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Yo-Yo Ma: During The Pandemic, Music Can Give Us Comfort

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When Yo-Yo Ma is worried, he turns to a familiar source of comfort.

“If I feel things are out of whack, playing music or listening to music actually aligns me and gives me a sense of equilibrium,” Ma told WGBH News' All Things Considered Host Arun Rath Thursday. “So I can go back to living my life and trying to make the best decision I can.”

The celebrated cellist is hoping his music will do the same for others, as he performs the complete Bach Cello Suites Sunday, in isolation, but free to the public on television, radio and streamed online. His latest performance will take place this Sunday at WGBH's Fraser Auditorium at 3 p.m.

The concert will air live on WGBH 2 and WCRB Classical Radio Boston and will be streamed online.

Ma is one of a long line of artists attempting to use their talents in new ways to bring people together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Lady Gaga and Global Citizen organized a multi-hour concert featuring more than 70 celebrities. Operas, Broadway shows, orchestra performances and concerts of all genres are streaming live. Late night TV hosts are broadcasting from their homes. Popular sitcoms are returning to the air for social distancing virtual reunions.

Ma said he is dedicating his performance not only to the frontline health workers and those who have lost loved ones, but also to the parents, teachers, delivery people, students — everyone whose life has changed because of the pandemic.

“There's not an untouched person in all of this. And I think everybody is worried,” he said. “So whoever you are, I think there's something in the music that addresses all of humanity.”

The Bach Cello Suites in particular, Ma said, conjures both the feelings of loss and hope, creating a paradox that represents the current moment.

“There are so many contradictions in all of our lives, and we have to actually make sense of it. And I think music has that kind of capacity,” Ma said. “I think it's that combination of marrying opposites that allows for the idea of solace to take place. You are in despair; you're not alone. Things are terrible, but you might see light at the end of the tunnel.”

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