This blog post is part of a summer-long series of posts written by Humanities Blogger, Kristen Costa. Check back weekly to get a fresh, informative look at the themes explored in the films we’ll be showing as part of the newportFILM Outdoors series, presented by Lila Delman Real Estate International.

The arts transcend all languages, cultures, and global divides. The documentary, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, by filmmaker Morgan Neville (director of newportFILM alum like Best of Enemies & What Happened, Miss Simone?), explores this concept through cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, the group of musicians from over 20 countries brought together by the musician since 2000 with the express purpose of sharing ideas and creating music, often inspired by the Silk Road. In modern times, the Silk Road has come to be a metaphor for the exchange of ideas, religion, and knowledge among the diverse populations that are along the routes.

The  actual Silk Road is not just one singular road, but refers to the ancient trade route that transversed from the Mediterranean through the Middle East and on to China. Silk came west from China to Middle Eastern nations and Rome. Wool, gold, and silver, among other goods, went east to Asia. This network of trade routes was the beginning of our interconnected international society. To learn more about the history of The Silk Road:

Yo-Yo Ma established the Silk Road Project to bring a global understanding and collaboration around the arts with performances, cultural exchanges, and educational programs. The Silk Road Ensemble is a large part of the organization’s mission and in addition to concerts around the world, includes workshops with local music students around the world, residencies for musicians, and other opportunities for global musicians. It also inspired more than just music with artists from various mediums coming together to create visual arts in various mediums including paintings, animation projects, films, and textiles– all created with a collaborative spirit that crossed geographical boundaries. To listen to more music and see the other projects of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, check it out here:

The film is impressive in just the sheer amount of time it took to document the ensemble, with filming taking place over several years in multiple countries, with film subjects in six languages. It’s not just about the collaboration, but also about the individual artists who participated over the years. The music allowed the members to explore global issues and connect in deep ways. More importantly, it provided a spot for musicians and artists to express themselves in a collaborative way, creating something new, learning and teaching each other, and ultimately, bridging cultural, social, and country boundaries to create art. As one of the musicians says in the film – “Arts is about opening up to possibility. Possibility links to hope. We all need hope.”

For more information on this week’s Outdoor screening of The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble, visit

The Humanities Blog Series is made possible through major funding support from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independant affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Council seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders.