Students were hard pressed to decide which part of a career-inspiring afternoon they enjoyed more: Yo-Yo Ma’s rehearsal with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra or the time he spent with them afterward answering questions. His joy, his body, his bow, his cello were as one as he and the orchestra moved through Schumann’s Cello Concerto.
On the one hand, wrote Classical Instrumental student Eva Friehberg, “I was affected greatly by Yo-Yo Ma’s rehearsal with the LPO and I’m grateful that I was given the chance to watch him play as well as watch him work with the orchestra. I have never seen someone play with as much intensity and grace on the cello. It impressed me how Yo-Yo Ma could hear all the different parts of the orchestra and could communicate specifically to certain sections and certain players what he wanted and what he felt could change.”
On the other hand, wrote classical pianist Sarah Palmer, “I was really awestruck the entire time, but the best part was when he came down from the stage to talk to the NOCCA and GNOYO kids. He was so kind and attentive and answered our questions with such humor and sincerity.”
The students took to heart everything he had to say. He asked them their critique of the performance, subtly addressing the connection between performer and audience. “If I am playing the most beautiful music in the world and you as an audience don’t get it…. What is important is how you feel about something and how you communicate it.”
“I get nervous,” one student said, “do you get nervous?”
“You have to know what kind of nerves you have,” the renowned cellist replied. “I have nerves because I don’t want to mess up. Yet, if you are going for technique and that’s your only goal, you will be nervous. What’s hard is what is expressive. Breathing slowing – 6 – 10 breaths – helps. But when you perform you have to get beyond people judging you.”
“When you are performing,” Yo-Yo Ma added, “you are telling a story and you have to own it. It’s about sharing.”
He helped students understand how to break down a problem into smaller parts. Most importantly he helped them move forward as musicians and young people. “How do you keep yourself motivated when doing something you don’t want to do,” the last student asked. “The hardest thing to do is going from something you have to do to something you want to do. Only you know where that switch is. But once you get inside something it gets easier. Ever notice how time flies when you truly get inside something. Find that one part you love, the melody, harmonic time, or simply one note” and use that to move ahead.
The two hour rehearsal will live on. “I can only hope that some day,” student Melinda Davis expressed, “I might be as invigorated and passionate about what I do as Yo-Yo Ma is.”