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Yo-Yo Ma of the Piano

Barron Ryan

You've heard of Yo-Yo Ma, right? He's that proficient, versatile, world-famous cellist who's also amazingly personable. He even responded to a letter I wrote him long ago with this kind note. But perhaps what I appreciate most about Yo-Yo Ma is the wide variety of music that he creates and what that seems to say about him as an artist.

Have you noticed the range of the albums he releases? Of course he performs classical works, but there's also bluegrass, the Crouching Tiger Hidden Tiger soundtrack, whatever you want to call Hush (Ma's collaboration with Bobby McFerrin that drew me to him in the first place), and a host of other material I don't have space to list.

Yet one person playing these diverse styles makes sense because that's how being an artist works. You use your creativity not as an end in itself, but in expressing who you are. The way I see it, Ma shows us that he's extremely creative, willing to take risks, and committed to excellence with the variety and quality of his output.  He plays the cello so that he can communicate that in a way millions of people are drawn to.

That's why when someone asks me what my career goals are, I say that I want to be the Yo-Yo Ma of the piano. It's not that I have to be as famous or win as many Grammys (although I'd be fine with either), it's that I want to be known more for who I am than for what I do. My character and personality should shine through music, and as a result people will be attracted to whatever form my self-expression takes.