Drawing inspiration from Yo-Yo Ma
College is time for experiences that last a lifetime. For Carolyn Matthews, a fourth-year interior architecture student at UW-Stevens Point, that once-in-a-lifetime experience came in the form of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Matthews took advantage of this opportunity to sketch for her ongoing project about travel and urban sketching. She keeps a pen and watercolor travel journal of places she goes which she started during her semester abroad after being inspired by Prof. Kathe Julin’s Architectural Watercolor. Visit Matthews’ website and Flickr account to see more of her work.
In addition, as part of the UW-Stevens Point cello studio, she received tickets to see Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in concert. “After the show, Yo-Yo agreed to come out and say hello to the studio,” said Matthews. “Not only did he come out, but he led us all down the hallway, sat us down, and had a 15-20 minute chat with us about thing ranging from how our semesters were going to how they choose music to play in the Silk Road Ensemble.”
Below is Matthews’ recap of the week-long experience:
Monday: I couldn’t attend the master class Side-by-Side event because of a class conflict, but in my excitement to see the Silk Road Ensemble (SRE). I did go to one of the shows held for the elementary schools! I thought this was a great introduction because they started right away with a piece, and they all talked about themselves and their backgrounds in a clear, fun, understandable way. I could see and hear their influences on each other and the close connections they have. After the initial piece they went around and introduced themselves, their instruments, and demonstrated the sound. From this I got a nice concept of instruments I hadn’t seen before as well as a glimpse into each ensemble member’s personality. They also just had so much FUN up there!!! If I was going to cite “Something that I learned” it would be that movement and physical expression can enhance the music in a greater way than I had previously assumed.
Tuesday Improvisation: Being on stage and working with members of the SRE was amazing. They were insightful and provided a great environment to try new things. It was awesome to hear their individual takes on what improvisation means to them and how it has changed their musical styles. Two of the activities that they had us do stuck out the most: first was Christina saying “play out of tune!”. This is true, we are always told to play in tune, to fix this or fix that, but in an improv environment where worry and stress can stifle expression being told to just play out of tune and mess around was very freeing!
The second was the evolving exercise where four people would play at once but every few measures one person would drop out and a new person would be added. The ideas that came out of such a simple game were amazing, and if transposed could be an enjoyable (and repeatable) piece of music! I also really appreciated the way the sounds changed mood as we went around the circle.
Again, I was impressed by how friendly and how fascinating they all were.
Wednesday Master Class: They definitely addressed musical issues, as well performance issues. I really appreciated that their focus was on showing the audience the music as they see it and conveying their passion through their instruments. This is not something that is often addressed in master class and I really appreciated it! This way it was also really exciting to watch! My favorite part was when a few members of the ensemble were all dancing around on stage with the percussion ensemble. That was awesome.
First group was a focused on making the music feel happy. Second group was on making the piece more spicy and intriguing. Third group was a bit more technical but still was centered around expression and expressive playing.
Sometimes it’s hard to see a piece as a collection of expressive moments or different emotions that evolve and change throughout the music, if I learned something from this master class it is to pay closer attention to these underlying colors.
Concert: The whole concert was wonderfully music. Everything that they talked about an emphasized came out when they played, and you could just tell that they love being together and creating music. After having interaction with the performers during the week definitely made the concert more meaningful to me. I felt like I was more a part of what they were doing and through that connection the music didn’t stay on the stage. It wasn’t like, here is the stage, here are is the audience and they are separate. Instead the concert felt like an enveloping force.
I also loved the changing colors in the backdrop of the stage, but I think I may just be weird for noticing those kinds of things.
Yo-Yo Ma is obviously a world renowned figure, but I felt like his status did not manifest in this environment. It wasn’t YOYOMA and the silk road ensemble too … he was just another part of the group! I thought this was awesome. It wasn’t the Yo-Yo show, that’s not the purpose of the Silk Road Ensemble. It is about musical collaboration and sharing of ideas between friends. There is no distinct leader and I think that make it very meaningful.
Post-concert: Meeting and talking with Mr. Ma was absolutely fantastic. I loved that he didn’t want to sit us down and give us practicing and cello oriented advice, he wanted to hear from US about what we do in studio but also in our lives. I liked how he stressed that what we make out of our lives and our cello is not something that can be easily defined by someone else. The thing that he had to say that has made a profound impact on me was “Invent your own life.” I have a weird mix of interests, majors, activities, etc. that trying to explain to someone what it is exactly that I am passionate about is impossible because what I want to do is something that perhaps no one has done in quite the same way before. Now along comes Mr. Ma who says, invent your own life, let it include the cello if that is what it is going to be, but above all stay true to what it is that you love to do!
General impressions of the week: From this amazing week of music and conversation I will take some of the energy that the SRE showed us through their music. These people enjoy what they do so much. Above anything else this week convinced me that someday I would like to enjoy every second of what I do as much as these people