In the summer of 2019, I went on my senior trip to New York City, the melting pot of the United States. The first night that we were there, we walked along Times Square and came across a piano that was there for anyone to play. A stranger sat down and started to fiddle with the keys, and began to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Everyone crowded around and sang their hearts out, not caring if they could carry a tune or not.
It was amazing to see all of these strangers come together and sing their hearts out in a world where so many things divide us. This was the first time where I was able to step back and realize that everyone can communicate with one another through music, regardless of what culture you come from or what language you speak.
After a year of tragedies and chaos, finding happiness in the little things in life like music and art can feel arbitrary, and I feel like I haven’t been able to experience that sense of awe that I had felt in New York for a long time. That is until I watched the film, “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble”.
This documentary follows the story of the renowned international musical collective, The Silkroad Ensemble, and the artists that have been able to fuse cultures from around the world using music as their own universal language.
As college students, we are a lot like the musicians that came together in the film. We all come from different places, share our life stories with one another, and introduce each other to things that remind us of home, which fosters a community that is then able to truly understand one another.
Even though this documentary mainly focuses on the music, it also highlights various artists within the ensemble as individuals.
During the film, I was given an inside look into the life of an Iranian artist, Kayhan Kalhor, who left his home country by himself when he was just 17 due to the rising violence with the start of the revolution.
Later on in life, he had lost his whole family to the costs of the Iran-Iraq war and chose to live a life abroad after chaos and violence took over the streets in 2009. When explaining his reasoning for moving out of his home country even though his wife stayed, he said “I can choose to be a part of that society or not, and that’s not a very idealistic society I want to be a part of.”
Even though the Iranian government has painted a target on Kalhor’s back for being outspoken against violence and suppression of the arts, he continues on with his life as an artist representing the culture that, in his eyes, brought so much to human life. He does this through his instrument, the kamencheh.
Through all of the years, his kamencheh never left his side even when he walked over 2,500 miles to Italy when he first left Iran. The long-necked string instrument became an extension of himself that kept him close to his roots and was proud to share his culture with the rest of the ensemble.
He lives his life in a way where he chooses to see the beauty in it all despite the tragedies and difficulties he has been through. He says “We have a tendency to not be appreciative of beautiful things that surround us. But if you realize what you have in this life, and how precious is the breath that you take, the water that you drink, the music and your life, and the loved ones around you, it’s just enormous wealth and happiness that doesn’t have to have anything else to complete it. It’s just complete by itself.”
I feel like this past year, we have been able to realize that what we have in this life is special and tragedy is inescapable. So, we must make the most of the time that we have on this earth and embrace the things that bring us together after a year of isolation.
Cellist and creator of the Silkroad Ensemble, Yo-Yo Ma believes that he is always trying to figure out who he is and how he fits into the world which is something I think we can all relate to. As I watched all of the musicians from different cultures come together and make one cohesive sound, I realized that our purpose in life is to connect with one another, and that is what this ensemble encapsulates.
As I think back to all of the memorable moments in my life that caused me to have some type of revelation, like the one I had in New York or how I felt after watching the documentary, I realized that music acts like the score for a movie, except that the movie is actually the events that play out in your life.
When we go through life experiences like dealing with a broken heart or losing a loved one, we go to music to comfort us. Through a playlist of songs, we pick the ones that remind us of a feeling that connects us to that person or that moment, and I think that is beautiful.
Like Ma, I believe that music can be a form of communication that can help us realize all of the aspects life has to offer, it’s just a matter of if we can hear the stories that are being told behind each note that is played.
Even though I know that I won’t be able to experience the same New York City I had back in 2019 for a long time, it’s comforting to know that I can go to Spotify and play Bohemian Rhapsody if I ever want to relive the story of when a group of strangers became karaoke kings and queens in the middle of Times Square.
Brie Haro is a reporter for The Beacon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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