSO:

Bassam Saba has been doing great work with the New York Arabic Orchestra ( ) not just in performing but in outreach and education.

Bassam and members of the [New York Arabic] Orchestra tour around the US to give intensive seminars in Arabic Art music–often stopping in communities with large Arab-American populations.

Other ethnic groups are also starting to “go public” with Art Ensembles related to their cultural backgrounds rather than just a European one, and I can only see this growing as the monopoly on Art music that Western Classical Music has had in the US slowly breaks down.

Only those Orchestras (whether Western Classical or not) that can cater to their local communities and integrate themselves in economically as well as culturally meaningful ways will survive, I think.

All the non-Western ensembles seem to get it.  Bassam Saba and many other Arab-Americans have been doing seminars around the country for some years now.  The Chicago Arabesque Music Ensemble leads the Heartland Seminar in Arabic Music as well as spending as much time doing residencies around the country as performing; Simon Shaheen has his Annual Arabic Retreat; The MESTO (Muti-Ethnic Star Orchestra) in LA spends much of its time in Educational and Outreach programming; and, of course, the Vancouver group above — teaching kids how to compose for an instrument they were more than likely never to have heard or seen before–outstanding!

None of these groups and the many others that are starting and growing around the US (and other parts of the world) take if for granted that they have monopolized “high art music” culture so it makes sense that they realize there’s plenty of work to be done in education and outreach.  It has as much to do with these organizations doing art music from the cultural backgrounds of the non-majority population of the US.  In many ways, Classical music, as is stands in general here in the US, is also an art music from the cultural backgrounds of a non-majority population–namely the population of European immigrants.

The difference between European-American Art music organizations and the Non-Western-American Art music organizations is that the former is having a crisis, while the latter seems to be slowly building momentum mainly doing a number of things the former doesn’t seem so willing to do: Education and Outreach.


EDIT:  Tony Woodcock posted a recent blog describing some new and exciting things happening due to enterprising musicians/entrepreneurs-but in keeping with the theme of this post, he also mentioned the Boston Latin-American Orchestra!  Check it out!!

Boston Latin-American Orchestra (BLO)


  1. “The difference between European-American Art music organizations and the Non-Western-American Art music organizations is the former is having a crisis, while the latter seems to be slowly building momentum mainly doing a number of things the former doesn’t seem so willing to do: Education and Outreach.”

    That sums it up, doesn’t it? I think the large E-A institutions are waking up, and we’re seeing tensions–growing pains–as they sort out how to do it. For example, do you change the culture of a major symphony orchestra by management fiat, or do the work to change the culture of the organization from within? The first course leads to disaster.


    • I’m thinking that this really is starting to sum it up. The sad thing is I’m sure many of the folks involved also know and understand this. I remember going to one of those Contemporary Music Festivals in Terre Haute, I believe it was one of the first ones the Louisville Orchestra played after the ISO gave up its stint (a lost opportunity for them, I guess), where the conductor (and for the life of me I cannot remember who it was at the time) talked about the concerts they used to give to Kentuckiana 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I remember going to a couple of those concerts–we would all be bussed in from school to the Kentucky Center for the Arts and the whole concert hall would be filled with kids for the whole weekend.

      Usually the winner of the LO Young Artist Competition would perform with the Orchestra–that was genius and exhilarating– to see a student from the area get to perform a solo with the LO.

      Apparently they stopped doing those concerts not long after I went to Junior High, and the conductor said the Orchestra realized that the generation that grew up without being a part of those concerts as well as the succeeding ones, that happened to correspond with a very sharp decline in attendance.

      Granted, we now know there are many other factors contributing to the decline but none of those could explain the really sharp drop the LO had corresponding to the time those generations didn’t get the chance to take part in that outreach.

      None of this really hit home for me until I started seeing and reading about how many Symphony musicians seem to detest the Memphis Model and what something like that would mean for their involvement in their Orchestras.

      The management fiat is obviously not going to work, as the DSO case is showing us–but I fear for the ability of the organization to change the culture from within and I wonder how many Orchestras will have to break before the rest take seriously the need to address the need for change?

      I guess what is also remarkable about the non-Western Orchestra here are that so much of the musical manpower is still comprised of Classically trained musicians–and many of these seminars I mentioned are marketed to building the next generation of, say, Arabic Orchestra/Ensemble players from the pool of highly trained Classical musicians. Which might be a reason for some hope for Classical musician attitudes towards change except that these musicians were already thinking outside the box just by virtue of their having joined such a different kind of musical organization in the first place. *sighs*


  2. […] to my research.  Last weekend as I was working on my database for ethnic orchestras (see my post Music of the Whole World: The ABCs of Intercultural Music) I was just stunned with the numbers of organizations I’ve been coming up with.  After 1990 […]


  3. […] audiences, it seems like many of these orgs are forgetting to implement some of programs that others are taking up the slack in now.  On the other hand, all the complaints I’ve heard/read from the pop music side of things […]


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