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Yo-Yo Ma on encouraging 'Songs of Comfort' amid global crisis


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: At a time of national and, indeed, global trauma, a leading artist offers us songs of comfort.

Jeffrey Brown has that for our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: He is one of the world's most renowned and beloved musicians, and now he is reaching out in a new way in this current crisis.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma recently began posting videos of himself performing short pieces and songs that can speak to those most in need and to all of us.

Yo-Yo Ma joins me from his home in Massachusetts by Skype.

And, Yo-Yo, it's nice to talk to you. Here we are. You are stuck at home like most of us, but you're still playing. Tell us about this idea that you have, the project called Songs of Comfort.

Yo-Yo Ma: Well, this idea came by pretty much spontaneously.

I was in the office one day, and we were talking and said, you know, let's do something, because let's do something in this time that actually serves people's needs.

And we thought that, somehow, music always has been comforting to me, this is what I do, and this is the best that I can offer. And I know many people are doing everything they can from what they know. And this is just something that I can do.

Jeffrey Brown: This is what you do.

I mean, in what sense -- what's your sense of what music or art can do? I mean, we talk about this all the time. People have real needs. We have just had a whole program talking about hospitals and medical needs and food and money, of course. What can music and art do?

Yo-Yo Ma: Well, I can tell you one thing.

When I was 19, I had a teacher who said, Yo-Yo, you haven't found your voice.

And I said, OK. And so I kept looking for my voice. And I think my voice is in finding the needs of others and then representing them. And that's -- and so, everywhere I go, it's always about finding what people are thinking, feeling, how they think about themselves in the world.

And if I can find something that they need, and if I can actually offer a little bit of something that is comforting, then that's how I would define my job.

Jeffrey Brown: So here you are now playing and posting pieces, but it's more than that, right? You want others to join in, to send in their own songs, and it doesn't even have to be music.

Tell us about what you're hoping will happen.

Yo-Yo Ma: Well, you know, what's amazing is that what's already happened is that, since just a couple of days ago, there are people who have posted from the Mayo Clinic. Two doctors have actually sung something.

The lead singer from a rock band, Mashrou Leila in Lebanon, actually put in a song. And two women from Ireland and Germany sang something on in sync, on -- in troubled times.

And so the idea is music is for everyone. It's not the practitioners doing music, but it's something that does something for us. Now, a virus is something that travels globally. It knows no borders, no walls, no boundaries.

And music is something that actually looks into the inside, and that also knows know boundaries. And if we can actually express what is on our insides and show that, then this is the beginning of a deeper understanding of one another.

Jeffrey Brown: We want to join you, your organization. We at the "NewsHour" want to join and encourage people to send in their own videos to #SongsofComfort, post them on Twitter, or Instagram, Facebook, wherever.

And then what are we collecting? What are you hoping that we get?

Yo-Yo Ma: We're collecting what is personal, what is true, what is trustworthy, what is community, because community is nothing, except what is based on trust.

And when you say something in music, it better be true, because, otherwise, it doesn't communicate.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, so we're going to do this together.

And I want to tell our audience, please post some videos, and we here at the "NewsHour," we're going to post -- update this project as we can on digital and broadcast, Canvas, for our arts coverage as well, joining Yo-Yo Ma in this.

And I want to say thank you to you for doing this. And it's a pleasure to be part of it with you.

And, before we go, Yo-Yo Ma plays Dvorak for us.


Jeffrey Brown: #SongsofComfort.

Yo-Yo Ma, thank you very much.

Yo-Yo Ma: Thank you so much, Jeffrey.

Judy Woodruff: Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma.

I can't imagine anything more welcome at a time like this.

And, as Jeff pointed out, we hope that, if you have art to share, you will join us. Upload your videos to Twitter, to Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsofComfort.

We will be watching, and we may use them in the future on air and online at

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