Yo Yo Ma showed 1,000 children some engaging musical attitude at the Royal Conservatory yesterday
I was lucky enough to get invited to the first of this year's four Learning Through the Arts events at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where students from primary schools are connected to something or someone special in the world of music.
As part of his gorgeous solo recital on Thursday night, Yo Yo Ma agreed to speak to more than 1,000 kids on "The Power of Music Education" on Friday morning. At least that's what the printed programme said.
But instead of a lecture or a class, Ma persuaded the kids on stage with him to step out of their comfort zones and pushed them to open up to the message of the music they were making.
An Orff-method group from the Claude Watson School did an beautifully polished job with text, song, percussion and dance in two poems by Chief Dan George. Ma thanked them, then, with the help of a visiting Korean drummer acting as impromptu facilitator, asked everyone present to improvise something.
While this would make most adults freeze in terror, the singers, dancers, xylophonists and even the audience gamely got in on it.
With actions instead of words, Ma showed everyone in Koerner Hall that the first thing you need to make music happen is be open to possibilities.
Then, with an older group -- 21 teenagers and 20-somethings (as well as a couple of teachers) from the RCM's various programmes -- Ma tried to tease out something magnetic from the first movement of J.S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins (BWV 1043).
Essentially, he used various intrusive means -- poking, making faces and asking seemingly silly questions -- to snap the musicians out of being concentrated on the score into a zone where they are focused on communicating the music to the audience.
In the end, he forced the little orchestra to move forward to the edge of the stage. When he asked the kids in the audience what they thought, they overwhelmingly preferred the more in-your-face performance.
Most inspiring for me was being reminded of the message rather than the medium. It's too easy to get caught up in the details of overcoming technical hurdles and crafting a polished interpretation, at the expense of remembering what the magic of a great concert is really about.
And if the person making the music is open, the listener is going to be more receptive in return. That's why we all gave Ma a rapturous standing ovation on Thursday night.
As a sweet little extra, here is Ma in concert with bassist Edgar Meyer, in a live performance of Meyer's Duet for Cello & Bass (they recorded it together for the Appalachian Journeys CD back in 2000):