Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Music with Strangers, Music with Friends

Last night, we went to see The Music of Strangers, a movie about Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road project.  I expected it to be a sort of travelogue:  on the road with Yo Yo Ma.  Or perhaps it would be an introduction to new instruments, which it was.  But it was so much more.

The movie focuses on a few of the musicians, and we get enough of their stories to understand their journeys.  On the way home, I commented about how many of them have been impacted by revolutions in their countries.  My spouse pointed out that this experience of disruption, dislocation, and the resulting losses is probably more common than not. 

I was also struck by one comment in the film, "Yo Yo Ma is always working for change, and over half the time, he just happens to have a cello in his hand."  Throughout the film, we see these musicians working to make connections--not just with each other, but with various populations.  Along the way, they take their music to the dispossessed, giving lessons, giving instruments, and trying to bring peace through music.

It was a powerful reminder that we can work for social justice through a variety of venues, across a range of mediums, by doing what we love to do and sharing it with others.

It was the kind of movie that both made me want to go home and practice on an instrument, and at the same time, to abandon all thoughts of playing.  Those musicians were so magnificent.  But again, I remember the words of a yoga teacher who gave me great advice long ago, to stop comparing myself to others because it won't help me perfect a pose or hold my balance.  That advice seems applicable here too.

Throughout the movie, I thought of our fledgling ukulele group at church.  Could we become an agent of transformational change?

I also loved this movie for its depiction of artists practicing their craft.  I like that the movie reminds us that each artist works alone, but the group comes together in certain places to become something greater than the sum of its parts.  The movie focuses mostly on musicians, but there's a fascinating segment on a Chinese group that also makes puppets--they look like delicate paper creations which are operated behind a screen and the shadow is magnified on the screen. 

But it's not all hopeful--the Chinese puppet maker said that no one wants to know how create that art form any more:  it's too intricate, and there's no money in it, especially not for the amount of time that it takes.

The film addresses an important point from many angles:  why create art in the first place?  Do we create art to change the world?  to make money?  to preserve our culture?  to make new culture?

The film did not address the spiritual aspect of making art, at least not overtly.  But spiritual aspects undergirded the whole film.

We went to see the film with friends from church, and I feel lucky to have friends who say, "There's this movie we should see.  Can you come on Monday?"  When I told them how lucky I felt, one of them said, "There aren't many friends who would be interested in this kind of movie."  I'm glad to have some friends who are interested in this kind of documentary, friends who would meet us on a Monday night to have some time together.

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