Mason Artist-in-Residence Silkroad Ensemble Leads Events Across Campus and Community


Returning for their second of three years as a Mason Artist-in-Residence, Silkroad Ensemble and Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens present the world premiere of American Railroad, an initiative that maps American music through the various communities involved in building the late-1800s Transcontinental Railroad and its connecting railways. In its description of the project, Silkroad explains that though corporations and the American government financed the railroad, the people who built it are the focus of this program—Indigenous and African Americans as well Irish, Chinese, Japanese, and other immigrant laborers whose contributions have been largely erased from history. American Railroad highlights untold stories and amplifies unheard voices from these communities. 

“The American Railroad project has been years in the making, and the program we've created for our first tour is only the beginning. In it, we shed light on those who have been erased or overlooked throughout American history and merge with it Silkroad's unique ability to amplify voices from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures. The result is a tapestry of stories, traditions, and musics that have shaped our multifaceted cultural identity, and that must be heard and recognized,” stated Giddens.  
Want to learn more about the American Railroad project? Read Silkroad Ensemble’s description.

As a Mason Artist-in-Residence, Silkroad artists will also work with the community through classes and workshops surrounding the performance, which are detailed below. 

  • In a session with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), three Silkroad artists—Karen Ouzounian (cello/vocals), Shawn Conley (bass), and Kaoru Watanabe (Japanese flutes/percussion)—will lead a musical morning that includes individual demonstrations and a participatory Q&A with OLLI participants. 

  • Silkroad Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens joins Silkroad artist Mazz Swift in a “Beyond the Note” Roundtable event, cohosted by the Dewberry School of Music, that includes conversation with BIPOC College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) students Darren Badley, Telah Harper, and Alyssa Cabassa, as they discuss the successes and challenges experienced by BIPOC musicians and artists. 

  • As part of Mason’s Folklore Program, the course “Global Folklore” taught by Professor Debra Lattanzi Shutika will be joined by Silkroad artist Kaoru Watanabe (Japanese flutes/percussion) and guest artists on the American Railroad program Pura Fé Crescioni (lap-steel guitar/vocals) and Francesco Turrisi (frame drums/accordion) for a special class session that will include musical demonstrations and a participatory Q&A with more than 70 students in attendance. 

Silkroad Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens joins Silkroad Ensemble at the Center on Nov. 5.
Silkroad Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens joins Silkroad Ensemble at the Center on Nov. 5.

In addition to the activities above, multiple Silkroad artists have taken part in a semester-long Mason Honors College course for fall 2023, “The Silk Road and the Railroad: An artistic exploration of the Transcontinental Railroad in American history and culture.” Taught by College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean Rick Davis, this academic course explores the many cultures, histories, music, and narratives of the Transcontinental Railroad, providing context to Silkroad’s newest initiative. Earlier this semester, Silkroad artists visited the class for discussions and will offer an opportunity for students to watch a Silkroad Ensemble rehearsal prior to the November 5 performance. 

To learn more about this fall 2023 Honors College course, check out a recent article with Professor Rick Davis

Get your tickets today and join Silkroad Ensemble with Rhiannon Giddens on November 5 for the powerful world-premiere performance of American Railroad