Saturday, October 1, 2011

Master Class

The big big big excitement here at DePauw: YoYo Ma has been here for the past two days, suffusing the campus and community with his abundantly infectious creative and musical joy.

Thursday night he gave his public lecture - "YoYo Ma: A Life in Music" - where the best part was the clip of little boy YoYo playing with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with JFK and Jackie in attendance - and then a couple of decades later, playing with Elmo on Sesame Street.

Friday he played an impromptu concert in the student center at lunchtime to a capacity crowd - and played to an audience of 25 at a Greencastle nursing home - and played a sold-out evening concert with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

The high point for me was attending the master class he gave in the morning. Two brave first-year students played first for him, a Brahms piece for cello and piano. Then three advanced students played a delicious Beethoven trio. To my surprise, YoYo Ma focused less on technique than on having the students understand what it was about each piece that they wanted most to share with their audience: "If there was one thing you wanted others to understand about why you love this piece, what would it be?"

He had the first pair of students play the piece with exquisite slowness: "Now I can feel the listening between you - you had all the time in the world to say what you wanted" - "Don't rush to the next note - let us HEAR it - MAKE us listen."

He talked about trust: "You can rely on the music to do most of the work for you you. You're just joining in."

He asked the second group if they had any questions or concerns about the piece they had just played so beautifully: one mentioned timing, one color, one unity at the conclusion. He said that lazy as he is (ha!), he likes to try to find the common denominator solution to resolve as many problems as possible, and suggested that the players conceive of each measure as one "beat" in a larger four-beat measure. The results were noticeable even on one playing.

So what can I apply from this to writing? I'm still pondering that. At the least: focus on what I most love about my story and most want to share with my readers. And write it with joy.

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