Do you know Yo-Yo Ma?
He doesn’t call me at home to ask advice, nor do we meet for coffee to exchange stories, but I do consider Yo-Yo Ma my friend. I’m not sure he is aware of that fact but I don’t think he would mind me saying so.
He plays the cello in my ear while I sit at my desk, pen in hand, as I create a world for which I can find a solution. The magic he creates with his cello calms my busy brain and allows it to focus; allows it to rest and quiets it so my own limited magic can happen.
Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris of Chinese parents and was educated in New York City. He has been a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations since 2006, an honour and responsibility that Ma takes seriously and is committed to.
We are the same age, he and I. While I was learning how to get through a day without a nap and to tie my own shoes, Ma was becoming an accomplished cellist, playing for audiences around the world—before I had mastered the two-wheeler.
But we do share one thing with each other, and perhaps with seven billion others on the planet, and that is the question that rumbles around in my head and in his, he says: “How do I fit into the world and what is my purpose.”
Instead of just pondering that question, Ma worked to find the answer by creating The Silk Road Ensemble in 1998 to “celebrate the universal power of music.”
Ma wanted to erase the borders that divide us and to blend our music together to create a foothold; a growing place for hope. He believes in “cultural collaboration.”
The Silk Road is an ancient network of routes used for trade and the exchange of cultural ideas and practices through Asia, connecting China to the Mediterranean Sea and back again, and used for almost 2,000 years.
In 2016, a documentary was released entitled “The Music of Strangers,” which followed the Ensemble on the journey of cultural exchange on the Silk Road. These musicians replace fear with hope by creating beauty in the world with their music.
“It is music that gives our lives meaning,” Ma said of his ensemble. And when you watch him in this documentary film, you can’t help but feel his infectious passion to create positive change; to celebrate that which unites us rather than to fear what divides us.
You may assume that classical music is Ma’s only forte, but you would be wrong. He embraces music of most genres, though I hesitate to assume heavy metal or rap would appeal to him (I could be wrong).
He plays two cellos—the first is a Montagnana built in 1733 and the second is a Davidoff Stradivarius made in 1712. It is hard to imagine what those two instruments have been witness to in the world of music.
Though Ma is grateful for his tremendous innate talent, his career with the cello was not one he chose but rather one that chose him. His curiosity and desire to make the world a friendlier, kinder place brought him to The Silk Road Ensemble—something he and his cello could give back to the world; could go beyond simply performing, which he has done since the age of four.
Though none of us can come close to such a talent, we certainly can be part of the movement to find ways to unite us—even if it is just in the listening to and celebration of the ideas of others.
Do you know Yo-Yo Ma?