Freedom in Structure – Lessons From Yo-Yo Ma

My mom and I went to the symphony on Tuesday evening.  We saw Yo-Yo Ma perform DVOŘÁK’s Cello Concerto.  It was, in a word, amazing!

It was the way Yo-Yo Ma performed the music.  He didn’t play it, didn’t even perform it, he experienced it right there in front of us making the music simply come alive!

Both my mom and I knew we were in for a different type of listening experience as soon as the music began.  Yo-Yo turned to both sides of the orchestra around him as they played, a smile on his face.  He was enjoying the introduction as much as we were!  And when it was his turn to play, the music poured from him; from his entire body as he played the piece.

Yo-Yo Ma performs Dvorak's Cello Concerto with conductor Juanjo Mena and the BSO Tuesday night. Photo: Stu Rosner

What really stood out for me though, was the idea of freedom in structure.  Here was a man who obviously is highly trained in musical theory, playing music that is meticulously scored, and yet, he emulated creativity and freedom.  He knew every note, playing without the score in front of him.  It was engrained in his mind and fingers, and that allowed him to be free.  His body twisted as his cello conversed with the flute or sang with the first violin.  He listened as he played, allowing his cello to speak in the moment, at every moment.  It was beautiful!

In pasts posts I have made mention to freedom in structure.  In fact, back in April of 2009 we composed an entire series on the topic.  Being able to find the freedom within a structure is when true creativity can occur.  It’s not until you have that structure, know that structure and own that structure that you can then be free to revel in your own creative spirit.  It’s true in music.  It’s true in art.  Its’ true in teaching.  It’s true in learning.

So, what can this teacher learn from a master musician such as Yo-Yo Ma?  Plenty.  Not only is he an inspiring musician – one that makes me want to sit back at my piano and find that joy in caressing the keys, but he makes me want to find the joy in all that I work for each day.  I work hard to develop my craft of teaching and once I figure out my structure, whether it’s a day’s schedule, a method of conducting a reading group or how to manage certain behaviors, I am then free to work within those perameters and stretch my own understanding of good teaching.

Watching him the other night also reminded me of how important it is to teach those basic skills to my students: the drill and practice of math facts and grammar, providing structure for writing essays, so that one day my students can feel the freedom that comes with an intensely rooted foundation of knowledge.

The concert itself was wonderful.  The performers were top notch, and the company was great.  The fact that I was able to learn from a masterful teacher from 24 rows back through his music and interpretation made this more than a concert.  It was a wonderful lesson of freedom in structure.

Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma.

(And thanks, Mom.)

~EMP

Picture by Stu Rosner from The Classical Review.

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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