Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble enlightens music students

Yo-Yo Ma, Silkroad Ensemble
Times of Oman

By Sarah Macdonald

World famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble treated music students in Muscat to a cultural voyage across the historic trading route at the Royal Opera House Muscat on Wednesday.

The Silk Road Ensemble, a project started by Ma in 2000, brings together musicians and composers who play music and instruments from China to the Mediterranean, as well as other countries connected to the trade route.

Sixteen members, including Ma, were in Muscat for a concert at the ROHM, and as part of their stay in Oman, they offered an educational programme for about 150 students.

Several of the musicians spoke about the origins of their instruments and gave demonstrations of how they sound. The unfamiliar instruments included a Japanese bamboo flute, called the shakuhachi, a ?Chinese string instrument called the pipa, and the kamancheh, an Iranian string instrument played with a bow.

"Through our instruments we talk to each other, we become friends, we become family. Music connects people and the Silk Road Ensemble is a very good example of how we become united," said tabla player Sandeep Das, who is from India.

Ma told the students that as a Paris-born, New York-raised child of Chinese parents, his outlook on the world was different, since he had a variety of perspectives.

All members of the Silk Road Ensemble share an interest in looking at the world from different points of view, he added, noting that through their music, they are able to transcend language and cultural barriers.

"In music you travel a lot. One of the things I've tried to do is understand what is important to different people. It helps our individual and collective creativity," Ma said.

The students, who were from the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, the Oud Hobbyist Association, The American International School in Muscat, Indian School Muscat, Sultan Qaboos University's ?Department of Music, and those who study with local musician Abdullah Al Riyami, clapped and sang along at times, listened attentively to the sounds of the unfamiliar instruments, and asked many questions about the musicians' experiences. Wala Al Hinai, a viola player and music student at SQU, said the event complemented her education.

"I love to learn everything about instruments, the old and new. I liked it so much and I liked what they played," she said.

Not all the participants were familiar with the Silk Road Ensemble, but that didn't lessen their appreciation of the event. Nibras Al Mullahi, a member of the Oud Hobbyist Association, had no idea what to expect when he arrived at the ROHM that morning, but was impressed with the music and presentation.

"I was surprised to see what they were playing, but it was very nice and new for me. They showed us new instruments and different styles of playing and different rhythms," said Al Mullahi.