Introduction by Roger Reynolds to the SEARCH Project.
Introduction: Chou Wen-chung by Roger Reynolds
"Music – What Is Its Future?"
Copyright © 2001 Chou Wen-chung and the Composition Area, Department of Music
the University of California, San Diego
Published by Permission
Online publishing and editing by Karen Reynolds
All Rights Reserved.
SEARCH EVENT III, 21 April 2001, University of California, San Diego
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The act of prophecy, especially about culture or the arts, is a perilous one. Yet so many of us are tempted to try it – the brave, the foolhardy, the farsighted and dogmatic. A few do succeed in discerning the future. Edgard Varèse was one. In fact, he was so certain of his vision that he sacrificed much of his creative productivity in pursuit of the future he expected for his own time. Sadly, today we realize that his music still remains a prophesy, unfulfilled even at the beginning of a new millennium. However, we are grateful to him, as his was the lone voice that guided many of us to where we are today, that exhorted other creative artists to share in the vision to which he had dedicated his whole life.
More than three-quarters of a century later, at the dawn of a new millennium in the year 2000, the son of an old friend of Varèse's published an exhaustive study of the past 500 years of Western cultural life, entitled "From Dawn to Decadence." The book concludes with an observation about the decline of something of momentous consequence, the culture that has dominated the world for so long. The voice of the author, Jacques Barzun, is that of a perceptive scholar who has dedicated his life to the subject of his book. Among other things, the book answers the question as to why Varèse never found the opportunity to pursue his vision: The era he belonged to was one of decline, while the age he envisioned was not yet born. Varèse was a captive of his era, despite his vision.
Jacques Barzun, the cultural historian whom I first met through Varèse, was my dean while I was a graduate student at Columbia University, my provost when I started teaching there, and my chairman when I served on the committee evaluating the role of the arts in higher education some thirty years ago. I hold him in high esteem, I value his opinion, and I share with him many of the views expressed in his book. Barzun, who, at 93, has authored dozens of books on Western culture, observes in his new volume that, "the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere...[B]orrowing widely from other lands, thriving on dissent and originality, the West has been the mongrel civilization par excellence." Now that this era of 500 years is in decline, will there be a revival, a restoration? No, he responded in a recent public appearance. But he does seem to infer that any future is a new beginning – a nascence, or as he put it, a "renascence."
A "new beginning" is what I have advocated for a long time. Despite my apprehension in predicting the future, I have in fact been sounding like a broken record for literally half a century on a "new beginning." What I have been speaking of is not a "new" culture, but a "merger" or "re-merger" of legacies, not cultural "influence" but a "confluence." In contrast to "borrowing" by the West from the East in the past, or the East from the West today, "merger" means coming together, sharing each other's heritage, complementing and revitalizing legacies. Considering the history of all the civilizations in the world, this actually means a re-merger, as some forms of merger have already taken place here and there. The Chinese musical culture, for example, was already a product of layers of mergers by the year 1500, where Barzun's book begins. The same can be said of the Byzantine civilization to which the European Renaissance owed so much, or of the early Christian era in Europe, which was deeply indebted to the Judaic and early West Asian cultures.
Barzun's erudite dissertation confirms my own speculation that I have committed to speeches and papers over the past decades. He and I, however, approach our shared ideas from different directions. He, a French-American having spent all of his mature life in this country, views the cultural life of all of humanity from the purview of 500 years of modern European culture. He argues that we are witnessing the end, not of the "European Age," but of a global era, considering the impact of the "Europeanization of the globe." I, a Chinese-American having also spent all of my mature life here, while remaining deeply involved with the legacies of the East, look at the cultures of the world with the recognition that there are three distinct, though overlapping, forces at work – the European, the Westernized, and the indigenous, or traditional, legacies beyond the geographical Western world.
I believe that the third force – the indigenous and not quite Westernized legacies – will have a significant impact on the future, once artists and scholars of both worlds – the Western and the non-Western – succeed in breaking through the barriers of language, perception, and, frankly, bias. We will then also learn that the West was not alone in offering the world "ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere." I submit that all cultures in contact with each other always exchange ideas and institutions that may lead to mergers of legacies. With all due respect to Barzun, I would refer to the past 500 years as the "European and Westernized Age," since the "Europeanization of the Globe" has only succeeded in creating patches of Westernized societies rather than a homogenized global civilization.
I have spoken of intercultural relations for decades, and have explored, in my professional activities, many of the issues that I have raised. I would like, therefore, to present my views here by quoting or paraphrasing from my speeches and papers. Since they were mostly presented at events in Asia or on Asian music, the examples cited are mostly Asian, with few references to other cultures, such as African and South American. More important, I feel the best illustrations are those I have personally experienced or have investigated. However, I am sure that equally valid examples could be found by surveying the histories of other cultures.
I first spoke of a "re-merger" of Eastern and Western musical concepts and practices in 1966, in a paper given in Manila at the first international conference on Asian music. This idea was further explored in subsequent papers and speeches given in Korea, as well as in this country, in the following decade. In one of these speeches, I stated:
Today, the Western composer is at a crossroads – indeed one might say at a complex interchange of an international superhighway...
By the way, this was long before the existence of the Internet. Let me continue:
The Western composer is still recovering from a rebellion against the European tradition, still under the shadow of the giants of the century, while experiencing an accelerating influx of ideas from other cultures, and confronted with a maze of possibilities through science and technology and by acoustic and psychological studies. Meanwhile, one has to cope with a magnitude of new social, economic, and demographic issues that probably find no parallel in history... This is the time, then, when a true understanding of some refreshing concepts from another culture can be as revelatory as a miracle or Zen enlightenment.
As for the Asian composer, I noted that there was a revived awareness of one's own heritage and an urge to create "a new music that is neither Western nor traditional, but embodying the best of both cultures." Inasmuch as the topic of this paper was assigned by my host, the Korean National Academy of Arts, as "Eastern Influence on Western Music," I concluded my paper by saying: "Let us not speak of influence but confluence. Let the different traditions intermingle to bring forth a new mainstream that will integrate all musical concepts and practices into a vast expanse of musical currents. But let us also make sure that each individual culture will preserve its own uniqueness, its own poetry."
This last comment is made neither academically, nor for the sake of being politically correct. I have spent much of my energy in the last decade in Yunnan Province in the southwest corner of China. It comprises an area about the size of France and boasts an exceptional diversity in culture and ecology. Through the organization which I founded in 1978, the Center for United States-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University, I have been working with teams of American and Asian specialists, in collaboration with Yunnan experts, developing strategies to conserve the region's cultural and ecological diversity in coordination with its social and economic development. Our experience in mapping indigenous cultural resources and developing a modern education policy for all minority nationalities has shown us that, in such matters, diversity and consolidation are not contradictions, but mutually complementary.
In 1988, in two speeches in Hong Kong and Berlin, I presented a parallel theme to Barzun's, although arrived at from the other side of the equation, namely from the purview of the so-called "non-Western" cultures. In the keynote speech given at the 1988 ISCM World Music Days Festival, held in conjunction with the Asian Composers League, after examining the ever-multiplying new compositional concepts and practices in the United States since 1950, I pointed to two as most promising, saying:
These two directions, namely technological progress and deepening cultural intercourse, make me believe a meaningful comparison could be made of the year 2000 with that of 1500 – a year generally identified as the beginning of modern European civilization, and of a large-scale cycle consisting of, in music, the periods of Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern. Even though some foundations were laid earlier, the year 1500 is conveniently regarded as the beginning of the rise of Humanism, and thus, Modern Europe.
I then spoke of some of the factors involving the East that brought about the Renaissance in Europe:
(1) The Crusaders' contacts with the Eastern world bringing about cultural exchange,
(2) The overseas expansion consisting of the discovery of America and the passage to India, leading to centuries of cultural interaction between Asia and Europe, as well as the Far East and North America,
(3) Expanded trade and growing economy in Europe, feeding upon natural and human resources in Asia and America,
(4) The fall of Constantinople and the end of the Eastern Roman Empire brought scholars steeped in the tradition of the ancient world to western Europe, and thus revived the study of Classical Greek and Roman culture and giving birth to Humanism.
Do we find parallels between the above and today? Yes, though we hope the following differences will materialize: "(1) There is more cooperation than exploitation in natural resources and trade, (2) Instead of looking for new continents and colonies, we are truly expanding our horizons in the mind, nature, and space, (3) Technology and economic growth are being shared as more nations join the modernization process, and (4) Cultural exchange has genuinely become a primary force in international relations rather than a byproduct of trade or colonization. These differences presage a new world order. Just as the Renaissance brought about Modern Europe, we are approaching the moment for a modern world... We know then that what we must look for now is not another historical period to succeed European Classicism or Romanticism, nor a return to the glories of the Tang Dynasty... We are on the verge of the beginning of a new world order in music... a new mainstream to which the tributaries of Europe, Asia, and other lands will converge. This new order can only be achieved by the full partnership of all concerned." I concluded that "The inspiration for all of us... lies in the cross-fertilization that led to the European Renaissance, much of which actually took place outside Europe. It also lies in the centuries of multi-cultural interaction along the Silk Road that led to the Tang culture, which in turn spread throughout East Asia."
Two years after my speech to ISCM, I began my fieldwork in Yunnan, which brought me into contact with the remnants of the Southern Silk Road. The Road leads to South and West Asia, and thereafter to Europe, and by sea to Southeast Asia as well as East Africa, and was in use since at least 3000 years ago. Today, the ambience alongside this cultural highway still exudes an excitement brought about by cultural exchange, as expressed by its architecture, stone carvings, crafts, and music-making, but above all in its festivals and street life.
In my speech in Berlin at a symposium on "Music in the Dialogue of Cultures," after citing examples of "symptoms of worldwide change in culture," I raised the question as to "whether now is the moment to acknowledge that the West is also facing challenges that will inevitably lead to fundamental changes in culture? Wouldn't it be wise, then, to share experiences and join in cooperation?... Today, when every society in the world can choose to be an active partner in cultural change, are we willing? Are we prepared?"
But cultural interaction depends on the vitality of the heritages involved. If the heritages are weak, meaningful exchange may not take place and the results might be misleading or unbalanced. Unfortunately, the state of heritage around the world has been deteriorating. In the West today, cultural legacy has been subjugated by socio-economic demands and technological advances. As Barzun implies, we can live well with an ever-strengthening economy and ever-improving technology while our culture remains in a suspended state of decadence – or, as I would call it, a prolonged period of "regurgitation." I am certainly not against economic growth or technology. On the contrary, socio-economic conditions matter. Let me cite a simplistic personal example: During the Japanese invasion of China, I suffered for years the pain of not being able to study music – a pain that never left me. That is why I have contributed much of my time to organizations dedicated to music, and why I remain committed to the education of composers.
So, too, is technology important. Let me cite another simplistic example from my early childhood. My first exposure to Western music, at the age of four or five, was the delight of playing with a harmonium. I was apparently less captivated by my explorations of the keyboard than by the crescendo and diminuendo I got out of the pedals. That experience never left me, as you can easily verify in every score of mine. Shortly after my arrival in this country in 1946, I became fascinated with the writings of Alexander Helmholtz and Ferruccio Busoni. I believe that one of my lasting contributions to Columbia as an academic administrator was the initiative I took in the early 1980s to transform the old Electronic Music Center into the present Computer Music Center.
The improvement of socio-economic conditions and the advancement of science and technology are pre-requisites for cultural vitality. But, legacies are the roots of culture and must be nurtured from generation to generation. A legacy is the medium through which accumulated wisdom and experience of past millennia can be understood today, invigorated, and then transmitted to the future. In the arts, this vital process is in the hands of the artists. As Varèse said, every great artist forges a new link to the ongoing chain of heritage. Objectively, I have long learned of the unique power of legacy through my studies of European and Asian cultures. Subjectively, my decade-long work in Yunnan has taught me the amazing strength of cultural legacies. Working with village mentors and master artists, my colleagues and I have been learning how to coordinate culture, ecology, economy, and the society. Policies that we recommend have been supported by international experts in the relevant fields, and put into practice by the regional government, with cultural legacy as the centerpiece of new provincial policies on conservancy and development.
In music, how cultural legacy is to continue from link to link in the chain of civilization has been suggested by two masters early last century. In a speech given in Hong Kong last year on the occasion of the new millennium, I cited both men as having offered lessons from which Asian artists and scholars should learn. Let me quote,
Varèse was profoundly knowledgeable in traditional European music and, as a young man, was deeply impressed by the innovative ideas of his mentors; Debussy, Busoni, and Strauss. However, he was determinedly independent of the past and the present in order to reach out to the future – a future illuminated by his own ideas...
What Bela Bartok taught is the metamorphosis of seemingly folkloric ideas from his native East European cultures into a sophisticated modern grammar for music which in turn made a lasting impact on the contemporary musical language. His greatest lesson is, however, his admonition that in studying non-Western music, one must consider the character and tradition of its culture as well as all the inherent qualities of the material itself, not all of which are perceptible or definable according to Western concepts.
The fact is that I have been citing these two great teachers to Asian as well as American audiences for more than a quarter-century. Their lessons remain relevant today, but are still unheeded. To sum up: Varèse taught us to be rooted in heritage, yet independent in creativity – which can only be achieved through knowledge and discipline. Bartok taught us to learn from legacies beyond our own, but only in the context of their legacies and not ours, and only if those legacies can be transformed into our own.
These quiet voices of wisdom are lost in the din of a frenetic century filled with manifestos and -isms, innovations and inventions, movements and anti-movements, all of which have been re-proclaimed with the prefix of "new." Not a few are re-advocated by some who have since moved from the so-called non-Western world to the Westernized component of the West. To understand how this kind of frenzy, confusion, and contradiction came about, one would have to read the 800 tightly packed pages of Barzun's book, in which he depicts the warp and woof of a magnificent tapestry that is, or was, the European Age. We learn of the ever-multiplying number of ideas and institutions sprung from the Western world or borrowed from other lands that not only interact with, but also contradict and nullify each other, eventually leading to the breakdown of order and continuity.
As I also said in the 1988 speech at the ISCM event in Hong Kong,
So, where do we stand in the late 1980s, after such a dazzling display of trends and directions? Some indeed represent new directions while others may well prove to be no more than thrashing about... The ferment that appeared for over a generation, from the 1950s to the 1970s, is now followed by a period bordering on stagnation, with the rapid rise and fall of trends that are characterized by surface alterations rather than fundamental change. Such pronounced and prolonged upheavals may well signify the breaking down of an established order, in anticipation of the dawn of a new era.
That fine sense of distinction and quality that illuminates the purpose of every single thread in the great tapestry of the European Age has simply disintegrated. Today, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish a newly commissioned symphony from a commercial jingle by a music hack. Again, as I said last year upon the new millennium,
The all-pervasive commercialization of every aspect of the society, including health and the arts, the most personal needs of humanity... has led to the inevitable loss of distinction between creative expression and commercial enterprise, between artistic exploration and promotional exploitation.
Today, the Western and Westernized societies appear to have become ever more complex in procedures but simplistic in conception, as we are constantly reminded of on the television screen with its frenetic flipping of images. This duality of complexity of appearance and simplicity in reality results from an accelerating drive for profit-making, a fast-developing technology, and an increasing manipulation of the public. Even in the creative arts, more often than not, profit-making conditions motivation, technology homogenizes the process, and manipulation of consumer tastes assures the acceptability. Creative artists have succumbed to the same mindlessness that underlies television. Creativity has become irrelevant, realization formulaic, and the public brain-washed into acceptance. All-pervasive commercialization is the reincarnation of imperialism, an exact replica of the ruthless expansion of colonialism in the past centuries, except that the victims are now ourselves, and our cultures.
This bleak picture, perhaps worse than that painted by Barzun, is happily only the down side of the scenario. There is a glint of hope on the other side after all: Namely, interactive digital technology and cultural interaction. Almost a century after Varèse began to plead for the innovation of electronic devices for the composer, computer technology does offer possibilities to support the creative mind. A more immediately available advantage is, however, the revolutionary technological capacity for transmission of knowledge and the world-wide sharing of information through the Internet. The Internet, again not by design, can now serve as a bridge for intercultural exchange. This exchange is our real hope for the Global Era.
Ironically, the Internet was invented for the survival of military communications from nuclear destruction. But, now it may well prove to be an effective tool for cultural survival around the world. In contrast to television and radio, which are designed or co-opted to serve as a tool for one-way transmission of unilaterally controlled messages, the Internet is a global medium for information sharing and interactive communication. The Internet and other interactive technological advances indeed have the potential for a confluence or re-merger of cultures. That, hopefully, will lead to a new, inclusive mainstream with clearly distinguishable currents.
But, we are not there yet. The treacherous undertow in cyberspace is "cultural egocentrism." The Internet, even as it becomes a global mode of communication, is fundamentally designed according to Western perception, and, therefore, forces the exchange to be carried out according to Western – mostly American – conventions, which often distorts the information exchanged. The homogenizing effect created globally by the Internet today still remains a serious threat to all heritages around the world. We have not been paying attention to Bartok's admonition of almost a century ago. This is not the fault of Americans or Westerners alone. Few around the world, even at this late date, recognize the need for a thorough realignment of attitude and education towards the world's cultures before we can speak meaningfully about cultural exchange, a term that has been so thoughtlessly abused despite the dedicated work of many individuals and institutions.
Some may argue that reality is changing at a fast pace due to globalization of the Internet. But, the effectiveness of the Internet is only as good as its resources – the scholarship and cultural sensitivity of its sites. It is said that Chinese will soon become the most used language on the Internet. A staggering idea! The question nonetheless persists: "Is the language spoken in the context of Chinese or Western culture, or perhaps both, or even a new culture?"
This, then, is the moment to consider another question: Who represents the cultures other than Western – the cultures commonly referred to for half a century as "non-Western?" (And, have we ever even heard of the term "non-Eastern?") There are, we need to recognize, two groups of individuals amongst the "non-Westerners." One are the Westernized, in education and culture. The other is those who have not been or have only superficially been Westernized, and are therefore more indigenous in their cultural perception and more aware of their heritage. We need to interact with both, but must discern the distinction.
This distinction brings up the next question: How conversant are both groups with their own legacies? Again, let me use Asia as an example. First of all, we must remember that the preservation of heritage throughout Asia has drastically declined since the onset of colonialism, which coincided with the rise of the European Age as well as the inception of cultural stagnation and disintegration throughout the East. It was not until a half-century ago, after World War II, that colonialism began to fade. As I said in Hong Kong last year,
Even then, in the East, it remained a time of continued chaos and destruction, a time of ongoing economic and ideological struggle, and not a time for valuing one's own legacies or nurturing artistic explorations. Innovation in the arts and education in culture were regarded as luxuries or frivolities... If there was art and culture, it was imitation... Thus, Asia was then as before, filled with the work of emulation of European and Soviet art of another time... Economically and politically, the struggle in the 1950s led to a brighter future. Culturally, however, neglect in the arts and education led to a void contributing to the further erosion of heritage and the massive collective loss of memory.
[Today], increasing waves of young and aspiring Asian artists have become exposed to fast-moving Western artistic developments. Invariably, however, due to the lack of living legacies of their own, their art has also become dominated by Western trends and fashions. Few are able to assert their own heritage, stand firm independently, or transcend cultures.
This scenario compelled me to work on the conservancy of indigenous cultures in Asia, relying on Yunnan's exceptional diversity in culture and ecology as an ideal testing ground. The tasks carried out in Yunnan include designing the education of college students in their own indigenous arts, as taught by rural masters; organizing regional and community scholars for fieldwork carried out through interaction with village cultural conveyors; and conducting surveys of arts and artisans. All of these tasks are conducted in situ and with participants from the United States, Asia, and naturally, Yunnan. Ten years of this work has brought me into contact with those who still live and think from within their own heritage; namely, the rural masters and mentors, as well as many of Yunnan's indigenous scholars. It is they who convey to me the spirit of their legacies. It is working together with them on the issues they face that gives me a sense of interaction with their heritage, within the context of their culture, environment, and aspirations. They represent the non-Westernized cultural force I referred to earlier.
On the other side of the cultural interaction equation, the West certainly has had a long history of learning about other cultures. But frankly, shifting from cultural imperialism to cultural partnership is no easy task. It requires a clear distinction in attitude. We must be reminded that, at least since the inception of the last century, European musical practices have spread across the world overwhelmingly, edging out the musical practices of many places including, for example, Asia. Even today, it is still taken for granted that Western music is universal, and therefore emulation of the same by other cultures is both natural and expected. This attitude still dominates Western composers, educators, performers, and critics. Worse, this faith in the universality of Western music is widely shared around the world, particularly in East Asia. As I have often observed, Asian composers as a rule are satisfied with emulating the West and reluctant to search for their own roots. On the other hand, they are quick to adopt Asian ideas that have been Westernized by a Cage, Messiaen, or Crumb.
Recently, there has been remarkable creativity emanating from composers of many diverse heritages, such as South America and West Asia. But their own legacy always seems sublimated, consciously or unconsciously, often reduced to a matter of sentiment and is thus unable to cross-fertilize with the Western heritage these composers have acquired. Only when legacies again become vibrant can artistic independence assert itself and creative effort lead to cultural renewal, without which meaningful interaction in the arts cannot be achieved.
On the other hand, the strength of the Western arts is exactly its capacity to absorb ideas from other cultures. And, in the past half century, there has been an increasing interest in the concepts and practices of other musical cultures. Together with a changing demography and rising commercial promotion, this interest has given birth to a musical environment that is more multicultural than existed in any other society since China's Tang Dynasty. But, this phenomenon is more a veneer than substance. Under the shiny surface, we can find very little that is real. Heritage on all sides of the cultural equation, including the West, is forgotten and forsaken.
We need a new beginning. We need to go back to research and education. Modern ethnomusicologists have made good advances over the past few decades, as have their colleagues in allied fields. But their training is too limited for the investigation of issues that must be examined in the broadest cultural context. We need new procedures in fieldwork and research so as to pursue the kind of intercultural studies required for our future. We need collective and coordinated efforts involving diverse disciplines, such as historical musicology, theory, linguistics, history, aesthetics, cultural anthropology, and sociology. And, we must include participants from the culture or community specific to the research. Finally, interactive digital technology should be developed to serve as dedicated tools for research and education.
Even more crucial is the need for a change in attitude: We must learn about issues and solutions crucial to the participants of the culture or community under study, rather than appropriate information or material. These participants are not informants as they are being proactive rather than being debriefed. For example, in Yunnan, this equal partnership is applied to all of our projects. The result is that, while the main goal of designing strategies for cultural survival is being achieved, numerous fieldwork and research projects are being carried out by indigenous participants, producing dozens of publications within a few years while countless local cultural studies, community mentorships, and outreach programs are also born.
I believe our experience in Yunnan demonstrates that fieldwork and research can be creative, bringing forth fresh understanding and inspiring ideas. As I recall, my own composing began seriously not on the piano, but underground in the stacks of Columbia's Low Library, where the original East Asian Library was located. It was there that I first realized that to learn from other musical cultures is not to limit oneself to musical material, instrumental techniques, or tuning system – necessary inquiries according to the modern Western norm. For example, we are told by the great Chinese Calligrapher of the Ninth Century, Zhang Xu, that he mastered the spirit of calligraphy from observing the performance of a great dancer, and conceived of his innovative calligraphy from listening to the new music of his time. Chang's comments highlight the fact that all art forms in ancient China shared common aesthetics. Thus, research in the music for qin, the Chinese zither, for example, requires references to philosophy, calligraphy, painting, and poetry.
Obviously, our education policy needs to be examined in terms of intercultural contents in its curricula. What has just been observed only illustrates the need for training students to become interculturally sensitive. However, orthodoxy stubbornly holds sway. I remember that once when Toru Takemitsu and I discussed in front of a group of educators the need for studies in non-Western music for composers, a prominent American composer objected to these studies on the basis that there were already not enough academic hours for traditional Western courses. True. That is why educational policy needs to be constantly reviewed, revised, and restructured. The truth is that our curriculum for composers, as I have complained in the past, seems to allow fewer and fewer hours devoted to the Western legacy and culture-related courses.
I believe in a curriculum that can balance the need for a sound understanding of European heritage, which must remain a major foundation for musical education, with the concurrent need for an increasing investigation of other musical legacies. Obviously, what I refer to in the latter case is serious inquiry into legacies, and not superficial courses on multiculturalism.
Perhaps the time has long past for an overhaul of our education for composers or music in general. I know from personal experience that any reexamination of priority in education is painful. At Columbia, I was asked repeatedly by the principal academic planners for our Humanities curriculum to design such a course on Asian music for college students. I was astute enough to decline the request until just before I retired from teaching. While the course became a success with students, I was personally denounced as a traitor in a meeting of senior professors by no less an authority than the incoming department chairman. Whenever and wherever a new educational concept is proposed, especially if related to culture, objection is bound to be vociferous. It took at least two years to convince the university in Yunnan of the need for the new arts department that my colleagues and I designed for students of Yunnan's many indigenous cultures, and even longer for the educational authorities to approve the curriculum. Today, it has become the focal point for international visitors to Yunnan, who are studying its innovative policies on ethnic diversity.
Another example of multicultural studies is the Pacific Composers Conference held in the summer of 1990 in Japan, concurrently with the Pacific Music Festival. The conference was a collaboration between my organization and Leonard Bernstein, as well as the London Symphony Orchestra. Forty-six composers of all ages came from more than a dozen countries around the Asian-Pacific region, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. We spent ten intensive days offering less opportunity for performance, but much more time to explore ideas with such older composers as Isang Yun, Jose Maceda, and Joji Yuasa about how to be independent through knowledge. As I said later in an address in 1993 to composers gathered in Kazan, Tartarstan, "Independent is the key word: Independent of Western culture... of one's own culture... of conventions... It takes courage. Artists are the true warriors for humanity." Regrettably, the Pacific Composers Conference was only a single event rather than a standard component of a composer's education.
These are a sampling of tasks that must be undertaken to set the stage for real intercultural studies, without which a global era cannot take place. But where do we find such dedicated and far-sighted teachers, scholars, and artists who can help lead us into the future? In the West, perhaps we ought to look towards a revival of the Humanists at the dawn of the European Age described by Barzun. They were the enlightened, the idealists who saw the light and built the foundation for 500 years of cultural glory in the West that eventually spilled over across the world. We also need a revival of the "artist" of the Renaissance, who dared to be independent and to search for artistic truth through science.
Earlier in China, a millennium ago, these two – the humanist and the artist – were merged in one, the "wenren," or "the person with ultimate knowledge of the arts." The wenren was simultaneously a scholar or scientist, a statesman, as well as an artist accomplished in a variety of artistic media usually including calligraphy and poetry, and often music and painting. But the ultimate qualification for the artist, wenren, goes beyond achievement in these disciplines. A great artist or scholar used to be recognized as a sage. One early source states that such an artist-sage "is deeply concerned about the society," while another defines the role as "the first to be aware of what has to happen." In short, artists and scholars in China were regarded as the conscience of society and conveyor of its legacy.
For a global era to emerge, we may well need a synthesis of the humanist and artist of the European Renaissance and the artist-sage of ancient China. At the least, we need socially and culturally committed artists who are motivated by more than personal gain. A new era will not arise if profit-making and public manipulation are allowed to continue as our Mephistopheles. For rebirth, there is no room for Doktor Faust. We need composers who are truly independent – socially, economically, politically, as well as creatively and esthetically.
The cynical and dogmatic will disagree, but perhaps they themselves are endemic of the myriad forces that are bringing down the European Age. It was almost half a century ago, when I was given my first review of some seriousness in The New York Times, which carried the screaming headline, "This is not Chiu Ching Chow stuff!" "Chiu Ching Chow" was then a popular expression for anything derogatory towards the Chinese or Asians. The times have change (in both senses of the word), but perhaps not as much as some might hope. Recently, in a radio interview, an influential American composer characterized any interest by a composer in exploring Chinese music as "dilettantism."
The truth is, even at this time, few who are either for or against cultural dialogues have real knowledge of the matter. A recent, widely promoted multi-national, multi-year project on the theme of cultural exchange along the Northern Silk Road that connected China with Central Asia and Europe millennia ago, is a highly laudable idea. Unfortunately, there seems to be less knowledge than entrepreneurship behind the concept. To promote, as the project does, mixing the instruments and musicians of diverse cultures along this stupendous ancient highway of trade and culture, and to commission compositions based on indigenous material by local and American composers is a grandiose thought. However, it may be premature, and without adequate knowledge of these unfamiliar cultures. Imagine a conventional American composer producing such a commissioned work without any knowledge of the culture of the theme. Or, a composer from anywhere between the Gobi Desert and the Caspian Sea, whose perception in music has already been Westernized. Cultural exchange requires meticulous study and painstaking preparation. Otherwise, as I concluded in my Manila paper of 1966, it will "only bring forth more Turkish marches, Twentieth Century-style." And, we are in the Twenty-first Century, now, aren't we?
We are behind the times. We need to study other cultures and revivify the legacy of the European Age. We need to make research and education relevant to the future. We need proper tools for intercultural communication. Above all, we need to install a new spirit of Humanism, the Renaissance artist, and the ancient Chinese artist-sage.
To sum up, we have a choice. And we must choose. We can choose to retain our status quo. Of this path, there are two identical precedents in history, one in the West and one in the East, namely the Roman Empire and the Later Han Dynasty, which existed concurrently for centuries. Each continued to expand its territorial possessions and prosper materially. However, each also remained in the shadow of its own glorious past. Both periods eventually ended in chaos that lasted for centuries. Or we – artists, scholars, and educators – can choose to take fate into our own hands and initiate cultural interaction in creativity, research, and education. We can be proactive in stimulating cross-fertilization of cultural legacies. We can foster creativity drawn from diverse roots, not imposed on the conquered by the conqueror, or the consumer by the promoter, but as partners in collaboration.
As I concluded in my speech on the new millennium last year, "then, and only then, will a new era arrive... A new era, not of globalization, but of global partnership." A new "dawn" of confluence, not decadence, is ours today, if we so choose.