Yo-Yo Ma: Citizen Musicians Spread ‘Art for Life’s Sake’

[ 0 ] March 11, 2014 |

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Marine Lance Corporal Tim Donley

World renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma believes that every musician is a storyteller.  Through each narrative, musicians can help heal not only themselves, but others, as well.

For wounded Marine Lance Corporal Tim Donley, who lost both of his lower legs and severely wounded one arm when he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan, the power of his voice helped him heal in ways that nothing else could.

“He found something through music that gave him the one thing that the Marines could not give him – which was hope,” Ma told genConnect at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “When he had no hope, that was the thing he could latch onto and realize there was a humanity inside him and it didn’t need other limbs. He could bring all of that through what he is able to sing. He has something that musicians, artists struggle [with] for a whole lifetime – which is to find his voice. He found his voice – through incredible tragedy – but he got himself out of it.”

Watch Yo- Yo Ma discuss the healing power of music:

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Citizen musicians like Donley are becoming the new storytellers that may have more of an impact on society than traditional artists, Ma says. “This is the kind of citizen we want. This is the kind of citizen who’s not complaining about what we don’t have enough of.”

We all need to keep in mind that the final goal is for social good – no matter what industry you are in, according to Ma. And Donley is a prime example. “He found something that musicians struggle with for a lifetime and that was that he found his voice – through incredible tragedy – but he got himself out of it,” said Ma. “My goodness. What an inspiration. If he’s not complaining about life, then what am I doing?”

Ma also hailed the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project, which aims to marshal the best case for a voluntary civilian counterpart to military service in the United States.


Yo-Yo Ma/Facebook

“This is one of the means in which we can meet people from everywhere in our country and can do something useful … and that’s what we try to do in the music/arts field,” he said. Ma believes that music forms a cultural core that allows for innovative, collaborative, flexible and imaginative thinking – all of which could help solve many issues the U.S. faces.

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For Ma, the narrative that he tells off-stage impacts the one he tells on stage and the Aspen Institute is helping to think about art in this way. “It’s not art for art’s sake,” said Ma. “It’s art for all of our lives’ sake.” That’s why the idea of citizen musicians and citizen artists are so appealing, he added. “What can we do when we look at the whole and how can we see the biggest picture there is – our society, our planet, our country – and what can we do individually to impact?”

And the best advice this world-class musician has ever received? “Always put the toilet set down!”

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Category: Aspen Ideas Festival 2013, Film, Music and Entertainment, Lifestyle

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About Yo- Yo Ma: Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the [...]
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