Mary Randall had been playing cello for eleven years when she was selected for a masterclass taught by Yo-Yo Ma when he performed at Merrill Auditorium ten years ago. Mary is now a library technician in the Lewiston Public Library’s children’s department. Upon Yo-Yo Ma’s return to Merrill Auditorium, Mary reflects upon her experience, giving Portland Ovations’ audience an inside look at what can be learned from the cello master outside of watching his performance.


By: Mary Randall

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, practice, practice.

Or even better:
Q: How do you get to Merrill Auditorium?
A: Practice, practice, practice.
What a classic joke, and one that definitely rang true for my experience playing in a master class with Yo-Yo Ma, ten years ago. At age sixteen going on seventeen, I had been playing cello for eleven years, and yet I still felt unprepared to meet one of the most famous cellists of all time (wouldn’t you?). So my fantastic cello teacher Jim Kennedy (principle cellist of the Portland Symphony) helped me put in the extra hours I felt I would need to be able to sit in front of Yo-Yo Ma, and trust my fingers to play each note to perfection. I practiced the first Bach suite’s prelude and sarabande until it was second nature. The day of the master class finally came and I remember leaving science class early, my teacher wishing me a heartfelt ‘’good luck!” and my mom, dad, sister, and aunt all picking me up so we could drive to Merrill Auditorium together.

As I entered the depths of Merrill Auditorium, I heard strains of the easily-recognizable praeludium in G. It could only be one person practicing: Yo-Yo Ma. He would be performing the first Bach suite later that night. Lucky me, I was going to be playing parts of the same piece for him in just a little bit.

I remember two things very clearly. First, how brilliantly kind Mr. Ma was. Before we went on he asked me my name, and on stage he put his arm around my shoulder and introduced me to the crowd, “This is Mary, and Mary plays the cello”. The audience laughed, and I finally got a glimpse of how much larger the crowd was than I had been warned it would be. He left me alone on stage to play, and when he joined me back onstage after I had finished, he chatted with me for a long time, learning about who I was as a person, wanting to know what I liked to do, “I should say cello, but I really do like to read”, laughing and then asking me what I was reading, before starting to work through the music I had just played. He never forced his own interpretations of the pieces on me, but helped me articulate what I wanted the music to sound like, and gave me tools to work towards those goals. The second thing I remember was how I was not nervous at all. Isn’t that remarkable? How could I not be nervous? Playing in front of the world’s premier cellist, plus three hundred audience members, I should’ve been shaking in my boots, but I was cool as a cucumber. You want to know why? Do you want to know my secret? I knew all my notes.

Go see Yo-Yo Ma perform, and see a true master at work. I will forever be grateful for my day learning from him.

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Sarah Prak

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