I was in the front row for Yo-Yo Ma’s solo recital last night. It was a life event that opened doors both musical and personal.

He performed the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Bach Suites, each preceded by a short piece evoking a folk style from a different part of the world. His encore was “Song of the Birds,” a Catalonian Folk Song that left me in a sublime stillness that longed for expansion.

His playing defies analysis. Speaking to us at the close of the concert, he shared that he spends a great deal of time thinking about the Infinite Variety within Bach’s music. Every note that he played seemed to come from his meditations on this infinite variety of possibility. His bowings were so varied that I gave up trying to find their patterns or remember them. Notes I was always taught should start at the frog were started at the tip. Slurs were broken, added. Shadings, dynamics, tempos, all seemed to come from such a genuine, spontaneous place that leaves me thinking that none were rehearsed, but simply followed the true Inspiration of the moment.

And Yo-Yo Ma gave us Inspiration. I came away with a deep desire to take my own experience and dive deeper in meditation (which I did later that evening). Everyone I saw was visibly moved with a resounding beauty within, including the 6-year-old cellist who waited in the cold for an hour outside to get his autograph (I still have mine from 1983).

So here is my case that Yo-Yo Ma has reached a high degree of spiritual evolution, but doesn’t talk openly about:

  1. His numerous mentions of “infinite variety” speak of an experience that those advanced in a spiritual tradition share.
  2. When playing, he would often close his eyes and go deep within. But at distinct moments he would open them and make direct eye contact (which simply isn’t done in classical music) as if to wink “See? JOY!”
  3. His eye contact came not from a place of egoic self-identity. Yes, he is supremely humble, funny, and even a little goofy in his non-musical audience interactions, but his eyes, not to mention his music, conveyed something so much deeper.
  4. His presence, like that of the Dalai Lama, simply inspires.

Could I be completely off-base? Absolutely! Who am I to say?

But through his performance, a door has opened not only into infinite variety, but infinite possibility; not only musically, but personally.

Further exploration awaits.

Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma. Thank you.

Yo-Yo Ma: Spiritual Master Musician or Musical Spiritual Master?

2 thoughts on “Yo-Yo Ma: Spiritual Master Musician or Musical Spiritual Master?

  • December 12, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I completely agree. Such presence! Always relaxed and joyful. When you talk to him, he makes you feel that you are the only person in the room, even when there is a line of other folks waiting to meet him. Whenever I’ve heard him live, I realize that the exact things he does with the music, his interpretation, would sound pretty awful coming from anyone else, but because it comes from his genuine, authentic and connected — not to mention musical genius — self, it is exactly right in that moment.

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