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 • University  - Adult • Single Session • Length: 60-90 minutes • Class visit or public lecture • Configuration: Trio or Quintet
•  Relevant to: History/Cultural Studies/Judaic & Near-Eastern Studies/Global Studies/Music/Ethnomusicology

The repertoire of The Forgotten Kingdom presents a fascinating case study for an all-too- common phenomenon: The  “positive distortion”  of traditional cultures to the point that culture bearers themselves cannot measure up to outsiders’ expectations. This distortion can be both deliberate — a form of racism, as with Native American cultures in the United States — or the unintended byproduct of technological, economic and social shifts. It can also be stirred and exacerbated by well-meaning "creatives."

This lecture traces the distortion of Sephardic music from the former Ottoman Empire, exploring  shifts in both their inadvertent and intentional forms. How is it that music from the turn of the 20th century became perceived as Medieval?  Who gains, and who loses, when traditional music is taken beyond its native contexts?

Narrative intertwines with field recordings from Sephardic communities of the former Ottoman Empire, modern artists interpretations, and live performance from the Guy Mendilow Ensemble to challenge participants to consider: 

  • What challenges do modern artists face when working with traditional material — especially from endangered cultures?

  • What are the responsibilities of artists inspired to draw on traditional artforms so that they avoid becoming unwitting agents of distortion?

  • What are implications for questions cultural appropriation?

Why it’s relevant: Today, we have unprecedented access to traditions around the world, many of which are fading, like traditional Sephardic contexts from the former Ottoman Empire. Many artists are inspired by traditional art forms, and want to draw on them in their own work. There is a set of questions with which such artists must tangle. By engaging with these questions deliberately and honestly, they may advance awareness and perhaps even aid in preservation efforts, rather than becoming unwitting agents of distortion and cultural misunderstanding.

Further listening:

…artistic quality of the highest caliber.
I was impressed by his knowledge of the historical, social and cultural background of the pieces he drew his inspiration from. He provided solid insights to their relevance in this modern world we live in.
I would certainly consider working with Guy and the Ensemble again in the future.
— Blake Smith, General Manager, Clayton Center for the Arts, Maryville, TN
Our Colorado College freshmen class spent a fascinating morning with Guy Mendilow and his ensemble. Guy has a wonderful way of captivating the audience… The analysis of historical events, especially as they relate to our times, as well as issues of cultural identity, added great depth. Finally, the musical performance was superb in every aspect!
— Ofer Ben-Amots, Chair, Music Department, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO

Guy Mendilow

M.M. Longy School of Music; International Certificate, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, Longy School of Music; B.A. Oberlin College

Guy Mendilow is Director of Music and Education for the Guy Mendilow Ensemble, "An international tour de force” (Bethlehem Morning Call) from the Middle-East, South and North America. The Ensemble combines world-class musicianship with cinematic storytelling in shows that “explode with artistry, refinement, and excitement” (Hebrew Union College), whisking audiences to distant times and picturesque places to stir highly resonant connections to contemporary struggles and dilemmas.  

The Guy Mendilow Ensemble was distinguished by the National Endowment for the Arts for public engagement with diverse and excellent art and the strengthening of communities through the arts, and is the recipient of grant awards from foundations like The Boston Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, Arts Midwest and Western Arts Alliance.

Alongside performance, Mendilow is active in music education, pursuing Dalcroze Education as a means of cultivating musicality while fostering vital skills such as deep focus and the sense of contribution, capability and belonging that together form esteem. Mendilow designs custom artist residencies for leading performing arts organizations like Celebrity Series of Boston and including innovative storytelling/songwriting projects with at-risk populations.

Mendilow’s research interests include music and culture of Sephardic communities  of Salónica,in the early twentieth  century.

Mendilow is a guest artist-lecturer in  universities across the U.S. including Harvard University, Cornell University, Brandeis University, Oberlin College, University of Oregon and the University of Washington, leads children's workshops in schools worldwide and directs the Dalcroze School of Boston, offering Dalcroze Education for children and adults in the Boston area.