I went to see The Music of Strangers yesterday, a beautiful new documentary about Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Yo-Yo Ma has long been one of the greatest cellists on the planet, but the Silk Road Ensemble has been a new adventure for him, beginning in 2000. The ensemble unites members of different cultures, different musical and ethnic backgrounds, different nations, different styles. They work together, finding not merely ways they can play each other’s styles, but how they might meet in the middle making new kinds of music. I highly recommend the movie. It will not wrap up an easy conversation but instead starts the journey and sparks thoughts that stir long after the projector turns off.
The movie weaves the stories of individual members with the musical experiments of the group as a whole. The story of Kinan Azmeh (clarinet, composer) from Damascus, Syria, was so powerful. His music is amazing, but the story of leaving Syria, continuing to watch the damage in his homeland, and ending with the opportunity to work with children at a Syrian refugee camp was so powerful. Also, the story of Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh) from Iran was incredibly moving. I realize that most of you quickly recognized ‘clarinet’ and ‘composer’ in the first set of parenthesis, but might have been confused by ‘kamancheh’ in the second. This is a native instrument that most of us are unfamiliar with. But Kayhan is a master. Seeing this instrument blend with Ma’s cello was an incredible moment for this musician. But his story is even more powerful. His parents sent him from Iran at 17. He grew into an incredible musician, eventually returning to his homeland. However, eventually he had leave again, refusing to be silent about this violence in his country. His wife remains there, and experiencing their loss and grief and finally the joy of reunion is a special moment in the film. Watching the impact of Cristina Pato from Galicia, Spain, who plays the bagpipes and then Wu Tong and Wu Man from China, the first a vocalist from a hard rock band and instrumentalist on the sheng, and the second a master of the Pipa, a classic Chinese instrument, was so powerful as these diverse pieces came together to make music that even as a musician myself, I could hardly comprehend. To be honest, I cannot wait for the movie to come out on DVD, because I need to see it again. I need to just listen and be amazed. And I need to sit and attentively take notes so that I can continue to wrestle with what was said.
I went to see the movie with Dr. Grant and his wife from my school. We walked over to Jason’s Deli afterwards to continue the conversation. I quickly found that each of us had experienced the movie in our own way and were challenged differently. We began to share these thoughts which of course spurred more thoughts for each of the others. I could write a huge blog just on our conversation, in addition to multiple blogs on the movie itself. We could explore what this beautiful picture of collaboration reveals about the church. But mainly I hope you will go see the movie. Then you can have all of those conversations with your own community. I hope you enjoy it.
You can find out more about the Silk Road Ensemble here.