Healthy Living

The Music Of Strangers: A Film Review By Dr. Lloyd Sederer

<i>The Music of Strangers</i>
The Music of Strangers

The barbarity of the Orlando club massacre casts a pall on our civilization. Yet, as many have said, what we need more than anything in the wake of such human ugliness is evidence of our beauty, determination, and capacity for unity and generosity.

We all start off as strangers to one another – as did the diverse group of international musicians and visual artists who came together under the spell and leadership of the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Their commonality was their devotion to music and to sustaining their respective cultural legacies, as well as a commitment to change the world – especially Mr. Ma.

In 1998, Mr. Ma established Silkroad (a reference to the ancient trade route that connected people and cultures across vast expanses), in which dozens of creative artists became an ensemble seeking to deliver our universal language, music, especially to those whose countries and cultures are in upheaval. Silkroad began touring, performing and educating in 2000. A year later came 9/11, which further galvanized their resolve. Since then over 2 million people in 33 countries have been uplifted by their gifts of music, inclusion and promise.

In this film, which is as much a concert as it is a movie, we meet and follow the lives of a half dozen of the artists, including Mr. Ma. They seem chosen to feature their diaspora, their journey from family and homeland and their efforts to discover and recover their place in life, including their new homes. They are men and women from Syria, Galicia (Spain), China, Iran, the USA, and many other places. Mr. Ma quotes T.S. Eliot when commenting on his beloved fellow travelers: We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Silkroad’s journey has not been without struggle, despite the magic touch of Mr. Ma. But they clearly never lost sight of their mission: they remain very much alive as an ensemble and enterprise today. You witness the energy of their personalities and their deep kindnesses when watching The Music of Strangers. Throughout the film, there were many lovely moments of joy and fervent musical interludes. But, as viewers, we also visit Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The horror of the camps and the agony of the forced migrants is inescapable even if mitigated – in some – by the presence of and hope imparted by these undaunted international (musical) ambassadors.

Participant Media (whom I once described as a media company with a conscience - co-financed and produced the film. Their tradition of creating film and television programming dedicated to social change is evident in their oeuvre of over 70 films, including Spotlight, Contagion, Lincoln, The Help, He Named Me Malala, CITIZENFOUR, Food, Inc., and An Inconvenient Truth. Participant, with this film, worked with FilmAid International ( and Silkroad to bring music and arts workshops to three Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, engaging those so far from home (in so many ways) and nurturing their spirit. It is hope, coupled with the power of human resilience, which these displaced people, young and old, are in dire need of as they face their profound personal and national losses.

The Music of Strangers debuted in selected theatres starting June 10 and will be followed by a broadcast premiere on HBO. The images of this film continue to infuse my mind and I can still hear the extraordinary music. The first thing I did when I got home from the theatre was to order the latest Silkroad album, Sing Me Home.

Bravo to Mr. Ma, his intrepid co-travelers and to the producers of this film for giving us proof that humanity is alive and well - that grace exists even in moments of horror and grief.


The opinions expressed herein are solely my own as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

My book for families who have a member with a mental illness is The Family Guide to Mental Health Care (Foreword by Glenn Close) — is now available in paperback (

My new book, Four Secrets to Mental Health, will be available in December, 2016.

Follow me on Twitter: @askdrlloyd

<i>The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, by Lloyd Sederer, MD, WW Norton, 2013</i>
The Family Guide to Mental Health Care, by Lloyd Sederer, MD, WW Norton, 2013