From Mao to Mozart – Musical journey

“Music is not just black and white. Music is every color and some that even painters don’t have.”
– Isaac Stern, Violinist/Music teacher.

We know the cultural differences between western countries and China. People of these 2 countries cannot come together with any of their qualities, language and culture. But one thing can easily fill up the gap and that is MUSIC.

In 1979, Isaac Stern and his pianist friend made a cultural trip to China as invited by the Chinese government. As part of the trip, they travelled, conducted concerts and exchanged the goodness of their rich western music with the traditional and disciplined music of China.
We can’t imagine how restricted Chinese culture to let the western music into their system. There was a cultural change going on between 1966-76.


The doc starts with a plane landing in Beijing airport welcoming the western Music teacher Isaac Stern and his team. Isaac Stern, a Jewish violin master brought up in Sanfrancisco. The best part of Isaac is that he is not only great violinist/music teacher but he was also enormously interested in spreading his knowledge to younger generation. During their visit, they conduct concerts, take lessons, and share the best practices in handling the instruments. Isaac is surprised by the young talent in China and their disciplined mastership in the work with lack of emotion in playing. He explains the sweet spots in playing the instrument and everything about music. He visits the music conservatory and learns how the music infrastructure works there. In turn, he shares his views on tuning what they already do to elevate their skills.

Though it was intended to be a concert tour, he took some additional steps to boldly express what he thinks.. That too in China. The documentary also reveals the repression happened to the music teachers who favored foreign music. Though the trip was just a month long, the impact and infectious enthusiasm Stern showed to Chinese musicians had a dramatic impact.

– Slightly resembling Alfred Hitchcock, Stern vigorously and also nicely shares his views on music and the best practices like having a sponge pad hiding under shoulder to rest the violin base.

– His lessons are irresistible and it is understood from the students listening to him. He doesn’t stop himself explaining the intricacies of the instrument and also the emotion and life in playing the music.

– One fine scene was that, he asks a Chinese girl to sing what she played in violin..She hesitates as singing is not taken lightly in their culture. Students happily accept his improvisations and reproduce the same instantly.

– The doc touches also upon the tough times the musicians faced for favoring foreign music. Music teachers who favored foreign music were arrested and tortured.

– After visiting the intensive sports coaching of Chinese tots, Stern Amazingly tells that ‘but they can’t play Mozart’ 🙂


Stern said ‘ What is music all about? The instrument is not that important. It just the means to the end. Don’t use music to play violin but use violin to play music.’
He is an excellent and highly practical teacher. I admire his knowledge and admire him more as he also shares to the next generation. Stern later visited China after 20 years and amazed by the change he has observed.

He ended the documentary with..’ You know what I mean.. Open up’. China opened up.

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