SPICE and Stanford Live: extending the Silk Road to Bay Area classrooms

SPICE and Stanford Live: extending the Silk Road to Bay Area classrooms

Kinan Azmeh and Kojiro Umezaki, The Silk Road Ensemble. © Joel Simon Joel Simon

On February 12, 2016, the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) and Stanford Live (in collaboration with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia) co-hosted a teacher professional development seminar that focused on the Silk Road. The seminar was held just prior to a Stanford Live performance by the Silk Road Ensemble at Stanford Bing Concert Hall on February 24, 2016 and a student matinee on February 25, 2016. Made up of performers and composers from more than 20 countries, the Silk Road Ensemble was formed under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma in 2000.


Jonas Edman introducing the Silk Road Ensemble. © Joel Simon

Jonas Edman (SPICE) and Ben Frandzel (Stanford Live) organized the day-long seminar. The morning featured a two-part lecture by Professor Emeritus Albert E. Dien, Stanford University. Part one focused on a general overview of the history and geography of the Silk Road and part two focused on a specific introduction to the religions along the Silk Road. Dr. Dien highlighted religion as an example of the many ways that the Silk Road helped to facilitate cultural exchange for millennia, resulting in the tremendous diversity one witnesses today in the region.


The afternoon featured a presentation and performance by composer and santur player Faraz Minooei, and a curriculum demonstration by SPICE staff. Minooei gave an overview of how the Silk Road played a role in the transmission of musical tradition, and also shared his personal story from his birth and childhood in Tehran, his immigrant experience in the United States, and his musical discoveries along the way. In particular, he shared his reflections on his deep spiritual desire to study music, seeing music as an “unexplainable souvenir from the eternal truth.”

Reflecting on Minooei’s presentation, Frandzel commented, “Faraz’s presentation really embodied the ways in which the Silk Road’s tradition of cultural exchange is a living story that continues to this day. His performances of Persian classical music and of his own compositions were entrancing, ear-opening experiences. As Faraz discussed his background and the musical forms that feed into his current work, his personal history and music seemed to encapsulate, in a fast-moving way, the kinds of cultural mixing that would have happened along the historic Silk Road. In our teacher workshops, we aim to provide teachers with arts-based teaching tools, and also to provide a larger social and cultural context for the art forms under discussion. The wonderful opportunity to partner with SPICE on the workshop, and the presence of this fascinating and brilliant musician, made this so much more possible.”

The curriculum demonstration was led by Rylan SekiguchiNaomi Funahashi, and Johanna Wee, who introduced both print- and web-based materials from the curriculum unit, Along the Silk Road, which were developed in collaboration with the Silk Road Ensemble and Dr. Dien. The 20 teachers in attendance interactively engaged with the materials and each received a complimentary copy of the curriculum unit as well as a large wall map of the Silk Road. The development of such materials has been a hallmark of SPICE for 40 years. The materials help to make content from teacher professional development seminars accessible to students.

Following the seminar, Edman reflected, “It is always such a pleasure to share with teachers the curriculum we produce here at SPICE. And to be able to collaborate with Stanford Live on a professional development workshop in conjunction with the Silk Road Ensemble’s visit to Stanford was a wonderful opportunity and experience. The Silk Road—with its themes of cross-cultural communication, exchange, and understanding—seems like an ideal topic for middle school students trying to understand today’s globalized world. We hope the speakers and pedagogical strategies and materials shared at the workshop will help teachers bring the topic to life in the classroom!”