SilkRoad Develops Global Musicians

This summer, the inimitable SilkRoad launches its Global Musician Workshop at DePauw University School of Music. With the goal to develop a community of globally minded musicians, participants can expect to learn from one another’s traditions, ultimately evolving their own artistic voices. SilkRoad cellist Mike Block gave us an inside look at the ensemble’s collaborative process and how the new initiative was developed.

We’ve been talking quite a bit about collaboration at 21CM. How does your ensemble create amongst its members?

Within SilkRoad, different ensemble members take the lead on different projects, ranging from programming, recording, educational residencies and commissioning. During rehearsals, however, we strive for what we call a “flattened hierarchy,” where everyone is asked to contribute on an equal level, and we do not have a single leader. We also have an amazing staff that works year-round in our office at Harvard University. They have much to offer as organizational guides as well as instigating new project ideas.

And with groups outside of the organization?

SilkRoad is built on the idea that no one person or organization can know everything there is to know. When you value others who bring something different to the table, collaboration is the key to meaningful work. We collaborate regularly with living composers that we commission to write music specifically for our group, and we occasionally feature musical guests with the ensemble on recordings and in performance. We have a long-term relationship with Harvard University, and in addition to our Cultural Entrepreneurship program that is closely tied to the Harvard Business School, we work with the Harvard Graduate School of Education each summer on presenting a summer institute – titled Arts and Passion-Driven Learning – for teachers.

What suggestions do you have for other music organizations that hope to become more collaborative?

Any successful collaboration is based on an underlying foundation of shared core values. On an artistic level, this can be a shared aesthetic vision or a shared background or even the commitment to breaking from tradition. On a personal level, the shared values are broader: respect, trust, compromise, generosity and humility. Each person or organization involved in a collaboration will have different strengths that can be utilized in different ways – so you want to find a way to bring out everyone’s best!

Tell us about the development of the Global Musician Workshop and what makes it unique.

SilkRoad's Mike Block

Mike Block with students.

We have been collaborating with Harvard University over the past few years developing an approach to entrepreneurship that applies to cultural institutions and artistic individuals. The result is this workshop and we are hopeful it will become the flagship of our educational offerings to other musicians.

Beyond the daily workshops, master classes and band rehearsals with the artists that culminate in a final performance, Yo-Yo opens the workshop with a Q&A for participants and I have a feeling the nightly jamming sessions will be very memorable.

What do you hope participants take away from the workshop?

Definitely a deeper appreciation and understanding of music and cultures from around the world. They will learn comparatively how different styles of music are put together, how musicians from different cultures interact in a band, and what are the underlying values motivating the act of creation and performance for different artists. By performing in faculty-led bands, they will learn new concepts, techniques, and approaches that empower them to speak new musical languages, as well as feed their own artistic development. The diversity of the group actually exceeds that represented by the faculty, and they will undoubtedly learn as much from each other as they do from the faculty.

Learn more about SilkRoad at, and discover the Global Musician Workshop at


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1 Response

  1. Abigail Martin says:

    As an upcoming participant in this workshop, I could not be more excited for the amazing opportunity that has been presented to me. It is clear that both the staff and students at this workshop have a lot to bring at the table, and the entire workshop will be an exercise in collaboration!

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