Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four and soon came with his family to New York.  He comes by his musical prodigy status honestly, with his mother a singer and father a professor of music at Nanjing National Central University. He lives his life in crescendo because after graduating from Juilliard, he sought out a traditional liberal arts education and graduated from Harvard University in 1976. But after 30 years as a Sony recording artist, having released 75 albums and 15 Grammy awards, Mr. Ma’s is still expanding his life.

One of his goals is the exploration of music as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world. In 1998, Mr. Ma established the Silk Road Project to promote the study of the cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Since the Project’s inception, more than 60 works have been commissioned specifically for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually. At the invitation of the New York City Department of Education, in 2009, the Silk Road Project began a multi-year partnership with cultural and educational organizations to pilot Silk Road Connect, a multidisciplinary middle school engagement program designed to spark a lifelong passion for learning. In Silk Road Connect, visual and aural elements are used alongside the experiences of creating and collaborating, making direct connections to classroom work in subjects such as Social Studies, English Language Arts, the sciences and the arts.

Playing an instrument may have opened the door, living life in crescendo means putting that open door to good use. Mr. Ma has received numerous awards, including the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the Glenn Gould Prize (1999), the National Medal of the Arts (2001), the Dan David Prize (2006), the Sonning Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010). Mr. Ma serves as a UN Messenger of Peace and as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities.

He is also the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant. Maybe this is why he happened to appear on May 4 at the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus as a guest and sat in with inner city school kids to perform. This charter school has worked miracles with inner city students, and strives for a 100% placement rate into college. But more likely, Yo-Yo Ma was there because he believes in what he does and lives his life in crescendo.


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