Anthony De Ritis, chair of Northeastern’s music depart­ment, is spending the next four months as a Ful­bright Scholar in Bei­jing, where he is devel­oping an inter­ac­tive mul­ti­media data­base on tra­di­tional Chi­nese instru­ments for Western composers.

De Ritis left Monday for China, where he will study at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Music, con­sid­ered to be China’s equiv­a­lent of the Jul­liard School in New York City. He has already begun work on a pro­to­type of the web-​​based resource that will pro­vide com­posers with video, his­tor­ical con­text, analysis of con­struc­tion and the acoustics of Chi­nese instruments.

Western com­posers tend to com­pose in a cer­tain way — there are cer­tain things they tra­di­tion­ally look for (and) there is really no resource in the Eng­lish lan­guage for them to do that with tra­di­tional Chi­nese instru­ments,” said De Ritis, who explained his work could open up a new field of instru­men­ta­tion for com­posers unfa­miliar with instru­ments devel­oped and played half a world away.

De Ritis has been trav­eling to and from China since the late ’90s, when he com­posed a piece called “Plum Blos­soms” for a dig­ital music con­fer­ence held in Bei­jing. Those expe­ri­ences have led him to estab­lish him­self as a com­poser who relies heavily on tra­di­tional Eastern instru­ments for his new works.

I started devel­oping all these oppor­tu­ni­ties for writing around Chi­nese musical instru­ments, and I started learning the lan­guage, and sud­denly I devel­oped a bit of a rep­u­ta­tion as a com­poser of music with Chi­nese and non-​​Western instru­ments,” De Ritis said.

De Ritis con­siders his work to be a type of “cul­tural diplo­macy,” in which mem­bers of dif­ferent cul­tures work together toward a common goal, building rela­tion­ships that can carry over into other fields. He has worked with UNESCO and the U.S. State Depart­ment, and is a founding board member of a group that is building an orchestra for young musi­cians from Haiti and the Dominican Republic — neigh­boring coun­tries with stark cul­tural dif­fer­ences — to prac­tice and per­form together.

There’s this notion that music is a sort of ‘uni­versal lan­guage.’ It’s not,” De Ritis said.

What is uni­versal is the fact that we all have ears and we are cul­tures that attempt to orga­nize fre­quen­cies in some mean­ingful way. So music is a means of bringing people together. Any great music needs to be a dia­logue. There are ways we can leverage our dia­logue through music and learn what it means to com­mu­ni­cate through music so that lessons can be learned and applied to other fields, like politics.”

De Ritis hopes his research this fall in Bei­jing will help bridge the long-​​standing gap between two musical worlds that have remained largely sep­a­rate through much of history.

There’s this desire, want and need to work together,” De Ritis said. “And if that’s not cul­tural diplo­macy, what is?”