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During this time of worldwide violence, hatred, divisiveness, and fear, how refreshing to spend an hour and a half with a group of world musicians who thrive on their cultural differences and speak a universal language to bring beauty and redemption to anyone who is willing to listen!

In the Music of Strangers, cellist Yo-Yo Ma—a national treasure in my opinion—reflects on his relationship to music, the cello, and “how I fit in the world, . . . something I share with seven billion other people.” The documentary, directed by Morgan Neville, explores the dynamics of The Silk Road Ensemble, which Ma began contemplating as early as 1998, and assembled in 2000, intent on discovering what would happen when a group of musicians, strangers to each other and to each other’s cultural heritage, got together to make music.

What happened was joy, passion, beauty, love, and meaning. Among others, the major musicians in the ensemble are:

  • Kinan Azmeh, from Syria on clarinet and composer
  • Kayhan Kalhor, from Iran on kamancheh (like an Iranian cello)
  • Christina Pato, from Galicia, Spain on bagpipe and piano
  • Wu Man, from China, on pipa
  • Wu Tong, from China on sheng and bawa
  • Johnny Gandelsman, from Russia on violin

The film follows these musicians back to their home countries, where that is possible, and traces their heritages and musical backgrounds. Their stories are filled with pain, loss, and a unifying drive to find meaning in life through their art.

Music and art transcend politics and revolution. Mixing traditions and cultures in the language of music brings hope. I left the theater feeling uplifted and thankful.