Face to Face Speaker Forum welcomes Yo-Yo Ma


Courtesy of Face to Face

Yo-Yo Ma is a UN Messenger for Peace and award-winning cellist.

Maddie Stopyra, Contributing Writer

On Feb. 16, the Face to Face Speaker Forum held their first event of 2022 at the LJVM Coliseum with Grammy-award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 

Moderated by chief arts correspondent at “PBS NewsHour” Jeffrey Brown, the event highlighted Ma’s time as an adolescent as well as his thoughts on the impact of music on the human experience. 

I floated through college, but I can say that for the last 46 years, everything that I’ve been engaged in has had something to do with a connection I made in college

— Yo-Yo Ma

The Face to Face Speaker Forum is a Wake Forest University-based program that hosts influential individuals who share their knowledge with the Winston-Salem community. In its 2021-2022 season, Ma is the fourth guest speaker, succeeding former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Malcolm Gladwell. 

Ma has received significant awards, including the National Medal of the Arts in 2001 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010. Alongside his musical achievements, Ma has pioneered and contributed to many organizations that fight for social change. Ma is a U.N. Messenger of Peace and the first artist to be appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees. 

When asked about the impact of the speaker forum, assistant director of Face to Face Katie Wolf explained that its focus on a variety of topics aims to benefit the Winston-Salem community as well as Wake Forest University’s student body. 

“Not only will this program bring our community face-to-face with world-class individuals, but it will also serve as a fundraiser for student scholarships,” Wolf said. “Proceeds from the program will go to need-based recipients at Wake Forest.” 

Brown began the conversation with Ma by inquiring about Ma’s time as a college student. 

“I floated through college, but I can say that for the last 46 years, everything that I’ve been engaged in has had something to do with a connection I made in college,” Ma said. 

Connection quickly became a theme throughout the conversation. After reminiscing about his adolescence and upbringing, Ma spoke about the connection between humanity and music. He explained how sound waves can physically touch the skin, which served as a comfort to many in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“One thing I took away [from the event] was that I admired how much he valued people and connecting with them,” freshman Thomas Peterson said. “He said that music is a way to ‘touch’ people and connect their conscious selves with their unconscious selves, which recalls memories and emotions.” 

To display the relationship between music and other forms of art, Ma asked Brown if he would read one of his poems while he played his cello. Brown read a poem entitled “Dedication” as Ma began to play. 

“I am normally not a poetry fan, but I loved how [Ma] took something so short and created this beautiful piece of music,” audience member Alexandra Ensrud said. “It was jaw-dropping.” 

The event concluded with Ma inviting the Wake Forest String Quartet to perform with him. He even offered his cello to a student cellist, senior Morgan Lyke, to play during the performance. Audience members were astonished by Ma’s kindness in this moment. 

“Ma’s selflessness was put on full display when he graciously exchanged his cello with [Lyke], creating a very special moment for her,” Peterson said. 

The next Face to Face Speaker Forum event will be on April 12 in Wait Chapel. Wake Forest will welcome Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and Emmy award-winning chief medical correspondent for CNN. More information about this upcoming event and the Face to Face Speaker Forum can be found on their website.