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Terwilliger wins Watson Fellowship

<restigious Watson Fellowship, a $25,000 grant to pursue independent, international research for one year, was recently award to senior linguistics major Andrew Terwilliger. Terwilliger will spend next year traveling in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan as he explores the Chinese folk music diaspora. He will live in apartments he found online with the help of the Carleton’s Taiwanese Language Assistant.

Terwilliger will play in traditional, informal Silk and Bamboo ensembles in each of the locations he visits, although he will also connect with professional musicians. Silk and Bamboo groups are uniquely composed, meeting in public but performing in an inward-facing circle to symbolize that the performance is meant more for the musicians than for the audience, said Terwilliger. However, the ensembles are inclusive. “The exact composition of a Silk and Bamboo ensemble is fluid and groups always welcome new players to join them. The tunes are played repeatedly with musicians switching between accompaniment, basic melody, and ornamentation,” he wrote in his project proposal.

From his experiences, Terwilliger hopes to gain a better understanding of the complexity and diversity of Chinese folk music.  He is also interested in the differences between the styles of folk music played by professionals and nonprofessionals. Although folk music was not originally a product of music schools, today the top folk musicians are indeed educated at such institutions. According to his project proposal, Terwilliger hopes to investigate “whether or not the story telling ability and the freedom of expression, which folk performers are praised for, suffer from professional training. And ultimately,” he wrote, “I will search for a common denominator that exists between folk musicians of all traditions.”

Though Terwilliger had not necessarily been planning on this post-graduation path, “when I found out about the Watson it took me about four seconds to figure out what I would want to do with it,” he said. The application process began in September, and at the end of winter term Terwilliger was notified of his acceptance. After an interview with Elizabeth Ciner, the Dean of the College, for a position to teach English in China, Ciner called him at home. “She told me she was sorry that I ‘can’t have the job,’ and there my heart dropped and I said to myself, ‘Crap!’ But then she finished and said, ‘because you got the Watson.’”

Before coming to Carleton, Terwilliger was only familiar with Western music thanks to band, orchestra and piano playing. This all changed at the end of his freshman year after he attended a concert given by Gao Hong, Carleton’s Lecturer in Chinese musical instruments. Inspired, he “literally ran to the nearest computer to sign up for Chinese music lessons,” he said.

His sophomore year, Terwilliger began playing with Carleton’s Chinese music ensemble, a group that performs Chinese folk music in diverse locales including theaters, universities, museums and even the Mall of America. His career began with the erhu, a sort of two-stringed violin.  Last year, he started playing the zhongruan, a guitar-like instrument,which he greatly prefers. 

Gao Hong describes him as a wonderful student. “He’s really open-minded and passionate,” she said. “He’s very dedicated to the music. He’s a great leader for the ensemble.”

Why Chinese music? For Terwilliger, the appeal comes from the flexibility and creativity it affords him. “In an orchestra you’re supposed to play exactly what is written in a very specific style,” he said.  “In Chinese folk music, you’re free to improvise, change things around.  What would be sticking out in a western orchestra is just the expression of unique style in Chinese music.”

This summer, before beginning his Watson-sponsored research, Terwilliger will travel with Hong and two other Carleton musicians to China and Japan. Is he worried at all about the long journey ahead of him?  “No, I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve never been abroad for more than a couple months.”  Though his anticipation is not without bounds: “I think I’m reasonably terrified too, being on my own in a foreign country trying to get strangers to tell me about their music.  But mainly I’m just excited to get going.”

The Watson Fellowship was established in 1968 under the purview of the Watson Foundation, established in honor of IBM founder Thomas Watson. Forty liberal arts colleges each nominate four candidates, and of those, forty recipients are chosen regardless of the institution they attend. Carleton senior Ben Mirin was named as an alternate.

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