Arts & Entertainment, Music

Case Study: Balancing Structure and Emotion

Yo-Yo Ma

Lesson time 16:50 min

In a collaboration with two other cellists, Titi Ayangade and Ethan Philbrick, Yo-Yo presents the practices and intentions behind everything he has shared so far. They perform and express their interpretations of Bach’s Suite no. 3, "Sarabande".

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Mental Real Estate and Your Audience


- We have two really interesting individuals that I will be talking with. One of them is a professor, Ethan Philbrick. He's a performance artist and a cellist. And the other person, Titilayo Ayangade, is getting her PhD. Besides being a wonderful cellist, she's also a photographer and a filmmaker. And in this chapter, we will explore how to balance structure and emotion to create an interpretation that is uniquely yours and creates the space for magic. We're going to experiment with one person playing a piece, telling us what he or she is thinking about, and the other two people are going to listen and then we're going to report back. We will explore the notes on the page, individually interpret the spaces between the notes, and then create a clear, emotional narrative that is understandable to all. What I want you to take away, even if you're not a musician, is the different ways you can express and communicate the same content by deciding what role you're playing, resulting in different emotional intentions. [MUSIC PLAYING] Now, Ethan is going to play the sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite Number Three. Although every note is written on the page, built into the piece's structure are repeats that allow the performer to vary the emotional content. - For me, it's a movement that it's-- the third suites in C major, sort of triumphant key generally, but the sarabande, there's all this expansive space in it, and for me it was always this like-- this movement feels like you're by yourself but you're content with that. You know, it's a kind of aloneness that's not isolation. It's like just yourself but you can make a world in it. - Show us. - Okay. [MUSIC - JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, "CELLO SUITE NO. 3, SARABANDE, V1] - Oh, beautiful. Beautiful. - I think the thing, like, if there's something that I'm searching for is the sort of relationship to structure and experimentation. There's part of me that wants to just, like, when I sit down to play it, it's like why don't I just like screw it up this time. Like-- [PLAYING NOTES] You know, like let's do something totally different-- - Right. - --or do I play it? I oftentimes sort of feel myself in that tension inside of it, of like, oh I just want to play it, I want to break it this time, or I want to do it completely different. Or should I like repeat it as it is played because there's something beautiful about that sort of continuity? - I love the way that you were describing the struggle, right, between the improvisation and structure. I certainly have no doubt that you're completely tuned in to your feelings. That's an incredibly important part of playing. If you think of your brain as real estate, Okay, and your brain is real estate so you can actually say, how much real estate am I using for emotion and how much real estate am I using for a structure? Right? So tell me, if I would ask you how much improv percent...

About the Instructor

Likely the world’s most recognizable cellist, Yo-Yo Ma has spent more than 60 years creating meaning through music. Now, the 18-time Grammy Award winner is sharing that experience with you. Whether or not you play an instrument, explore Yo-Yo Ma’s philosophy for embracing music’s emotional power, expand your self-expression and creativity, and develop a deeper appreciation for music’s ability to connect people and culture.

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Yo-Yo Ma

World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma teaches you how music can be a source of meaning, connection, imagination, and understanding.

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