Bailey and Yo-Yo(cropped)

Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of nice reminders about why I play music, and the cello in particular – this photo is exhibit A. On the right is my student Bailey, and on the left, another cellist.

Yo-Yo Ma is one of the few classical musicians everyone’s heard of, and a genuinely nice guy. Bailey asked for tickets to his recent Cincinnati performance as a birthday present, and obviously had a good time! I had a similar experience meeting him after a performance, when I was first starting to play, (redacted) years ago.

He was not yet the superstar he’s become, but already very well known, and certainly could have acted like it, but instead he spent a lot of time talking to the group of young cellists gathered backstage about Bach and practice habits – he was incredibly gracious and engaging, and completely content to talk about what he loved as long as anyone wanted to.

Years later, I was playing in a chamber ensemble at the entrance for my first White House state dinner. Yo-Yo snuck up on me, waiting for me to look up from my music and see he was there. When I finally did, we both burst out laughing.

Anyone who’s spent time around cellists knows we’re all sharers – we will sit and talk about the cello all night, often to the despair of concert organizers, flight attendants, and spouses.

Cellists also tend to believe in the essential goodness of what we do, and organize events to share it more widely. I play cello quartets regularly with my colleagues in ProMusica – it’s one of my favorite ways to make music. Most of the music we play was originally written for orchestra or other instruments – I often joke that we’re playing “improvements” rather than arrangements. Most instruments don’t lend themselves to this kind of ensemble – try to imagine for a minute a violin quartet concert (shudder).

I think we cellists see ourselves as public servants – that our playing our instrument can uplift and transform any location or situation –  in that vein, last week, I started playing in a medical center, which I’ll write about in a future post. In the meantime, here are a few more examples of cellists trying to improve things in our impractical, idealistic way.

Vedran Smajlović, the “cellist of Sarajevo,” playing in the ruins of that city’s National Library:


A group of 1,000 cellists performing in Sendai, Japan to support victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami:

Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi, playing in front of a just-bombed Baghdad hotel:

Speaking of sharing, I am off today to the Institute for Musicianship and Public Service, at Community MusicWorks in Providence, RI, to learn more about becoming a true community musician – more posts about that (and my plans to build on it in Cincinnati this fall) soon.

Till next time,


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