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Talking music and science with Yo-Yo Ma / NIH

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It's not every day that an amateur guitar picker gets to play a duet with an internationally renowned classical cellist. But that was my thrill this week as I joined Yo-Yo Ma in a creative interpretation of the traditional song, "How Can I Keep from Singing?" Our short jam session capped off Mr. Ma's appearance as this year's J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture. The event, which counts The Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, and Atul Gawande among its distinguished alumni, this year took the form of a conversation on the intersection of music and science-and earned a standing ovation from a packed house of researchers, patients, and staff here on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, MD.

The far-ranging discussion between Ma and myself began with a brief look at his extraordinary career. When I asked what qualities lead to musical greatness, he replied: "It's very, very simple. Learn what you need to learn by heart before you are 20." It gets harder after that. - Dr. Francis Collins