Stories » Yo-Yo Ma plants tree and plucks cello in Unity Park / Chicago Tribune

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Yo-Yo Ma plants tree and plucks cello in Unity Park / Chicago Tribune

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As beads of sweat dripped down his forehead, Yo-Yo Ma, famed cellist extraordinaire, carefully lowered a magnolia sapling into the ground at Unity Park in North Lawndale. Using a wheelbarrow to pour dirt around the base, he packed down the earth with a shovel created by artist Pedro Reyes, who had forged it using repurposed weapons originally seized by the Chicago Police Department. "There's something about the word ‘cultivation' that means everything to me," Ma said, after the tree was successfully in the ground. "That's the word that's formed from ‘culture.' It's what we invent, what we build in order to live and to have hope."

Ma seeks to cultivate art and discussion in communities around the world through the Bach Project, his tour of 36 cities and six different continents that seeks to explore how culture can better society. At each destination, Ma works with community leaders to organize a "Day of Action" that examines an prevailing issue. In Chicago, Ma asked, "How can we use culture to confront gun violence in the city?" Before he got his hands dirty, Ma was joined by Alexandria Hoffman, a fellow at the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, for a performance of Bach. Hoffman played a flute created by Reyes in a similar fashion to the shovels from shotgun barrels. "If we're ever to unite the U.S., it's going to be through what happens in Chicago," Ma said. "We deserve to do everything we can to stop the violence and to make everybody thrive."     PHOTO:  (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)