Cellist Yo-Yo Ma began his career performing for John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy at a fundraiser for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts inside the White House. Since then, he has performed for seven other presidents, including President Obama.
Yet he's more worried about bringing music to people who are not necessarily sitting in a concert hall.
"I want to dedicate myself to public service, because what I do is play cello, and what is that for? It's not for me," he says. "It makes me think more and more, what is the purpose? It's the future. What kind of world are we working toward, are we leaving behind?"
He found his purpose by using music to spread awareness of different cultures across the world. He'll bring some of the music and culture of Brazil, Russia, India and China to Miami on Nov. 15 when he performs at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts with six other musicians in "Musical Perspective in the Culture of BRIC: A Silkroad Collaboration."
"I really believe that culture matters, when I open the newspaper, what I see really most of all is political reporting and economic reporting. Everything is quoted and measured in terms in money and power, right?" he says.
"And I believe that what they're missing is meaning, because the reason I say culture matters is because ultimately at the end of life, when I'm at my death bed, I'm not going to think about how much money I had made, and how much power I had. I'm going to think about how meaningful is my life."
For Ma, multiculturalism is in his DNA. He was born in France to Chinese parents, then grew up in the United States after moving to New York at age 7.
"I think one of my goals is to actually think that Earth is my home," he says. "I want to develop as much capacity as I can, both as a human being and as a musician, to be empathetic to people and conditions around the world. I know that's impossible, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try constantly."
He started his nonprofit, Silkroad, in 1998 with the goal of bringing musicians and artists from different countries together, and embedding the arts within other areas of people's lives. Silkroad creates workshops, education programs and collaborations that seek to bring arts, education and business together. The nonprofit has partnerships with Harvard Graduate School of Education and Harvard Business School.
He says he's used what he learned from the work of his nonprofit to create his new show, and he hopes it will make people think about Brazil, Russia, India and China beyond their size and language.
"That's something I realized later on in life, that music in many ways can embody the essence of people. Everything that I was interested in in people, I can actually explore through music," he says. "My belief is when I play music from Brazil, or Russia, or China, or India, I have to actually make sure I represent the voices of Brazil, or Russia, or India or China."
Yo-Yo Ma will perform "Musical Perspective in the Culture of BRIC: A Silkroad Collaboration" at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami. $75-$150. Call 305-949-6722 or visit ArshtCenter.org.