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First Person/Yo-Yo Ma

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma talks about The Goat Rodeo Sessions

The Cambridge resident has joined with three other string musicians for a classical-meets-bluegrass project, with a concert broadcast to movie theaters on January 31.

Yo Yo Ma photograph by Jeremy Cowart / Magazine First Person 01.29.12

Jeremy Cowart

> The title of your latest collaboration, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, may raise a few eyebrows. What significance does the term “goat rodeo” have to the music? It was described as an aviation term where everything is incredibly chaotic and a hundred things must go right in order for there to be a good resolution. We [four string players] come from many different backgrounds. [The music] actually comes together in a way that the four of us really like, and, therefore, we think that Goat Rodeo Sessions is a good title.  

> How would you describe the project’s genre? I think of this as quintessentially American music.

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> The Goat Rodeo Sessions was recorded in Massachusetts. Are there any traces of local influence in the album? We recorded the album in James Taylor’s barn in Western Massachusetts, so I think a lot of local flavor would have seeped through.

> You’ll perform The Goat Rodeo Sessions at the House of Blues Boston on Tuesday, and the concert will be broadcast live in movie theaters around the country. Why not tour the traditional way? Nothing beats having a live audience, because the live experience involves all your senses and gives the sense of intimacy. What was always a pipe dream was to say, “Is there a way of creating this kind of intimacy in theaters, movie theaters?” and now, suddenly, the technology is available to do this. I personally am incredibly excited.

> Do you think this collaboration will influence your future musical ventures? It has actually changed my way of thinking about notes and articulation. This has just opened my thoughts about the way I play. Even pieces that I’ve known for 40 years, I’m going back with new ears.

> As a Cambridge resident, do you have a favorite local haunt for music? There are so many places that have made music in the area, including Sanders Theatre and Club Passim. [The area’s] just dotted with memories.

> You have quite a memorable name. How has it shaped you over the years? I think it is character-building, and it certainly encourages you to have a good sense of humor. The fact that my parents gave me the name Yo-Yo knowing full well that it is the name of a toy is still mystifying to me. They had their reasons, but I still have to arch an eyebrow.

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