Yo-Yo Ma is arguably the best cellist alive today. He’s practically a household name, which is an extraordinary feat for a classical musician in the 21st century. He’s recorded over 100 albums, won 18 Grammy Awards, and seems to be an expert in practically every genre of music. Have you seen him explore contemporary neo-bluegrass in The Goat Rodeo Sessions? You will below!
Ma began playing the cello when he was four years old, performed for President Kennedy at seven years old (lol), attended Juilliard—and if that wasn’t enough—went to Harvard to study anthropology… This hilariously reduced summary of his accomplishments is more than many of us could hope to accomplish. He’s not “just” a child prodigy, he’s a national treasure. We are immeasurably lucky to be alive during the same time as this musical giant.
As David Marchese, a New York Times columnist, writes:
“The immensity of Yo-Yo Ma’s talent is such that he would be globally admired if all he ever did was appear on stage or in a recording studio and then vanish after the last notes faded from his cello. That Ma has instead used his gifts in the service of spreading humanistic values—via cross-cultural musical collaboration, civic engagement and huge amounts of heart–means that his connection with the public goes far deeper than mere admiration.”
There are many extraordinary classical musicians alive today—Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Lang Lang—yet none are revered in quite the same way. Yo-Yo’s gentle spirit and expansive generosity set him apart from his contemporaries. I could write more paragraphs on what makes him such an amazing musician, but I think the videos I’ve highlighted below speak for themselves.
I haven’t had the honor of meeting Yo-Yo Ma, but I’ve heard from countless people that he is also incredibly kind. The fact that so many people harp on his kindness says more about our celebrity culture than anything else, but that’s for another article.
You can tell Ma is kindhearted just from watching his videos. He’s warm, humble, funny, and seems grounded to the earth. On his website, Ma has this quote on the front page:
“Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn “them” into “us.” And these things have never been more important.”
Here are seven videos that highlight Yo-Yo Ma’s genius, both as a musician and as a person. I promise they’re worth your time.
7. Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck
Is there anything more beautiful than this?! The melding of two masters in their art is breathtaking. There’s not much more to say about this.
6. Yo-Yo plays in a COVID Vaccine Waiting Room
What a guy. He didn’t bring a television crew to document his gift. No fanfare. Just offering more songs of comfort. P.S. Ma recorded a whole series of songs and uploaded them to youtube. Check out “songs of comfort.”
5. “Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse”
A smattering of some of the world’s best musicians in a prop warehouse in Brooklyn. Those bagpipes!
4. Yo-Yo for Joe Biden
This is stunning. During an online event, “Chinese-Americans for Biden,” Ma asks viewers to support Joe Biden (speaking in both English and Mandarin). Ma then says: “And now in song, I will play for you Simple Gifts and then let the music take us to where we came from, and land use in the country where we turn our hopes into reality (Appalachia Waltz).”
3. Yo-Yo answers questions via Twitter.
I love his answers. Particularly the first answer in regards to the well-known Suite No. 1.
2. Yo-Yo and Goat Rodeo Sessions
This video inspired me to start learning non-classical music. I remember sitting in my apartment in Dallas trying to figure out the cello part by ear. This is still one of my favorite videos.
1. Yo-Yo and the Bach Cello Suites
The Bach Cello Suites are akin to the Bible for most cellists. There isn’t a video to watch here, but listen as Ma plays all six suites, nearly three hours of music, memorized, by himself.