What music are you listening to today?
I was listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions during my walk this morning. I really love that CD and I’ve written about it here before. A quartet of players make magic by strumming, plucking and stringing us along. The ringleader is Yo-Yo Ma.
Wu Man was one of Yo-Yo Ma’s ensemble members on the incredible Silk Road Project. She is a virtuoso pipa player who wrote and recorded a solo piece called Dancing that I listen to frequently. When I close my eyes and listen I can see people from many different cultures…dancing together. I see Polynesian warrior dancers, S. African Zulu dancers and Australian aboriginal dancers. I see American western barn dancers in addition to Chinese folk and Japanese dancers. And in the middle of the them is Ms. Wu playing the pipa, the beautiful Chinese string instrument. I thought about the images that Dancing evokes when I read this quote from Yo Yo Ma:
“. . .Nothing great was ever produced in isolation.” Ma says his study of history at Harvard University led him to realize that Eastern and Western cultures are not self-contained, but have mixed since at least the time of Alexander the Great. “Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music…”And there’s a continual tradition in the West of incorporating music from other parts of the world.” The pattern continues with instruments, too, he said. “The guitar and the sitar are obviously related — even linguistically. The oud moves west from Persia to become the lute; it moves east to become the pipa. And a European hears an erhu and says it’s purely Chinese, a Chinese violin, but in Chinese the word ‘erhu’ means ‘two-stringed foreign instrument,’ ” Ma said.” (AP 4/9/07)
Isn’t that a wonderful observation? Culture is fluid, so why do we remain committed to the confines of the concept of “tribes”? We can draw lines in the sand and make claims in the name of “our people” but all it takes is losing ourselves in something as universal as music to see the truth of human connectedness. I can ponder that truth as quantum physics or I can think about it in philosophical terms but what I really like to do is close my eyes and listen to the strings.