Yo-Yo Ma, Grammy Award-Winning Cellist
Behind The Cello
Yo-Yo Ma reflects on the role of arts, creativity and the edges of life. His comments are adapted from a conversation with WorldPost.
In our highly interdependent global civilization, a lot of things are not working.
When I travel around the country and the world to perform, I pick up in my many conversations a growing sense that the first Enlightenment -- which posited the rule of reason over emotion and feelings -- is getting a little creaky, confining and even counterproductive.
The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio has written about Descartes' error that, to put it in shorthand, "I think therefore I am." Damasio instead makes the compelling argument, empirically based in neurology, that feeling and emotions as expressed in art and music play a central role in high-level cognitive reasoning.
Advances in neurobiology now make it clear that we humans have dual neural pathways, one for critical thinking and one for empathetic thinking. Only one pathway can be activated at a time, so when one is on, the other is off. Yet we are also aware that wise and balanced judgment results from integrating the critical and empathetic, taking emotions as well as reason into account. While this can't be done it tandem, it does occur, we now know, through a loop-back process of layers of feedback.
These discoveries suggest that a new way of thinking is possible, a new consciousness -- perhaps a new Enlightenment -- that brings the arts and science back together.
This new consciousness by which we purposely seek to bolster the integrative feed-back loops of our dual neural pathways could provide a new energy for creativity in our weary civilization.
This integrative awareness is especially important today as our science-driven, technologically advanced world is breaking down into ever more compartments, specializations and disciplines -- even as the interdependence of globalization is creating more links with other cultures through which empathetic understanding is vital.
To be able to put oneself in another's shoes without prejudgment is an essential skill. Empathy comes when you understand something deeply through arts and literature and can thus make unexpected connections. These parallels bring you closer to things that would otherwise seem far away. Empathy is the ultimate quality that acknowledges our identity as members of one human family.
Visionaries like Elon Musk have spoken of the Internet and the planetary reach of the media as a "global thinking circuit." We need to be sure that this connecting circuit is about communication and not just information by fostering both empathetic and critical thinking.
By Alex Temple on January 16, 2014
Composers spend an awful lot of time worrying about whether or not what we do is culturally relevant. Many discussions start from the assumption that it’s not; the only question is how we’re going to makeourselves relevant before our art form shrivels away like a neglected houseplant.
Whenever I hear words like “relevant” or “important,” I always want to ask, “relevant or important to whom?” When that detail is left out, these words become codes or shorthands: “important” means “important to Serious Art People,” and “relevant” means “relevant to Real-World Audiences.” But “Real-World Audiences” is a code too, because the people who use the phrase seem to have a pretty narrow idea of who counts as real. Other musicians? Not real. Artists in other media? Not real. College students and faculty? Not real. People over 40? Not real. You can sell out a huge concert hall, but if everyone there falls into one or more of the above categories, you’ll still have people citing your show as evidence of classical music’s imminent demise. Because when people say “culturally relevant,” what they really mean is “relevant to young people with mainstream tastes.” And “mainstream tastes,” unfortunately, doesn’t include classical music.
No other form of experimental music-making holds itself to this kind of standard. Japanese noise artists, for example, don’t seem to worry about whether or not their enthusiastic but small audience is a “real-world” one, and I’ve never heard anyone say that in order for them to justify what they’re doing, they have to appeal to people who aren’t interested in what they’re doing. “Why should non-mainstream music reach out to wider audiences?” asked Masami Akita in a recent interview. “These days, everything is diversified and it’s OK to have many different non-mainstream musics for non-mainstream music lovers.”
Discovery News, Nov. 12, 2013
Music skills evolved at least 30 million years ago in the common ancestor of humans and monkeys, according to a new study that could help explain why chimpanzees drum on tree roots and monkey calls sound like singing.
The study, published in the latest issue of Biology Letters, also suggests an answer to this chicken-and-egg question: Which came first, language or music? The answer appears to be music.
"Musical behaviors would constitute a first step towards phonological patterning, and therefore language," lead author Andrea Ravignani told Discovery News.
Toronto Star, May 1, 2013 - Ontario Music Fund will support the production, distribution and performance of music in the province and promote Ontario-made music across Canada and around the globe.
Arts funding is often viewed by governments as something of a frill or a luxury to be cast away during troubled economic times, but the Ontario government on Wednesday demonstrated that, perhaps, it finally understands what Canada’s music industry has been telling it all along: music means jobs.
That slogan, “Music Means Jobs,” was right there on the podium at a Lee’s Palace, rather unduly crowded for 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, as Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Chan announced plans to create a $45-million Ontario Music Fund to support the production, distribution and performance of music in the province and to promote Ontario-made music across Canada and around the globe. Read More
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