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Where Y'all Really From: 'Music as a window to understanding'

Submitted by guests

"If Beethoven had grown up in the Bay Area in the early 1980s, he would have started a thrash band, probably." Irresponsibly wild conjecture, or another great conversation from "Where Y'all Really From?"

On this week's episode, host Dan Wu talks with Donna Lee Kwon and Jon Silpayamanant about all things music. Donna is an associate professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Kentucky, and the author of the book "Music in Korea: experiencing music, expressing culture." Jon is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and music educator, and the founder and artistic director of Saw Peep - An Intercultural Orchestra.

Donna Lee Kwon grew up playing classical piano, which placed her right at the center of a pervasive stereotype: "The Asian classical music prodigy," she says. She thinks of it as a variation on the model minority myth. And it comes with a lot of pressure. "If you don't live up to that, you're just like, nothing, basically. It was hard being a young Asian-American musician who did not play perfectly."

Now, in her ethnomusicology classes, she debunks another myth for her students. "They've grown up in this system all their lives to believe that Western classical music is superior," she says. "That is why it's worth spending eight hours a day doing that." But she teaches her students to see music as "a window to understanding other cultures."

Jon Silpayamanant sees that decentering of male European composers as part of his mission too, particularly in his work with Saw Peep, which performs music from the Silk Road, South and Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean.

"We've just suppressed or hidden or excluded all of these histories of classical music outside of Europe, for one, and then of course, women and people of color in European countries or Western countries," he says.

Music by non-Western composers is no less valuable or enjoyable just because it might challenge mainstream audiences' expectations. "Some of these traditions have existed for centuries. They're no less developed than Western classical music. There's so much out there," he says. "And I think there needs to be a narrative about that. And a narrative about how Western music, in general, has excluded all of that."

And then, of course, the conversation turns to what Ozzy Osbourne would have composed had he been around during Beethoven's era, and vice versa.

Listen to the episode:


Learn more about the show and subscribe for free at  whereyallreallyfrom.org.

"Where Y'all Really From" is part of the Louisville Public Media Podcast Incubator. We get support from the Community Foundation of Louisville, Podchaser, Rankings.io and the Eye Care Institute's Butchertown Clinical Trials.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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