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Yo-Yo Ma on the importance of telling each other our stories


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

Judy Woodruff: He has recorded more than 100 albums, performed in every marquee concert hall around the world and played for eight U.S. presidents.

But, this weekend, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma played two outdoor concerts, one in Laredo, Texas, the other just across the bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. His intention? To highlight the connection between the two countries, regardless of the current policies and politics of the border.

The performances were also part of Ma's ongoing Bach project. He is playing Johann Sebastian Bach's six Cello Suites in 36 countries around the world.

Tonight, for our ongoing Canvas series, Yo-Yo Ma shares his Humble Opinion on why culture matters.

Yo-Yo Ma: I am 63 years old, and I have been playing this four-stringed instrument for 59 years.

The prelude to Bach's first Cello Suite is the first piece I ever learned. And I still love it. I was 4 years old at the time, one measure each day. As a child, the simple accomplishment of being able to play a whole song was very satisfying.

But over the years, I have come to see that this music has a different force. It can heal, it can inspire, it can create wonder. And it was written 300 years ago by a man who never traveled more than a few hundred miles from the place where he was born.

But whenever I play it for an audience, I see that it still speaks to us, no matter what year we're living in, where we are, and what language we speak. This isn't just Bach. Food, art, science, storytelling, they all help us to understand ourselves, each other, and our environment, through head and heart. This is culture.

By calling on the imagination and the powers of observation we all have, culture helps us to tell our story, just as Bach did 300 years ago, just as his music does today.

Culture tells a story that's about us, about our neighbors, about our country, our planet, our universe, a story that brings all of us together as a species.

I believe that culture is essential to our survival. It is how we invent, how we bring the new and the old together, how we can all imagine a better future.

I used to say that culture needs a seat at the table, an equal part in our economic and political conversation. I now believe that it is the ground on which everything else is built. It is where the global and local, rural and urban, present and future confront one another.

Culture turns the other into us, and it does this through trust, imagination, and empathy.

So, let's tell each other our stories and make it our epic, one for the ages.

Judy Woodruff: Such a powerful message for all of us to think about.

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