Yo-Yo Ma Discusses Music, Growth and Comfort for the Time 100 Talks
‘Aren’t We Living the American Experiment?’ Yo-Yo Ma Discusses Music, Growth and Comfort
By Raisa Bruner
Where do we turn when we need comfort? For Yo-Yo Ma, it’s music. The world-famous cellist often brings his talents to the public in times of both crisis and celebration. When the coronavirus pandemic began to confine people to their homes this spring, he broke out his instrument to kick off a series of “Songs of Comfort,” shared over social media for all to enjoy.
He was driven to help in this way because of the the “trifecta of crises” that we’re living through, he said during a TIME100 Talks appearance. “It makes one do some very very deep thinking, and this is the time to do it.”
He broke it down as a weather metaphor: “I feel like we’ve just been through a blizzard,” he said. “Now the first blush, or the first trimester of this pandemic is past us, and now we’re facing a very long winter.” Ma continued: “Because we have time to think, we can actually think about the very long term. The very long term is the Ice Age. What kind of Ice Age is it going to be? Do we have a choice in how we want to live, how we want society to be as we go through this Ice Age?”
Ma has been asking big questions like this for years, on a mission to increase cross-border awareness and break down ethnocentricity: his global artistic collective Silkroad and his Bach Project have seen him travel the world and bring new talents and musical conversations to light. He also recognizes the importance of constant learning, especially now, when many industries—including his own—are reckoning with their histories of inequality.
“The most important thing is to listen and to start. Inaction is not a possibility,” he said. “Aren’t we living the American experiment? The United States is not a lockbox, to use an old Al Gore term… It’s part of an experiment. We’re constantly evolving that experiment in order to get to a more perfect union.”
Despite the pandemic’s limitations on travel, Ma has been busy. In June, he released his second collaborative album with fellow musicians Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, Not Our First Goat Rodeo. It is an apt project for this moment, he noted, because of its eclectic roots.
“There’s more and more acknowledgement that all of music is connected. That genres are not separate from one another. Music does break down ethnic identity,” he said, explaining that the album’s bluegrass sound nods to Scottish, Irish and African influence. “And here’s this great American music that is in fact a fusion, a successful fusion. Jazz is the same thing,” he said.