What it's like to see Yo Yo Ma

In short: mesmerizing, thought-provoking, and transportive.


I got a ticket to see cello master Yo Yo Ma at the Greek Theater on UC Berkeley campus through my good friend Jocelyn.

After eating bomb pork and chicken buns and decent ramen at Ippudo and getting fluffy but lacking-in-flavor lemon cake from an almost-breadless 85 degrees, Jocelyn and I hiked up to Cal's outdoor amphitheater. If you do ever go to the Greek- I'd recommend first trying to get lawn seating because it seems so chill, but if you sit in the amphitheater bring a cushion and dress appropriately (it gets cold at night/generally in the bay).


Yo Yo Ma played a 2 hr and 15 minutes set of 6 Bach suites, with no intermission and very short breaks. He performed only by himself- no symphony or orchestra. I have never experienced a show like this- it was sometimes awkward and uncomfortable to silently sit for so long but at the same time so peaceful and a time for some introspection.

Here are some of my thoughts during the almost 2.5 hour show:

Cello Suite 1 in G Major:
  • This is the #FoodPorn montage music they use in Jiro Dreams of Sushi and other mouthwatering macro-food shots. God I think about food too much. 
  • Wow there are thousands of people here and the crowd is so quiet. This is the most respectful audience I have ever seen. (I have seen the Millionaires and 3OH!3 twice so not exactly the classiest concert goer).
  • This cello music makes me want to be on a train in Austria or Switzerland or somewhere in Europe traveling through lush green mountainsides. Or walking through an intricate baroque building or museum. 
  • This music would be nice to fall asleep to on a train. I want to travel again even though I was in Europe just over a month ago. 
30 min in...
  • I don't know if I can stare at a single man playing an instrument for 2.5 hours. 
  • Wow that light approaching from the distance looks like a UFO. Darn it's just a plane. I wonder if extraterrestrial life exists? Did that man from Brazil really get abducted and then get experimented on? 
5 min later, shutting my eyes... 
  • Wow my senses feel heightened- not only do I feel I am somehow better perceiving the music but I am more sensitive to the temperature, the slight wind, and other distracting noises from UC Berkeley campus when my eyes are closed. 
  • Besides the heightened senses I am getting all these creative thoughts and WAY in my head. Forcing myself to listen to cello for an extended period of time is almost like being high.
Around halfway through the suites- 
  • YES A BREAK WE CAN STAND AND TAKE A STRETCH BREAK
Observing Chinese student next to me:
  • Gives his jacket to the girl sitting above me whose foot annoyingly taps my back and I turn and glare til she apologizes. Sorry buddy, you are way too nerdy to have a chance with her. 
  • He is swaying with the music and moving his hands and trying to bob his head... what? 
  • Offers his friend in the row below a fruit snack that he picks out of the bag instead of offering the bag to his friend- Jocelyn and I turn to each other and chuckle telepathically.
Around 3/4 of the way in...
  • It is crazy that Yo Yo Ma has essentially memorized over 2 hours of music to the point where it's basically muscle memory for him. There was only one awkwardly long pause where I thought he forgot the next note. 
  • So Yo Yo Ma has gotten famous playing the songs of another composer? Is he a genius for becoming famous from basking in the glory of another person? At some point when is creativity rewarded over being derivative? 
At the end: it felt like running a half-marathon or that I survived something that I was trapped in. I was almost proud, like sitting for 2.5 hrs made me accomplish something. But at the same time I felt re-birthed, like I came out of a deep sleep and went through something that will make me a better person.


Overall, seeing Yo Yo Ma was a unique experience. Sometimes it felt very long, but it was moving and I feel like I gained almost a new appreciation of life. 

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