There are moments in our lives, I feel, where we are so moved by someone else’s passion that our lives are irrecoverably changed for the better. For me, a moment such as this occurred on this past Tuesday evening. As you read this post, may I recommend that you visit this link and listen to a sample of the music this blog is about.
But let’s back up to how this moment came to be. A few weeks ago, I was at work catching up on the latest Red Shirt news (see previous post for more on this topic), and saw an ad for an upcoming concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, part of the Silk Road Project. I have loved Yo-Yo Ma for a long time (I have fond memories of seeing him on Sesame Street as a kid), and am a huge sucker for the cello. I thought to myself, “There’s no way I can afford these tickets, but what the heck? I’ll just have a look and see what it’s all about.” I get onto the ticket seller’s website, and find that not only are there tickets left available, but they’re only 1000 baht (about $30) for the cheap seats. I am now thinking, “Oh man, I could totally go.” Within the next 10 seconds as I watch seats get snapped up electronically by other patrons, my thought process progresses to, “Oh man, I should go. I have to go. THE WORLD WILL END IF I DO NOT BUY THESE TICKETS!!” I purchase two, thinking I can get a co-worker to attend with me, and thus begin the most agonized two weeks of my life waiting for the date of the concert to arrive. In the meantime, I treat myself to a custom tailored little black dress (about $60 for the whole she-bang), and a new pair of black pumps with a satin-y exterior (about $6). Add in my mother’s pearls, a dab of red lipstick, and a very chivalrous Ankit (my worldly co-worker) who so kindly agreed to go with me and hold open every door, and I had a recipe for a fantastic evening. And so it was!
We got dressed after work and took an hour cab ride to the theater. The venue was lovely with beautiful trees draped in little twinkling white lights surrounding a courtyard that boasted a exquisite miniature wat (temple). The inside of the building itself wasn’t too special, but it was fun to walk around all dressed up with all of the other patrons. We found our seats, and forgetting the usual Thai custom of standing several times for the Thai national anthem and King’s anthem, we found ourselves leaping to our feet as music blared over the sound system before the show began. I think there may also have been some members of the royal family in attendance, as there were some delays before and after the show during which no general attending member of the audience was allowed to enter or leave the auditorium. But I digress…
Anyway, after introductions and welcomes in both English (yay!) and Thai, the lights went down and members of the Silk Road Ensemble began to walk on stage. At the end of the line, Yo-Yo Ma walked casually into the glow of the stage lights, and took his seat. In his hands, the most magnificent Stradivarius cello seemed to emanate a beautiful red-brown glow as it reflected the lights back into the audience. The whole crowd went wild, and as Mr. Ma wai-ed (the respectful Thai greeting) to the audience, you could hear every Thai person in attendance cry out in delight. The amount of respect and adoration for Yo-Yo Ma in the audience that night was positively palpable. We were ready to be wowed, and Mr. Ma and his Ensemble did not disappoint.
The Silk Road Ensemble is a project of Mr. Ma’s to bring together world class musicians from all over the world to preform, well, world music! In this particular concert, they played a variety of Asian pieces, some of which written by members of the ensemble! They played a wide variety of drums, bamboo flutes, and stringed instruments, and while each instrument was unique and lovely to hear by itself, they were especially impressive when they played as a group. I was impressed by an Indian drummer who played a bongo like instrument with his bare palms and fingers; his hands moved so fast that sometimes his fingers were simply a blur and the distinction between individual beats was lost into the sound of one solid note. There were also three men played a trio of violins; never have I heard such skilled playing. Being a violin player myself, my appreciation for the difficulty of the pieces they performed and the precision required to play in unison so beautifully was especially deep. At times, they were so perfectly in sync that they seemed to be one single instrument guided by three hands.
And then, there was Yo-Yo Ma. At first, he played as part of the ensemble and though his playing was beautiful, it was not emphasized over any other musician. Then, the second piece began, featuring a cello solo meant to describe the composer’s loss of their grandmother long ago. The other instruments quieted, and the spotlight closed in on Mr. Ma as he pulled his bow across that first long mournful note. The sound, so quiet and shy at first, grew with an intensity that filled the silent hall with a shocking sadness, full and round and growing as if it were a living thing springing to life before our eyes and ears. That note, and the next few to follow seemed to absolutely consume me; I felt as if my soul were being rung and my heart pulled out of my chest and broken so completely by the music. Tears welled in my eyes, and with each devastating note ran down my cheeks in a little river of one of the happiest moments of my life.
The expression on Yo-Yo Ma’s face as he plays is one of such passion and dedication that it would seem as if he has spent his whole life practicing for each note, each draw of the bow and each placement of every finger. His vibrato shakes his whole body, and yet all the while he is serene, composed, and the very essence of tranquility. Never have I seen, heard, or felt such a thing. To behold him and his cello, one organism in unison, born and created for each other it seemed…I feel that words simply do not do that moment justice, nor any moment for the duration of the concert. Such a sensational 90 minutes I would be hard pressed to surpass.