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Dear Ann,

I’m kind of hung up on the cello right now. I ran into my next-door neighbor the other day at the elevator, and he asked, “Is someone playing the cello in your apartment?” Yes, Bernard, someone is. Sometimes it’s Lucia Swarts or another virtuoso on YouTube, and sometimes it’s my son, practicing.

I played the cello from grades 7 through 11. (A fun fact right up there with my brief, glittering career as a synchronized swimmer.) I was a proud member of the Omaha All-City Jr. High School and High School Orchestras. My main qualification was that I had a ride to the Saturday rehearsals. But there I was for five years, in the third row, behind Schulte brothers Gary and Greg, my friend Mary, and two older girls who were on the pom-pom squad and were so regal I didn’t dare speak to them.

I sawed away at Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, Handel’s Water Music, and various Hungarian dances, and had a fabulous time. You can love something a lot without being particularly good at it. This is something I have proved to myself many times over, and my life has been happier for it.

But you know who’s good at the cello? Yo-Yo Ma. In my current fixation on Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello, my boy directed me to the performance that is linked to above. It’s Yo-Yo Ma at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2015. Alone on stage, a few months before his 60th birthday, he played all six Bach cello suites, one after the other, from memory.

It is almost three hours of music, with a break between suites 3 and 4. An unforgettable night for the audience; the announcer describes a “huge sense of communion.”

My heart broke about 25 times listening to it, and a few additional times when the BBC played an interview with the cellist reflecting on his lifelong study of these pieces, and on what they mean to people who listen to them, especially in tough times. (That bit is at the 1 hour and 5 minute mark on the video.)

Even if you don’t share my Bach/cello passion of the moment, give it a listen. It’s some of the most beautiful, intimate music ever written; as Yo-Yo Ma says, it makes the listener feel part of a greater whole.





  • I love the cello even though it always makes me weep. Bookmarking this for now because I’m a little too vulnerable right now to risk it.

  • My favorite summer sublet in college was a tiny set of rooms in a large old wood-framed house on a New Hampshire river. The owner played cello and the entire house would vibrate with such glorious soaring or melancholic tones at different times of day, that even now, if I close my eyes, my bones feel the echoes. Very favorite instrument!

    • I’d like to move in there right now. The river, the rooms, the melancholy, the cello…poetry. XO

  • When my nephew was 6 my husband and I took him with us to a concert at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. He was mesmerized. When we brought him home we told his parents how much we all enjoyed the concert and our nephew said, “and they played the jello!” Forever since we have thought and spoke of our favorite instrument with this endearing name.

  • You did it again! Yesterday with humor, today with a profound musical experience. Thank you.

  • My Grandma played the cello professionally. Every time I hear one, I think of her and smile.

  • I, too, am a cello fan and am among the fortunate who can drive an hour and end up at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA, home of the Boston Symphony. Tonight I’ll be on the lawn listening to Yo Yo Ma (for the 2nd time this week). It’s been such a joy to see him almost every summer for many years. Once he did an impromptu Q&A period and answered each question, no matter how odd, with humor and insight. Here is a great interview with hm:
    He’s playing the Bach Suites tonight and you might be able to hear it online: I’ll be out there somewhere, knitting until it’s too dark.
    I encourage anyone who can to get out and listen to some great music under the stars.

  • Have you listened to the Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo-Yo Ma and friends? Pure joy!

    • Oh yes, Pennie! I just love this too!!!

  • YoYo Ma!
    You almost didn’t have to say anything else, but glad you did.
    Such artistry.
    The power of the arts as they reach our souls.

  • “You can love something without being particularly good at it….and my life has been happier for it.” So wonderfully true.
    Listening now.

    • I knew there was a reason I have become obsessed with reading your thoughtful, inspiring posts everyday! I am a cellist married to a cellist, who shares your love of the instrument and its beautiful music.

  • My claim to fame and “personal” connection to Yo Yo Ma is that I sat behind his cello on a flight to London about 20 years ago. He sat in first class, and his cello, my daughter, and I rode in business. Moreover, my husband was the captain who flew the plane. Sigh…I love the sound of the cello and thank you for this post.

  • There are so many reasons this man is on my imaginary boyfriend list. As an obsessive West Wing fan, I refer you to Season 2, episode 10. Also, did you see this?

    • That is my favorite episode of TWW of all time. YoYo Ma rules.

    • I hadn’t seen this clip. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Yes! Donna, Josh’s PTSD and YoYo Ma
      Signed, a Wingnut.
      (It was a great episode)

      • We played the Bach cello suites while I was at in labor with our first child – it was a truly wonderful experience, the magical unfolding home birth that many moms to be dream of. I had my other two at home and we were never organized enough to play any music – life is more complicated after you have kids, isn’t it? But these suites will always have a very special place in my heart.

      • Gail, you just made my day.

  • I am a cello fan too and among the fortunate who can drive an hour and be at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony. Tonight I will be on the lawn listening to Yo Yo Ma playing Bach suites! It’s been so wonderful seeing him almost every year, and I love seeing him perform with Emanuel Ax. Here is a great interview with him:
    Sometimes WCRB broadcasts Tanglewood concerts, although it looks like tonight they will be doing this afternoon’s performance. I’ll be at both concerts today, enjoying my kind of a double-header. And, yes, I’m trying to figure out how much knitting to take along for the day and evening on the lawn!
    I encourage everyone who can to get out and listen to music under the stars.

  • Just this week I rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Watching it I was thinking I had forgotten how good the music was, and when the credits rolled it was Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. He is wonderful!

  • O golly, where to start. Maybe with this – I’ve a dear nearly life-long friend whose only flaw is not loving the Bach Suites, so he gave me his Casal’s recording. Decades ago. They are my desert island music, my life has gone to haitch music, my will you get off this planet music, my I really need to get a grip music. And more. Play on….

  • My absolute all time favourite piece of music and musician.

  • Magnificent. Heart-touching. I have the CDS by Rostropovich, but this is luminous. And it’s a perfectly beautiful day in my part of Vermont, but this is a perfect way to spend it.

  • You had me at Yo-Yo Ma.

    I too played cello, and though I no longer play, it’s still my favorite stringed instrument.

  • “You can love something a lot without being particularly good at it.” This is true about so many things. Your story reminds me of my years playing last chair second violin in jr. high thru high school. Loved it, but not was particularly good. Thank you Kay.

  • Best Sunday knitting ever. So relaxing to knit while listening to Yo-Yo Ma. Thank you so much!

  • I love the Cello Suites. I love Yo-Yo Ma. I was once at a local homeless shelter and there was a volunteer there playing the cello, just hanging out. He told me the cello is closest to the human voice. On another note (literally) my godson was listening to Yo Yo Ma play something (Beethoven?) – he was about 5 or six, and enjoying it immensely as he made fart noises in time to the music. Something for everyone.

  • One of the joys of our life was hearing Mr. Ma play all six suites in the National Cathedral in DC. Superb evening!

  • A few years ago we were on the other coast to see our kids and saw Yo Yo Ma from the lawns at Wolftrap. In the rain and worth every soggy minute.

  • Dear Kay,
    I love Yo-Yo- Ma and your wonderful humor. I have told more people about MDK especially to my knitterly friends. You and Ann both connect the dots of joyful people and experiences daily. I especially chuckled (do people still chuckle?) when you reflected on your cello experience. I had a more limited but enjoyable experience with the accordian….well, there you go. Thank you.

  • Years ago, I had the privilege to see Yo Yo Ma play with the Boston Symphony while Frank McCourt read passages from his book, “Angela’s Ashes”. A once in a lifetime experience.

  • I also am “kind of hung up” on the cello and have been since seeing Rostropovich play the Bach Cello Suite 40 some years ago. This is just as wonderful. (My string experience was with the violin, grades 4 through 8. Loved it but could never get past second chair.)

  • Highly recommend Zoe Keating — one woman cello orchestra! Her albums Into the Trees and Snowmelt are regularly on repeat in my office. (

  • I’ve been a fan of Yo Yo Ma forever. I have both of his recordings of the Bach Suites. Years ago, I listened to the first version so much that I felt I’d memorized it. Years later, when I got his second recording of the Suites, I felt it was brand new. He’d recorded them in a whole new way. Again, I’ve been listening to them over and over, with a new appreciation. Love the Suites, and love Yo Yo Ma.

  • The city of Toronto, Ontario has a botanical garden (in the Harbourfront neighbourhood) inspired by Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation of Bach’s music. A wonderful tribute to this extraordinary cellist.

  • Thank you so much for this! I have a CD of Yo Yo playing the Bach cello suites which I’ve loved for years, but a concert recording is always such a treat. I’ve just spent a lovely Sunday afternoon with my knitting and this glorious music.

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