Jun 26, 2016 07:42 PM EST

Yo-Yo Ma Uses The Universal Language of Music To Soothe The Soul

Yo-Yo Ma Uses The Universal Language of Music To Soothe The Soul
Music is a universal language we all speak.  Regardless of what religion you are or where you live in the world, the idea of music is woven into the fabric of culture and everyday life.  Granted, the style of music can vary from country to country, religion to religion, friend to friend, but the idea of music can be heard worldwide.  This very concept is explored in the new documentary, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

A movie 15 years (or more) in the making, it takes a look at various musicians, their heritages, backgrounds, cultures, instruments and the blending of all these factors to make a hybrid sound that can appeal to many.  It brings together the well-known idea that music can inspire, heal and unite. 

The movie opens with a look at Yo-Yo Ma, the cello child prodigy who has lived most of his life in the musical spotlight.  In 2000 he brought together a variety of musicians from all over the world for a workshop in Massachusetts without a clear objective in mind.  What emerged was a seedling of an idea that has simmered over the past 16 years.

The film particularly delves into the lives of 5 musicians whose lives and stories are as diverse as the instruments they play.  Besides Ma, we meet Wu Man, Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor, and Cristina Pato. Man is a Pipa player from China,  Azmeh plays Clarinet and was born in Syria, Kalhor is from Iran and plays Kamancheh, and Pato is Spanish and is famous for her bagpipes.  Their backgrounds and experiences are as varied as their instruments and have helped to shape their lives in unimaginable ways.  The one thing they share though is a passion and innate ability to play music.

There are several things that stand out in this film from the start and seem to weave a common thread throughout the hour and 36 minute documentary.  First, Ma doesn't come across as outwardly passionate about his music and his instrument as the other others in the film.  He was thrust into music at an early age and even he admits he has many interests that he hasn't explored.  He seems to be always searching, and I think his passion is as much for peace and purpose as it is for music.

Secondly, Pato's and Man's energy, spirit and obvious love of music leap off the screen and are infectious.  Third, Kalhor's and Azmeh's heartbreaking look at their countries unrest and how it shaped their lives and music is haunting.  Finally, the music created by these incredible musicians is worldly and powerful and draws the audience in while making them feel both uncomfortable and safe in some way all at the same time.

Director Morgan Neville has a long history of musical documentaries with subjects ranging from Keith Richards to the Troubadours.  His style is an intimate view of his subject while relating it to the vast world around them.  His cinematography, especially in this film is fabulous and breathtaking.

There are so many take a ways from The Music of Strangers that one can't help but be engrossed in the storytelling.  Thought provoking and unique, this film is a must see for anyone who enjoys an eclectic taste in music and a worldview of life.  It explores so much more than just healing and relating through music.  It is a blending of humans and life that alters their perspectives on each other and their craft.

Grade: A-

About Allison Skornick-Rose

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