Dropping the Chicken

Today's walk was accompanied by an episode from the podcast On Being. It features Yo-Yo Ma. Two sections in particular really hit me. I'm sharing with my students in mind, many of whom have some big performances coming up. 

MR. MA: Yes, a lot of artists will say, oh, you know, I have to make myself so vulnerable. And that is absolutely true. If you’re well defended, you know, I’m going to show you how strong I am — then that precludes the idea of saying, actually, I’m very weak. You know, because weakness can be a strength as a form of expression. So if you only show strength, you’re showing a one-dimensional aspect of something that you’re trying to describe. If you only show weakness, obviously, one thing. But if you show both and you show the variety in between, you’re describing a multi-dimensional world. Which is what we are, I guess. So I think, another state that I’m fond of describing is, you know, when I come to Minneapolis, I’m a guest in your town. But when I’m on stage, all of you that are in the hall are my guests. So, you know, I’m the host of a wonderful party. You’re all my guests, because, I have the floor. While I’m on stage, you’re all my guests, because that’s sort of like the unsaid agreement. So while you’re my guest, if something bad happens on stage, I often think of Julia Child, you know. Oh, the chicken’s fallen on the floor! Yes. Oh, well pick it up and put it right back. And, and you know what? Everybody’s with you. Because — and even if nobody’s going to touch the chicken, they’re not going to let that moment spoil their evening. They’ll remember, oh, yes, you know, oh remember when Julia dropped that?

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, that’s so great. That’s such a great image for life.

MR. MA: [Laughs] Yes, exactly. So, you know, it’s like, oh, well, this happened, you know? Boom. But, actually, that’s not why we’re here, to watch the bad things that happen. And so it’s — so whatever you practice for on the engineering side that fails is all right, because we have a greater purpose. The greater purpose is that we’re communing together and we want this moment to be really special for all of us. Because otherwise, why bother to have come at all? So it’s not about how many people are in the hall. It’s not about proving anything. It’s about sharing something.
MR. MA: And, as I love to say to people that want to listen to me, is that, if you’re going to perform someplace, please don’t fall in love with what you’ve constructed. It’s like in the Marines, don’t fall in love with your plan. Because the plan’s always going to change. And you need to make sure that the audience is the most important person in the room. Because, if you want to make something that’s, you know, that’s memorable for somebody else, as well as for yourself, — the purpose of playing — of doing live music, is that it’s like a communal witnessing of something.

Listen to the entire interview below. Wonderful.