Yo-Yo Ma and the Potency of Memory

Last night’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert seemed to transcend time, linking past and future, coupling the wisdom of age with the vigor of youth. 

The concert hall was packed to the rafters with an audience enraptured by the internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Sitting directly in front of me were a man I’d guess to be in his late 80s and his grandson or perhaps great-grandson who perched on the very edge of his seat transfixed by the master musician.

Before the concert began, the TSO’s Music Director Peter Oundjian asked Yo-Yo Ma to speak about the first piece on the program “Night Music: Voice in the Leaves” written in 2000 by Uzbeck composer Dimitri Yanov-Yanovsky.

Yo-Yo Ma began by describing how Yanov-Yanovsky employs Western instruments in subtle and innovative ways to suggest the timbres and textures of Eastern instruments. But then Yo-Yo Ma switched from discussing the technique and spoke in a very personal way about the spirituality and the poignancy that he experiences in playing the piece as it evokes precious memories both personal and cultural. We all have poignant memories he said, some of which feel lost in the recesses of time. But somehow through the music we are able to reconnect with them at this present moment and by so doing offer them as a gift to the future.

Yo-Yo Ma spends considerable time in quiet unheralded outreach to children and young people, especially those in disadvantaged situations, providing them the opportunity to experience joy and gain self-confidence through music. Drawing on the rich artistic reservoir of many cultural traditions, he empowers future generations.

We all have opportunities to do likewise, to reach back to those precious times and relationships and experiences that have made us who we are, and by resuscitating them with our creativity give them a new life to inform and enrich the future.

I recently learned that excerpts from my memoir “August Farewell” are being used in a new college textbook. Young people for years to come will be reading the story of my thirty-three-year loving relationship with my partner Bill that ended abruptly with his sudden cancer death. This written record means that my memories of love and loss will be accessible to future generations and will, hopefully, help them understand a bit more about our shared humanity.

What creative opportunities can you envisage to honour your past and offer it to our collective future?

* * *

My memoir “August Farewell” tells the story of the two weeks between my partner Bill’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and his death. Interspersed among the scenes are vignettes from our thirty-three years together as a gay couple.

Information on “August Farewell” and on my novel “Searching for Gilead”, including YouTube video book trailers on each, is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order from your local bookseller or on-line retailers including http://amazon.com, http://barnesandnoble.com, http://amazon.ca, http://chapters.indigo.ca, http://amazon.co.uk


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