I am grateful for Yo-Yo Ma. I consider Yo-Yo Ma my friend. He doesn’t call me at home for advice. We don’t meet for coffee to discuss the state of the world and I’m not sure he is aware of our friendship, but I don’t think he would mind me calling him a friend. He plays the cello in my ear while I sit at my desk, pen in hand, while I create a world for which I can find a solution. While I attempt to find the answers on paper and in my fiction, Yo-Yo Ma succeeds in real life.
Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris of Chinese parents and was educated in New York. He has been the Messenger of Peace for the United Nations since 2006, an honour and a responsibility. 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 while I hadn’t 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 of how do I fit into this world and what is my purpose.
Instead of just pondering that question like most of us do, 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. In 2016 a documentary was released entitled The Music of Strangers detailing the journey of The Silk Road Ensemble and how these musicians are able to block out fear for others and for themselves by creating beauty with the arts, with music. “It is music that gives our lives meaning,” said Ma of his ensemble. And when you watch him in this documentary film you can’t help but be witness and fall victim to 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. Ma embraces music of most genres though I hesitate to assume Metallica or Rap would appeal to him, but 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 for himself, but rather one that chose him. His curiousity and desire to make the world a friendlier, kinder place brought him to The Silk Road Ensemble, something that he and his cello could give back to the world, where he 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 and being witness to the ideas of others.