Cristina Pato and the spirit of Silk Road

by Andrew Chow '14

The Silk Road Project, with headquarters at Harvard, was created by Yo Yo Ma ‘76 in 1998 as a way of promoting multicultural artist exchange and global collaboration. He found an artist who fully embodies the spirit of the project in Cristina Pato. Pato is a Galician bagpipe player as well as a singer and classical pianist who has been in residence at Harvard this week with the Silk Road Ensemble. Pato and other members of the Ensemble have been offering talks and workshops, culminating in a free, public performance 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 10, in the Horner Room, Agassiz House, 14 Mason St. (Radcliffe Yard). I spoke with Pato over the weekend.

How did you start playing the bagpipes?

The bagpipes I play are from Galicia. These bagpipes are the national instrument, so it was a natural thing to do: I started playing when I was 4-years-old. I trained in the Galician tradition for very many years. When I was 16, I started exploring other ways of expressing myself with the instruments I played. I decided to use my bagpipes to play the music I liked to listen to, like pop and rock and folk. I started working with a band with a mixture of all these different sounds.

You’ve dabbled in so many style of music – for instance classical, jazz, Russian and Brazilian music. How did you learn these traditions?

I started with music so young that expressing through my instrument is a sort of beautiful addiction. To be able to express myself and communicate in whatever musical language I can is my constant challenge. I am passionately curious, always trying different things. I don’t know where this trip is going to take me, but the idea of being able to convey myself through a very specific instrument is something beautiful.

What’s special about the Silk Road Ensemble?

I found a wonderful family in the Silk Road Ensemble that allowed me to explore the connection between these two Cristinas, the classically trained pianist and the bagpipe player. It’s like a big family in which you have relatives all around the world. I have learned amazing things from all of them, especially about their own cultures and their own way of understanding music. Traveling to India, traveling to China, and seeing them in [multicultural] contexts as well as their own contexts has been amazing. What you find in all of them, especially in Yo-Yo Ma, is a combination of power, generosity and curiosity, all connected to collaboration. When you put all these people together coming from all these communities, you’ll find there are way more things that connect us than disconnect us.

Can you talk about the Silk Road’s latest recording A Playlist Without Borders?

This is a very exciting season for us. On the recording is a new piece written by Harvard instructor Vijay Iyer. He's amazing. The piece is for Indian tabla, Gacilian bagpipes, piano, percussion and a string trio. The beauty of my own instrument outside of its own tradition, mixed with Vijay’s language, has been a wonderful way to understand all the possibilities my instrument can have if I take it out of the box.

Do you have any advice for independent artists?

The beautiful thing about being an independent artist is the freedom. You are your own product and ideas, and you drive yourself. Learning to find the right collaborators and partners is always very important, as well as persistence and perseverance.

[Caption: Cristina Pato PHOTO: Xan Padron]