What the world can learn from “Music of Strangers”

Bill Trudell
President-elect . . . Donald Trump?! I feel like my pen stopped in mid-sentence and looked around at me in protest. I tightened my grip, forced it to move forward and just write on.

For many, the fact that a man accused of being a racist, misogynist, lying, foul-mouthed, negative, egotistical bully could ever occupy the White House and lead the free world is beyond comprehension.

The Audacity of Hope, the title of Barack Obama’s autobiography, may be replaced by Trump’s book — titled just Audacity.

I think the book that all Americans should write together should be titled THE NECESSITY OF HOPE.

Much has been written about how it happened, why it happened, how tragic it may be, why Hillary failed, whether the Electoral College system is flawed, who voted and in what numbers.
It is tiring. We are tempted to just accept it and move on, but I think that would be a mistake. We need to continue to talk about, analyze and understand it.

Essentially, when we pierce through all the labelling and rhetoric, millions of good Americans felt that the system was failing them and demanded change.

Nevertheless, Trump represented a “me-first” approach for America. It was effective but terribly dangerous on the world stage where it has become a trend. The re-emergence of totalitarianism and racism in Europe, Brexit in England and the astonishing vitriolic attacks on the High Court Justices who decided that Parliament needed to approve it, the erosion of membership in the International Criminal Court, the rejection of refugees, the threat to civil liberties in Turkey, the re-emergence of the Russian bear, the destruction of Syria, the universal fear of ISIS and terrorism all cry out for a need for dialogue and collaboration to secure the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The principles of restorative justice were showing signs of evolution in the United States under the last administration. Conversations regarding capital punishment, mindless incarceration and confrontation between the police and persons of colour were occurring on an impressive scale. These conversations may be at risk of being shut down. Indeed, there is concern that the United States Supreme Court will become more rigid.

However, there may be silver linings in the election of Trump. Many, many people are offering opinions, post-mortems, writing columns, demonstrating, appearing on panels and discussing the “why” at dinner tables. They are talking about decency, human rights, inclusion and world peace like never before.

It has been voiced by some that when you live in a gated community, immigrant, black or other communities out there may be seen as a threat to your way of life. What is, of course, vital is that if you don’t venture out of your gated view and experience the wider community, you fear it.

Perhaps the election is a catalyst to sharing conversations with neighbours, whom to this point have indeed been strangers.

If these conversations continue, they could become a form of music and help restore a sense of community and shared goals.

In the last days, the president-elect himself seems to be engaging in conversations with former critics, even appointing some.

A few weeks ago, I stole away for 90 minutes on an autumn Sunday afternoon.

Snuggled in the darkness of an almost empty theatre, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble “The Music of Strangers” left me speechless.

If only there was a theatre large enough for the world to enter, I suspect that when the screen went dark and the exit doors opened, amazing sunshine would await.

The Silk Road Ensemble united about 17 incredible musicians from around the world who, since 2000, have come together periodically to connect through their music. From a child of the Peoples Revolution in China, to a genius banned from sharing his music in his native Iran, to a native Syrian witness to his country’s destruction, to a sensuous Spanish woman whose spark for life mesmerizes her audiences, it is an incredible journey of love and life.

What struck me at the time was that the world seems to be becoming a mess of broken, isolated solos.

The newspapers of the world are far from music sheets.

Throughout Europe and indeed around the world, the rise of far-right isolationist rhetoric and racism has replaced any music of compassion, charity and global neighbourhoods.

We live in very dangerous times — totalitarianism and the erosion of judicial independence are on the rise. Although our world is connected in cyberspace, the reality of connection is simply virtual, far from spiritual and certainly not musical.

Indeed, social media has become an unregulated vehicle for hatred, insults and personal attacks.

The Silk Road Ensemble is transformative for its participants and for those who experience it.

These musicians could be in continuous disagreement with each other, but instead they have chosen to communicate and harmony is the result.

The citizens of the United States, its leaders, and all of us, strangers in many ways, should perhaps establish our own “silk road” projects.

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