On Thursday, August 2, the day after world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma made his Red Rocks debut, he teamed up with a slew of organizations and people across Denver-area neighborhoods to talk about community.
While most other musicians come to a city, play and leave, Ma has used his 36-city, two-year tour as a chance to use his star power to help community organizations working to improve their neighborhoods.
His day started with a performance at Civic Center Park, with student musicians from Hamilton Middle School and Isaac Slade of the Fray. Governor John Hickenlooper then welcomed Ma and an audience of about 100 people with a speech.
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Hickenlooper touted his program, Take Note Colorado, which works to ensure that every student in kindergarten through twelfth grade has access to an instrument and music education. It's an ambitious project that he co-chairs with Slade.
After delivering a vivacious solo performance at Civic Center Park, Ma drove across town to the heart of Aurora's Cultural Arts District to briefly attend a series of open conversations about refugees living in Aurora.
With a grin on his face, he then journeyed to Westwood to visit Re
Ma toured Re:Vision's buildings and community gardens, where he helped pick carrots and enjoyed a farm-to-table meal.
Then he headed to RedLine, the nonprofit contemporary art center in Five Points, where a largely white crowd was gathered in the historically African-American neighborhood. Deputy director Robin Gallite led a conversation around the topic of what provides a sense of home. RedLine has a long history of arts activism, and the center is located in an area where many people are homeless.
As Ma began to speak, a homeless man interrupted. "Everybody don't like homeless people, but ain't nobody been here where the homeless people are at. How can you help?" he repeated a few times. Gallite tried to refocus the crowd's attention.
As people whispered uncomfortably, Ma pulled the man aside and talked with him for a minute before giving him the stage and a chance to speak to the crowd for a few minutes. After respectfully guiding him off stage, Ma said, "As human beings, we have the capacity to imagine. To imagine what it's like to be homeless. To be without support. We've all been through moments of that. All we need to do is capture those various moments and put one on top of the other. When we learn from what we've experienced, we have the capacity to develop empathy."
After his talk, he took to the stage inside an unused tiny home — part of a collaboration between Colorado Village Collaborative and RedLine — where he played "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, 1: Prelude."
As Ma played, resident artists at Redline performed in sumo suits littered with price tags, critiquing consumer culture; Ma joined in on the fun by making silly faces and even hitting a beach ball with his cello bow.
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The day climaxed at the This Is
Throughout the day, Ma offered many words of wisdom about transforming art into action. Among them, he said, "Empathy is something that can be taught. It's also a gift. As well as imagination, it's one of the hardest things to do since we're dealing with an artistic environment — to take an idea of something and to actually physicalize it."