Stories » How to Get Kids to Play Music, According to Yo-Yo Ma / Mother Jones

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How to Get Kids to Play Music, According to Yo-Yo Ma / Mother Jones

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In 1962, a very young Yo-Yo Ma walked on stage in a suit and tie to play one of his first high-profile concerts-for President John F. Kennedy. "Here's a cultural image for you to ponder as you listen," conductor Leonard Bernstein told the crowd. "A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots." This, Bernstein said, was a perfect example of the "double stream of art...flowing into and out of America." More than 50 years later, Ma-who was born to Chinese parents in Paris and moved to the United States at age seven-has racked up 17 Grammys, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a National Medal of the Arts. Many view him as the world's greatest cellist, maybe ever.

Yet in some ways little has changed. Ma, who calls himself a "cultural citizen," continues to exemplify the melting pot Bernstein described all those years ago. In 2000, he formed the Silk Road Ensemble, a collective of musicians and composers from more than 20 countries, as a "lab" that creates works from a variety of traditions. Sing Me Home, the group's new album, out this week, explores the concept of "home" through myriad genres, from Irish marches to Malian folks songs. To celebrate the occasion, I caught up with Ma to discuss creativity, stage fright, and his lifelong love of...the double bass.