Yo-Yo Ma —
Music Happens Between the Notes

The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma is a citizen artist and a forensic musicologist, decoding the work of musical creators across time and space. In his art, Yo-Yo Ma resists fixed boundaries, and would like to rename classical music just “music” — born in improvisation, and traversing territory as vast and fluid as the world we inhabit. In this generous and intimate conversation, he shares his philosophy of curiosity about life, and of performance as hospitality.

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has won 17 Grammy Awards, and has received the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the 2014 Fred Rogers Legacy Award. He's also the founder of the Silk Road Project. His new album with the Silk Road Ensemble, Sing Me Home, will be released in April 2016.

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Yo-Yo Ma cheers at the end of a performance with Los Angeles Unified School District students at Inner-City Arts in Los Angeles, California.

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That was a fascinating, eye-opening interview about the inner workings of music and a musical geniu. But that music at the end - the bagpipe and the Japanese flutepierced me in a way that I don't remember music entering me before - as if it carried the excrutiating, but thanks to the music, somehow bearable pain of being human, vulnerable and mortal. Surprised by tears. Thanks.

Good interview, but the host sounds vaguely annoyed or contemptuous throughout. Strange.

I wish anonymous would have left a name!
I heard the unedited show and thought Krista was on point, as is usual for her.
This show and host are a gift.

I wish I could send this poem to YoYo Ma.

Funny how I also found Krista is not quite her usual herself in this interview. Not annoyed as the other commentator says here, but I found that she seemed to have problems containing her giddiness and ended up talking out of turns or interrupting sometimes. She must be a great admirer of Yo-Yo Ma and let the excitement get better of her?

My new favorite episode- thank you! As I listen to this amazing episode, I must add the words "sublimely delightful" to Yo-Yo Ma's response to Krista's request for his definition of beauty. How else to describe the blend of cello musi and heartfelt, sonorous words with a spot-on Julia Child imitation and fond recollections of Mr. Rogers?! Truly sublime and delightful!

What a beautiful conversation. I have always admired Yo-Yo Ma as a musician but came to deeply respect him after seeing him with his son and Mr. Rogers. Getting to know more about him on Dr. Gates show built awe that a person of such a high background could be as open, kind and loving as he is.
Thank You.

This episode was a driveway moment played out in my bed. I stayed to listen to the interview as I would any performance. In this case, Ms. Tippett brought out the beauty from Mr. Ma as he does so elegantly from his cello. Worth a download to hear again.

Who is the Japanese Shakuhachi player referenced at the end of the interview? Having trouble finding him (let alone the specific piece of music).

Regarding Mr. Ma’s reference to the New Yorker cartoon of Manhattan, Hudson River… West Coast, please remind any listening adherents that (as he said) music happens between the notes.

While I always enjoy the show[and getting me up at 7 on a Sunday is no small feat],Krista's interview with Yo Yo Ma brought me to tears repeatedly. The interview was a great primer for what art is all about.

They started talking about Mister Rogers (which I was hoping for)--and that's when I started crying. I grew up with both those guys (I fell asleep to Great Cello Concertos every night) and still look up to Mister Rogers.

Several years ago as an admirer of YoYo Ma and an adult beginning cello student, I bought tickets to see him perform 'tango' music at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. I explained I wanted the best possible ticket with a good view of the fingerboard and bow stroke. The results were two tickets where my husband and I saw the top of his head and his left foot. I wrote a letter to Orchestra Hall expressing my disappointment. By return mail I received two main floor center seats for Mr. Ma's performance of the Bach Cello Suites. It was a Sunday afternoon, as he played I was beaming with enjoyment when Wait! He was smiling at me....I looked around and then back to him. As he played he truly was smiling at ME. As my jaw dropped, he nodded his head slightly with the smile. Months later I saw a video of YoYo Ma explaining that when performing he suggested students pick someone in the audience and play for them. I realized that for a few minutes on that Sunday afternoon, I was the special person. This discussion between Krista and Mr. Ma brings that all home when he explains how during his performances he 'welcomes' the audience to enjoy the music with him. I am still grateful for that special welcome of years ago.

For me, Yo-Yo's definition of beauty comes close to mark. This “transfer of life” that takes place in the presence of real beauty is perhaps why we gasp, as if we’re being re-born and sucking in air for the first time. It’s why so many of us find God in nature, in wind-blown places where the spirit wanders as it pleases and finally comes to rest on our lips and helps us pray, help us whisper that “thank you.” For whether we find God in the natural beauty of a lush forest or a stark desert, whether in a museum or a concert hall, it’s the same God showing us beauty in the bounty and diversity of the earth and in the people who walk it.

Beautifully said, Steve. You have spoken from my own heart.

Music does indeed happen between the notes...both verbal and musical. Thank you Krista for this magical interview and the chance to experience the sheer artistry of Yo-Yo' s gift. I was an admirer of his talent & work previously but am now elevated to a new realm --as a full fledged fan with a thirst to explore more of music he stresses should drop the term "classical".

Found this moment with Fred Rogers and YoYo Ma.. Sweet moment...

He also won the Polar Prize 2012!

I feel as though Yo Yo Ma is a kindred spirit. His amazingly open and exploratory approach to making music is deeply affecting. His presence brings so much joy and inspiration to my own creative journey. I am grateful he took the time to have this conversation with you, Krista.

In Krista Tippett's most recent (March 3, 2016) NPR broadcast featuring Yo Yo Ma, she states (at 23:06 of the recorded interview) that Bobby McFerrin is included in "living artists" of today. When was this interview actually recorded?

Having heard many times the expression used as a title for this interview (Yo-Yo Ma credits Isaac Stern with it): "Music happens between the notes", I used to imagine a deaf Beethoven composing bits of silence partitioned by sounds.

As I listened to this interview, that image was blown into pieces as the static silent space between notes it evokes became, in the words of Yo-Yo Ma, a vibrant space of relationship where one note reaches-out to the other and merges into it. He even expanded that image by describing as "cathartic" the transition between two parts of a same musical composition (e.g. Parts 1 and 2 of Bach Suite No1 for cello).
Thinking of it, "Music happens between the notes" is an exact transposition, in the musical realm, of what Martin Buber writes about words in "I and Thou": "The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words. The one primary word is the combination I-Thou. The other primary word is the combination I-It. [...] Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations. Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence."
In physics, the "string theory" similarly replaces particles by relational strings, thus making the universe a kind of gigantic spaghetti which can also be viewed as the majestic and infinitely complex string instrument that the ancients heard playing "the music of the spheres".
As Krishnamurti put it: "Relationship is the art of living [...] All existence is relationship; without it you cannot live".
Thank you for spreading such enlightening interviews “between” us, On-Being is a wonderful weekly invitation to open our minds and see larger pictures.

I was struck once again how I could learn so much about interviewing someone, about listening and conversation by listening to Krista and these beautiful pieces she shares with us.
Who is the Japanese Shakuhachi player referenced at the end of the interview? please let us know.

In the trascript: "Mr. Ma: Well, I think that’s true. In the Silk Road Ensemble, I’m fond of being able to quote a number of incidents where — Kojiro Umezaki, the shakuhachi player, which is a bamboo flute — when he plays a piece of music that was written after, let’s say, I think the Tokyo fire of 1927, and he plays this sort of thing over and over again. And it’s kind of — it’s certainly deeply spiritual and mournful. I’ve had more people come to me and say this is the most extraordinary thing I’ve heard.

[music: “Lullaby from Itsuki,” traditional Japanese, performed by the Silk Road Ensemble]

Mr. Ma: Or if — Cristina Pato is the Galician bagpiper, plays the gaita — and she and Wu Tong come across the stage at one another — or with Ko, so a bagpipe and a shakuhachi. And they walk across the stage and that, to me — I get the goosebumps of seeing this incredibly wonderful, but very powerful and penetrating instrument. I get a time-space-geography-crossing moment that cognitively makes me aware of the vastness of what, basically, humans all over the world have been trying to express for millennia.

[music: “Caronte,” traditional Galacian, performed by the Silk Road Ensemble]"

Thank you for re-airing this interview. I did not hear it the first time. Mr. Ma's reflections on beauty, the nature of music, and his life brought tears to my eyes.

Yo Yo Ma is such a special human being. Thank you for allowing us to listen in on such an engaging conversation. It was a treat to learn more about his roots.
I couldn't find a list of the musical clips featured within the episode. Did I miss that somewhere?

Thank you for giving Yo-Yo Ma the time to explain some aspects of how music works and the physical work and psychological and relational attitudes that accompany the musician as he performs . Thank you for including the unedited version which contain elaborations that could not be fitted into the edited version.

“Music Happens Between the Notes” is an exceptional and inspirational interview between Krista Tippett and Yo-Yo Ma, who is a world renowned cellist. He was born to Chinese parents and was born in Paris. As a child, remembers growing up feeling confused. His mother was Protestant and his father was Buddhist, but he basically grew up as an Episcopalian. He started playing the violin at the age of four years old and then started playing the cello by the age of five. He has always been fascinated with humanity and culture, and even as a young child, he always wanted to know who did it and why.
Yo-Yo Ma believes in accidental meetings. What he means by this, is that when he was four years old, he told his parents he really wanted to play the bass, which is the largest of the violin family. But because he was still so little, he was physically unable to play the bass. So, his parents bought him a cello instead, which was the next instrument size down from the bass. It was this cello that helped shape him into who he is today.
Yo-Yo Ma describes what it means when music happens between the notes. He starts off by asking the question, “How do you get from A to B?” You can either easily glide from one to the other, or you can find yourself painstakingly trying to reach from one to the other. It is a psychic investment, which can make it infinitely hard.
Sound/music can tell us stories and can become visual and also take us to another world. Yo-Yo Ma states that a great musician is able to compose and improvise music, along with easily absorbing other influences, and then making it his own. This helps to enable constant growth. They are also able to give their knowledge to someone else, so that the other person can look at the world and figure it out for themselves, without the other musician being there. It is like a continuous cycle of rebirth.
Forensic musicology is something that Yo-Yo Ma specializes in. In regards to composing music, it is the “Who did this and why?” Many artists are able to feel vulnerable at times, and then at other times be full of strength. To feel only one of these all the time would put them in a single dimensional world, but to be able to be both of these at different times, allows the artist to be in a multidimensional world, which may be much more fulfilling for everyone involved.
The relationship that Yo-Yo Ma has with his cello is twofold. Although he loves his instruments, he also needs to be separate from them. The instrument is an extension of the lungs and vocal cords, in that the lungs are the bow and the strings are the vocal cords. He gives an example of how each of his instruments have different qualities, similar to how each wine has its own different qualities. It was very poetically put when Yo-Yo Ma explained how it is important to not fall in love with the plans, such as a certain concert hall, because plans can always change. One of my favorite things he said was, “The purpose of live music is like a communal of witnessing something.”
At the end of the interview, Krista asks him how he would define beauty. According to Yo-Yo Ma, because beauty can mean so many different things to different people, such as a song, poem, or even in nature, he states that he equates beauty with transcendence. He also describes the feeling of beauty when it is discovered by a person. It is at the moment that the beauty is discovered, which is considered the moment. When someone becomes aware of the moment, it can be startling at first. It is at that moment that something is being revealed and something is being transferred. There is a type of transfer of life in that moment of vastness and awe of the moment itself.
I originally sought out this broadcast to listen to, as I have grown up loving classical music and played the clarinet from the age of eight years old and all the way through one year of college. Although I have had to put my love for playing the clarinet to the side, I am still emotionally and spiritually touched by nearly all music, classical and Christian music in particular. I can best relate to Yo-Yo Ma’s belief in accidental meetings. At the age of eight years old, I desperately wanted to play the flute. But, when my mother took me to the music store to purchase an instrument for me, they were out of flutes. The store clerk convinced me to play the clarinet instead. I reluctantly agreed, as the thought of walking out of there without any instrument would be devastating. Little did I know, that I would meet one of my best friends in high school, as we had sat next to each other in the clarinet section in band. Because of that accidental meeting of my clarinet, there were many major and memorable events that happened, which would have not existed if it were not for that accidental meeting.

The concert of YoYo Ma I had the happiness to hear, brought me to ecstasy. It´s a new kind of music that includes a millenial knowledge of History, above all, ancient Eastern religions, what pleased me very much. YoYo Ma was the most amazing discovery that I have had in my life. It came over me like a blessed rain.