Asian Beat: Yo-Yo Ma 


I decided to switch it up and opt for the classics this week, namely world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He’s a superstar in the string industry and for good reason.  

When I was deciding in fourth grade which instrument to pick-up, one of my first thoughts was Yo-Yo Ma on the cello. Already at a young age, I was aware of his presence. Even before the tender age of however one is when they’re in fourth grade, Yo-Yo Ma was already performing his first show at the age of five, according to his Spotify bio. He already had me beat. His ability to play so many emotions in one instrument is incredible. His breakthrough came with a collection of Bach cello suites in 1983.  

This cellist and songwriter of Chinese descent has a discography of 100 albums with 19 Grammy awards on top of his list of accomplishments, according to his online biography. I could only ever hope to attend the Grammys, much less win an award for one. Fun fact, the most Grammy’s ever won is by orchestral and operatic conductor Sir Georg Solti with the bar set at 31 awards for a wide array of works including Bach.  

This Julliard School graduate has an impressive goal when creating music. 

“Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s role in society, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Yo-Yo strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity,” according to his biography.  

What I admire most about the artist is his intrinsic connection to connect others through music and evoke feeling.  

This article could go on and on about the impressive accomplishments of Yo-Yo Ma and how he’s the ultimate fulfillment of an Asian parent’s dream for their child of success in the music industry but it would certainly be too long. Instead, watch NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert featuring Ma and see the personality behind the instrument.  

When I watched this video, I could see how he was really feeling the music he was playing, instead of robotically going through the movements. He began his concert with the classic that he might be most known for playing: Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.  

“Believe it or not, this was the very first piece of music I played on the cello when I was four years old. One measure at a time,” Ma said in his Tiny Desk Concert. The video itself exudes his talent and likeable personality.  

One of my favorite songs by Ma is his piece he collaborated on in “Memoirs of a Geisha” titled “Sayuri’s Theme.” The movie itself is a already a powerful story about a young woman living in brothel before World War II Japan, but Ma’s playing in the soundtrack contributes to the ambiance of the movie. 

The haunting strings at the beginning and throughout makes me imagine a lonely young woman, alone in the world but looking to carve out a space and form her own identity. It’s something that I can connect and relate to every time I hear the song.  

Of course, whenever I listen to “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major” the first seconds of strings always has me feeling happy but also melancholy as Ma performs the piece from beginning to end. I’ve listened to the piece many times, but it will never get to the point of white noise for me, as there is so much depth to the piece and every listen is different, much like looking at a piece of art.  

As a prominent Asian person in his field, Ma will be a longstanding figure and a role model for young musicians to come. As for me? He’s an essential artist for my non-musical studies.  


Three Songs For Your Playlist: 

  1. Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major  

  2. Suite for Cello and Orchestra (From “Memoirs of a Geisha”) 

  3. Sayuri’s Theme 


 Thumbnail photo courtesy of @austinmann via @YoYo_Ma on Twitter.

Kimberly Nguyen is the associate digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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