How to use culture and music to protect the planet


Yo-Yo Ma plays a “Music in the Mangroves” concert to help scientists and community members drive home the importance of saving mangrove ecosystems

A child prodigy who performed for President John F. Kennedy at the age of seven, the cellist has since recorded more than 100 albums, received 18 Grammy Awards, and played for nine U.S. presidents. Yet at 65, Ma remains a self-deprecating, tireless, and purposefully optimistic human being who shares his music as a means of connecting with people and the world.

Ma believes that culture—which he defines broadly as the place where the arts, sciences, and society converge—can help assuage discord, strengthen community bonds, promote social justice, and protect the planet. In 2018 the cellist embarked on the Bach Project, an ambitious journey that uses culture as a bridge to connect with communities, launch conversations, and spotlight efforts that strive to do good.

The cello virtuoso has been playing Bach concerts on six continents. At every stop, he joins activities to support social justice and environmental causes…So far, Ma has been to 28 of the tour’s 36 destinations—places as far-flung as Mumbai, India; Mexico City, Mexico; Dakar, Senegal; and Christchurch, New Zealand. The anchor of the project is Bach’s six cello suites, which Ma plays from memory in concerts that last more than two hours, with no intermission. Performances are paired with Days of Action, where Ma helps raise awareness about issues of local and global importance during events with community leaders, citizens, artists, students, and activists. For example, in Chicago Ma confronted gun violence by joining a tree planting—using shovels that were made from donated weapons. In Korea the cellist visited an elementary school in the Demilitarised Zone with a traditional kitemaker, giving students, villagers, and teachers the opportunity to decorate kites with their aspirations for the future.

At every event and stop, Ma’s mission is the same: to listen, discover, and join with others to build a better future.

Everything I believe a true world-class musician should try to be.

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