A picture of Rhiannon Giddens in concert at UCH
Rhiannon Giddens, the Grammy-award winning musician who is artist-in-residence at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL
Friday, September 2, 2022

University of Limerick and Silkroad, the global musical ensemble founded by cellist and cultural ambassador Yo-Yo Ma, have announced the launch of a new cultural partnership.

The artistic and educational collaboration will provide UL students with the unique opportunity to participate in the creation of a new theatre work exploring the history, cultures, and music of the immigrant communities who built the American Transcontinental Railroad.

The resulting piece will be a crucial component of The American Railroad, Silkroad’s multi-year concert, educational, and commissioning series led by Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens, the Grammy-award winning musician who is artist-in-residence at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL.

The partnership will officially kick off on Thursday, September 8 at Harvard University in Boston, US, with a series of workshops exploring the stories and songs of Irish railroad workers, followed by a performance featuring artists from Silkroad and UL.

“Having worked with the University of Limerick as their artist-in-residence over the last year, I’ve been dreaming up a collaboration between them and our artists at Silkroad for some time,” explained Rhiannon Giddens.

“Members of our team visited UL’s campus in March—just down the street from my home in Ireland—to begin exploring the intersections of Irish traditions and Irish American music within the context of the American Railroad. It’s a joy to continue that journey now in Silkroad’s neck of the woods, and I can’t wait to see what we create together.”

An array of artistic and educational activities—including master classes, workshops, artistic retreats, and performances—will broaden the newly-established collaboration in the coming months.

These activities will gather Silkroad and UL artists in Ireland to uncover the Irish community’s impact and legacy on the American railroads, focusing on musical traditions that have been widely shared and reinterpreted since the 19th century.

UL students will also be invited to share in and learn from the creative process as these artists join forces to design, shape, and produce a new theatre work, with music written and performed by members of the Silkroad Ensemble, as part of The American Railroad project.

The UL residencies will be based at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, and will be facilitated and overseen by Dr Sandra Joyce, Interim Executive Dean of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences at UL.

“UL is delighted to forge this partnership with the prestigious Silkroad Ensemble, particularly through Silkroad’s Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens,” said Dr Joyce.

“Rhiannon’s presence in Limerick, where she is raising her family, and her appointment as artist-in-residence at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance have provided us with a unique opportunity to develop our relationship, and we are excited about the potential to collaborate going forward.

“Silkroad’s The American Railroad is a very appropriate focus for the building of our connections. We are delighted to be in Boston and at Harvard to celebrate the partnership and to plan for the future!”

As an organization that believes in the power of the arts to create social change, Silkroad’s partnerships strive to add more equity and justice into the world. Artist residencies are long-term educational partnerships designed to integrate academic curriculum with Silkroad’s mission and ongoing artistic initiatives.

Through them, Silkroad artists and staff work closely with schools, conservatories, and universities to curate programs that provide an understanding of global cultures and musical traditions, as well as collaborations with innovative artists and insight into their creative processes.

The UL partnership will follow this model, leveraging the arts as a unique tool to inspire creativity, explore identity, and activate a generation of changemakers.

For more, see silkroad.org.