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Musical Crossings: Tradition and Rupture in Asian Identity Formation

Tue, June 23, 11:05am to 1:00pm, North Building, Floor: 8th Floor, N802

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


This panel explores music as vehicle for Asian identity formation across East Asia and the United States. As a foremost form of creative expression, music continues to be a conduit for the transmission of ideas, traditions, and innovations. Both Nancy Rao’s and Serena Wang’s papers examine manifestations of tradition in contemporary Chinese music. Rao argues that the Chinese notion of Shi (勢) has been the generative force behind the aesthetics of Chinese music both ancient and new. Drawing upon major works by contemporary Chinese composers, Rao shows how the musical gestures embody the Shi from Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy. In addition to highlighting the invocation of tradition in contemporary Chinese music, Wang examines how composers from the Chinese diaspora both perpetuate and transform traditional Chinese thought, such as the philosophy of the natural elements, to define a globalized and diasporic Chinese identity. In contrast to the studies on tradition’s perpetuity, both Sissi Liu’s and Jung-Min Lee’s papers investigate ruptures in identity formation. Liu explores how music gave voice to the Asian minority in America. Centering on the legacy of the Chinese American saxophonist and activist Fred Ho, she shows how his remaking of the Chinese myth Journey to the West defies categorization and forges a cross-cultural Asian American identity. Providing a historical perspective, Lee demonstrates how the sentiment of “catching up” in Korea during the 1980s turned music into an instrument of the nation’s quest for modernity and a Korean national identity.

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