In January of 2010, while visiting Xiamen on a yearly trip, I had the opportunity to explore a few musical conversations with a handful of local "traditional" musicians, mainly playing GuZheng, and Pipa. Word of the project and these musical "cultural conversations" got out to a few faculty in the Anthropology department and an idea was proposed to me to develop a PHD in Anthropology with the Zai Circle project as the vehicle for my Dissertation. I left for China for a full year stay the following September.
Over the past two and a half years I have made many trips with extended stays back to China and have built musical conversations and performances in Xiamen, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taiwan, with many talented musicians from various places including of course China, but also with foreign musicians living in China which drastically changes the way these musical conversation unfold.
It has been a struggle though, to bring the Zai Circle project into the world of Anthropology and write a Dissertation, especially as I am not just a researcher but also the Creative Director and performer driving the Zai Circle project, which began, and has existed long before the opportunity to pursue a PHD in China came about.
I have just recently realized, that rather than focusing only on the period of Zai Circle in China and Asia for my PHD, that it makes much more sense from an “academic” perspective, to look at the whole scope of the Zai Circle project. From the initial “vision” of developing musical cultural conversations here in the US, which pushed me and led me to the work in China, to outlining the process of working with these Chinese musicians and comparing the similarities, differences and difficulties of how these collaborations and conversations develop when we only have a musical language (and not always the same musical language), in which to communicate.
It is also worth discussing and writing in detail about how these musical cultural journeys have changed my direction in music overall. Not only stylistically in the specific playing of my instrument, or in adding new instruments to my vocabulary such as percussion and voice, but how I work as a band leader, educator, father etc, and perhaps more importantly, how it has changed and shaped my “footprint” in the world for the future.
In September I will begin sorting, editing, and compiling all of my music and experiences from the whole journey of Zai Circle and start the writing process of my Dissertation. The final presentation will be a combination of writing, recorded documentation, and live performances showcasing specific directions and examples.
If I am lucky, I hope to present the final work at Xiamen University over a 2 or 3 day period in the Spring of 2014.