Day 25: Yo-Yo Ma

Massachusetts, United States

My peace offering is Simple Gifts – a beautiful Shaker tune from the 19th century. Here are the words:

Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘ twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning, we come round right.

In times of trouble, you can’t count on much. But I think you can count on values. And this is something that I have been thinking a lot about – the values of, why is it that if you and I talk, we will find a way to get along? And I think it is because there is a basic connection that human beings need with one another. One of the things we look for in connection is trust – people listening to one another and not just arguing past each other. I think music is a starting point for that feeling of connection. It comforts us and helps us to find peace within ourselves so that we can then imagine the conditions needed to feel safe and to take action – to build the society we want to live in. For me, building peace begins with knowing that you can act and be part of the solution through small actions – through “simple gifts” – and know that they count, because they add up.


Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four, and three years later moved with his family to New York City. There, he continued his studies at the Juilliard School. After his conservatory training, he sought out a liberal arts education and graduated from Harvard with a degree in anthropology. Yo-Yo’s career is testament to his faith in culture’s power to generate the trust and understanding essential to a strong society. This belief inspired Yo-Yo to establish the global cultural collective Silkroad, and, more recently, to set out on the Bach Project — a six-continent tour of J. S. Bach’s suites for solo cello and an invitation to a larger conversation about culture, society, and the themes that connect us all.


Today, I am issuing a call, a challenge, to other artists and to lovers of the arts. I’m calling on people across the globe to go online if you can and share a work that you’ve recently created, or that speaks to you during these times, and tag it with the hashtag #OfferPeace. Perhaps it’s a song you play constantly that’s getting you through these times, a watercolor you painted, or a poem you read or wrote that touches your heart during this moment. Together, I am confident we can grow this movement even larger with even more peace offerings, and reach even more people in pain during this time.

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