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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Voice student brings ancient Eastern music to UD through summer research project

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

The Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes that linked the great civilizations of Rome and China, carried goods, ideas and even music across many cultures.

This summer, University of Dayton senior Alyssa Boldt researched Silk Road countries and traditions to find musical selections for the UD Department of Music’s 2023-24 “Silk Road” performance series. Her research will culminate at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, in a program titled “The Silk Road: East Meets West” in the Sears Recital Hall of the Jesse Philips Humanities Center. The concert is free and open to the public.

Boldt’s research with Ryu-Kyung Kim, UD assistant professor of music, was supported by the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellowship program, which provides opportunities for students to collaborate with a faculty mentor during the summer on an original research project.

“Dr. Kim wanted to do something about the Silk Road, about the East meeting the West, but she needed someone to help her compile research,” said Boldt, a senior music major from Carmel, Indiana. “That’s where I came in, collecting all of the sheet music, scanning the physical copies and building an understanding of the Silk Road and its impact.”

From 133 B.C.E until the 15th century C.E., the 4,000-mile Silk Road was used by international traders, who carried everything from material goods and religious ideals to the Bubonic Plague through deserts, mountains and across the Mediterranean Sea.

The performance series revisits the trade route and emphasizes peaceful interconnections and coexistence among cultures. The January concert features music majors with voice concentrations singing songs from Korea, Japan and Ukraine, among other nations. Students chose selections from sheet music Boldt compiled by sifting through databases, websites and libraries.

Along with her search for music, Boldt met weekly over Zoom with Kim, who was researching and performing abroad for most of the summer. Connecting from across the world through their computer screens, Boldt and Kim brought together Eastern and Western cultures through music.

“Sometimes, Alyssa and I had a 13-hour time difference,” Kim said. “But that did not diminish our connection at all. We talked a lot about our own journeys as human beings, as well as doing the research. We got to establish a deeper connection through this experience.”

A musician for most of her life, Boldt is the recipient of the donor-funded Snyder Family Vocal Music Scholarship. She started her education at UD as a music therapy major, but after developing an interest in diversity and social justice issues on campus, she changed majors to music to marry her activism with her passion for music.

Boldt’s new major led her to discover ethnomusicology, the study of music in non-Western cultural contexts.

“This project really aligned with what I might be doing in the future,” Boldt said. “It’s very research-based within the ethnomusicology realm. It gave me a feel for what my future could potentially look like.”

Coming from so many cultures, the diverse nature of the Silk Road’s music challenged Boldt to broaden her horizons as a musician and researcher.

“One of the things that really surprised me was that it was somewhat difficult to find western notation for some of these songs,” she said. “You have songs from the Middle East and South Asia, where western notation is not used. For our students who are trained in western notation, they wouldn’t be able to read it as easily.”

The differences in notation encouraged Boldt to think creatively about how she could help other voice students successfully perform these songs of the past. She considered how students might listen to the pieces, learn them and adjust the accompaniment to best fit their individual abilities.

Kim said the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program is an opportunity for students and faculty to interact in different ways and bring new ideas to the table.

“This was my third mentoring experience with the Dean’s Summer Fellowship program,” Kim said. “I find summer research really offers one-on-one quality interaction between students and faculty, away from classes and responsibilities during the school year. I genuinely love that part of it.” 

Boldt said her research experience through the program opened her eyes to the lessons that can be learned by studying cultures beyond the West and how music can help people overcome differences.

“When you’re learning about all these different cultures, you’re learning about places you don’t find in your regular history classes,” she said. “You’re delving into so many different ways and walks of life. It gives you a greater appreciation for diversity, differences and uniqueness that exist everywhere.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Music website.

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