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.

Italian university — Politecnico di Milano — switches to English

From opera at La Scala to football at the San Siro stadium, from the catwalks of fashion week to the soaring architecture of the cathedral, Milan is crowded with Italian icons. Which makes it even more of a cultural earthquake that one of Italy’s leading universities – the Politecnico di Milano – is going to switch to the English language.

The university has announced that from 2014 most of its degree courses – including all its graduate courses – will be taught and assessed entirely in English rather than Italian.

The waters of globalisation are rising around higher education – and the university believes that if it remains Italian-speaking it risks isolation and will be unable to compete as an international institution.

“We strongly believe our classes should be international classes – and the only way to have international classes is to use the English language,” says the university’s rector, Giovanni Azzone…

He says that his university’s experiment will “open up a window of change for other universities”, predicting that in five to 10 years other Italian universities with global ambitions will also switch to English…

But what is driving this cultural change? Is it the intellectual equivalent of pop bands like Abba singing in English to reach a wider market?

Professor Azzone says a university wants to reach the widest market in ideas – and English has become the language of higher education, particularly in science and engineering. “I would have preferred if Italian was the common language, it would have been easier for me – but we have to accept real life,” he says.

When English is the language of international business, he also believes that learning in English will make his students more employable…

The need to attract overseas students and researchers, including from the UK and non-English speaking countries, is another important reason for switching to English as the primary language…

But Professor Azzone also pointed to the bigger economic geography of higher education.

European universities face being caught between two competing powers – the wealthy heavy weights in the United States and the rising countries of Asia.

RTFA for many more details, arguments for and against. Poisonally, I think Azzone has hit on a good idea though much of the argument he raises is only window dressing. It’s unlikely that the major centers for education in Italy will switch exclusively to English. But, he’ll be in a position to attract students who want that environment for one or another of the projected reasons.

His premise that European universities must choose between the United States and Asia is absurd. And if it were a fact, I’d suggest he come down on the side of some American CEOs who have their grandchildren learning Chinese. 🙂

Yoga and Harry Potter are evil, says Pope’s champion exorcist

For most people it is a way of toning the limbs and soothing the stresses of everyday life, but the Catholic Church’s best-known exorcist says yoga is evil.

Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.

Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist…

“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.

“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome…

Father Amorth has previously said that people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron and have such superhuman strength that even children have to be held down by up to four people.

He has also claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries was proof that the Anti-Christ is waging a war against the Holy See.

Being caught at criminal behavior apparently is just a result of the anti-christ plot. Uh-huh.

RTFA for more superstitious silliness.