Cleveland Orchestra Gala:
a conversation with cellist Yo-Yo Ma
“One of the things that I have realized is that a lot of the country is thinking about our jobs and our future,” Ma told us by telephone. “And one of the things they say is that we need a workforce in this century that’s collaborative, flexible, imaginative and innovative.”
Ma says that when he began to think about those qualities, he realized that these are the same qualities that are practiced by musicians every day. “You play together and you learn to not just listen but you read people. You read someone’s gesture, you read someone’s energy or you give off signals. And it’s that kind of flexibility and collaboration that makes for fantastic performances. You know where to put your ego, you know where to blend with others, and you know how to make contradictions work to good effect.”
Ma believes the way these qualities are reflected in education is not so much about learning to play a musical instrument, which he jokingly says is great and he's certainly all for that, but in the end it is far more. “I think the idea is that you have one more way of interpreting the world.”
Ma also understands that it’s a lot easier to work at something that excites you, and this is true for everyone — especially kids. “At times when I am practicing time goes really fast and sometimes it goes really slow. The times that it goes really fast is when I’m so excited or lost in what I’m doing. But sometimes I am like, Oh, do I have to do this, and time goes achingly slow. When your imagination or curiosity is stimulated, time seems to go really quickly and music really energizes and stimulates the imagination. It gets all the collaborative juices, the flexibility juices going, it’s a mental muscle and if you can do that it makes everything go better”.
Ma believes wholeheartedly that arts compliment the learning of all subjects. “We have to write an English essay, we have to be able to do math and science, which are all unbelievably interesting, but sometimes we’re only thinking about getting a good grade on the test. That’s not about learning. Learning is when you are excited about something and I think music can make a very large contribution. Plus, it becomes a lifetime friend.”
Because we live in world of instant communication, Ma points out that good communication skills with our neighbors are needed now more then ever. “Because of the Internet we’ve collapsed geographic distances, so now let's collapse the emotional distances as well. You can be my neighbor and I may have nothing to say to you, or you have nothing to say to me. But if you are my neighbor and I actually have seventeen ways to start a conversation, that is interesting to both you and me; we’re going to make better neighbors.”
Ma says that in the end it’s all about finding a passion, and arts education does exactly that. “The Cleveland Orchestra practices the best values I know, which is to care about something bigger then yourself. It's great for them to be involved in sharing what they love and their passion, and for other people to realize that you can have passions and let those passions be your guide to exploring the world”.
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Published on ClevelandClassical.com October 30, 2012
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