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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Music of Strangers

What makes Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble play

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 17, 2016 -- Yo-Yo Ma was one of those child prodigies, who started performing before he was five years old. This musical documentary film addresses the question of what's next for him after mastering the cello at such an early age. What worlds are left to conquer? The world itself, is what.

The film documents Yo-Yo Ma's search for the next big thing and the series of concerts that followed after his search led him to create the Silk Road Ensemble and the Silk Road Project (later renamed Silkroad) a non-profit corporation with the goal of uniting people through music. Since it was formed in 1998, the Silk Road Ensemble has performed before millions of people around the world, has recorded six CDs and participated in many educational projects.

This film profiles several members of the Silk Road Ensemble, several of whom have overcome significant obstacles and tragedy. Two of them have stories to tell about how governments and cultures can stifle artistic creativity. As you would expect, there are musical performances in the film, reflecting a variety of musical styles and traditions.

Wu Man, who plays a traditional stringed instrument called a pipa, talks about China's Cultural Revolution and how it damaged the culture and musical traditions. She began taking pipa lessons after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Later, she moved to the United States in order to incorporate other musical influences. In one scene, she plays part of Black Sabbath's “Iron Man” on a pipa, laughing as she does so.

The most compelling story is that of Silk Road player Kayhan Kalhor of Iran, whose family was killed in war, and who was forced to leave Iran because of political persecution. Like the Cultural Revolution in China, the 1979 revolution in Iran took its toll on Persian culture and Iranian music (similar problems in Pakistan are shown in the film “Song of Lahore”).

Kalhor lives in the United States now, but his wife still lives in Iran. Kalhor's separation from his wife and his country can be seen in the emotions that cloud his face, his voice and his music. He is bitterly disappointed when the Iranian government cancels a concert he was to headline in Iran.

On a more upbeat note is the story of Cristina Pato, a beautiful Spanish-Galician bagpiper and pianist who brings fresh energy to the Silk Road Ensemble. She had to overcome anti-female prejudice to become the first female Galician bagpiper to record a solo album in Spain. Pato is a force of nature in the film, bringing smiles to all with her positive energy.

The film hops all over the world, telling stories of musicians in the band, such as that of Syrian clarinet player Kinan Azmeh, who reflects bitterly on the indifference of the world to the plight of millions of people in his war torn homeland. An artist, Kevork Mourad, is shown painting pictures to go with the performances in the film. The film also features interviews about Silkroad with famous musicians, including composer John Williams.

This film got me to thinking about how musicians and other artists, as well as scientists seem to be able to cooperate very well in a world increasingly being torn apart by political and religious extremism and xenophobia. It seems that in art and science, there is common ground. The common ground in art is what this film is about. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)