Letter: Ma's 'Day of Action' will go beyond music
To the editor:
Last Wednesday, a multitude of people gathered in Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood to hear Yo-Yo Ma give a master class to three young musicians on selected cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. While these kinds of lectures exist for masters to offer advice on how to improve a student's performance, I walked away from the event with a renewed sense of the purpose of music as well as the purpose of life.
Yo-Yo started by asking each of the students why they had chosen their pieces and what they loved about the particular movements. He suggested that they think critically about the ideas they were trying to convey through their sound. He told the students that when it comes to performance, they should not follow instructions, but rather pour all of themselves into a piece. He suggested that the students use every experience they had ever lived through, including "the good, the bad, the ugly and smelly," and channel those into symbolic movements.
One could sense that Yo-Yo was inviting the students to consider a shift in their approach. A shift away from precision and a shift toward passion. A shift away from personal performance and a shift toward consideration of all listeners present. A shift away from technical excellence (albeit important), and a shift toward intention. I was on the phone with a friend who attended the same lecture and he said: "It's way more than just the music for Yo-Yo." I knew this to be true when Yo-Yo shared what was for me, the most profound statement of the event. He said: "When you play music, it's not just the sound or your arms moving; it should include the universe as a resonating device." Yo-Yo understands that music moves us more personally and with more meaning than any other medium in the world.
This subtle yet earnest shift alluded to in the master class will take physical form this Saturday (today) when Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Project spearheads a "Day of Action" for the community at the Common in Pittsfield. The event is an effort to have a collective conversation through the language of words, art, craftmanship and music. It's an invitation to celebrate who we are, while in the same moment acknowledge our collective room for growth toward more inclusivity, more safety, and more opportunity. It's an invitation to be curious and open about how each of us move through the world and how we can imagine a social space where all of our needs and wants are met.
Art, when done right, will call us to action. Throughout the masterclass, Yo-Yo asked the poignant yet simple question of "What else is going on here?" When we ask ourselves these kinds of questions, and when we leave space for the emergence of questions that we haven't yet thought to ask, we are expanding into a realm of awareness and growth.
The master class ended with this last thought from the guest of honor: "You gotta wrestle with it and toil with it until you come up with an answer for each moment in time. That's your mission: There's no one answer."
May we listen to the prophets of our time: the artists who have the gift of vision and who are living, breathing examples of what it means to strive for a peaceful coexistence.
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