April 15, 2011

Tibetan musician expands cultural palette

Tibetan singer/songwriter Techung.

Emory's ties to Tibet are well documented, but the on-campus residency of one of Tibetan folk music's foremost artists adds a new dimension to this longstanding relationship.

Techung, a Tibetan vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, is spending a six-week residency on campus, splitting his time between the stage and classroom.

"Emory has been wonderful," says Techung, who sings in Tibetan and speaks perfect English. Well-known in the Tibetan musical community, Techung (pronounced TAY-chung) has worked with a variety of mainstream artists as well, including Herbie Hancock and Tracy Chapman.

"The faculty and students I have worked with have been encouraging and very positive. I'm very happy right now," he continues.

Techung's residency, which began on March 18 and runs through April 25, has been a whirlwind of activity. His performances included an April 2 concert to close Emory's 11th annual Tibet Week, but some of his most inspiring work has been with students.

Techung is teaching a half-dozen students in the newly formed Tibetan Ensemble how to sing Tibetan songs, perform Tibetan dance and play traditional instruments—like the Damnyen (a long-necked lute)—one of several Techung uses in his work.

Techung's music is rooted in traditional Tibetan folk music and Buddhist philosophy, both of which date back centuries, but the artist firmly plants his feet in the contemporary world. 

"It is important for me to help Tibetan culture survive, and it opens the door for non-Tibetan Americans to enjoy the art, music and philosophy of Tibet," says Techung, who was born in exile in Dharamsala, India, and now resides in San Francisco. 

Techung is no stranger to Emory. His 2011 residency is his fourth visit—the most memorable taking place in 2007 when he performed at Centennial Olympic Park prior to a public address by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama.

His residency is funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, a supporter of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. The Department of Religion, the Department of Music and the Carlos Museum each played significant roles in securing Techung's residency.

"This is the first time we have hosted a performing artist through this grant," says Tara Doyle, senior lecturer in religion and director of Emory's Tibetan Studies Program. "We've always been strong in philosophy, dialogue with the sciences and Buddhism, but it is significant that we have expanded to include the lay performing arts tradition, which is quite different from the monastic arts."

Although Techung's time in Atlanta is winding down, there are two more chances to hear him perform.

Techung will perform with the Chinese Ensemble at the Emory World Music Ensembles' Echoes of Asia concert on Sunday, April 17, at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Studio. The Tibetan Ensemble will take the stage as well. His final on-campus performance will be a family-themed concert at the Carlos Museum at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 24.

At the Carlos concert, Techung will perform songs from his latest album of Tibetan music for children. The album's title is "Semshae," which means "heart songs" in Tibetan.

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