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A Celebration of Culture and Kindness: Yo-Yo Ma in KC

We Capture the Cellist (And Friends) in Photos

Ma gets help with his bow tie Bow tie solidarity! Yo Yo Ma gets help with his neckwear from Mayor Sly James and Michael Stern, music director of the Kansas City Symphony. (Serena S. Y. Hsu | Flatland)
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Last week, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma arrived in Kansas City with a full dance card.

Ma was in town for a master class and several performances at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. He also made a surprise appearance at a “neighborhood” event.

The master class, part of Ma’s work with international artists, featured Turkish cellist Ezgi Karakus.

Karakus, a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, works closely with Harmony Project in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood and in Independence, Missouri. The project provides free music lessons and instruments for at-risk youth.

“Ezgi was instrumental in helping us set up our music program,” said Marissa LoNigro, Harmony Project’s project coordinator. “She is a fabulous teacher, and we are so lucky to have her.”

Photos by Serena S. Y. Hsu

“I tell them every day I teach, how much I love them,” UMKC music student Ezgi Karakus said of the at-risk kids she teaches. And likewise, at the Kauffman Center, all of her students were there to cheer her on during a master class with Yo-Yo Ma.

Ma critiqued Karakus’ Bach performance. Turkey has a diverse music culture of classical, jazz, trance, hip-hop, and avant-garde music due to its close ties with Europe, Karakus explained in an interview.

Pictured (left to right) are three of Karakus’ students, Lezlie Perez (11), Michelle Ogaz (13) and Jocelyn Alvarado (15). Karakus fell in love with the cello’s soulful sound when she was about these girls’ age, after seeing a performance of the Bremen String Quartet in Turkey.

"I am from Izmir, which has beautiful sea coasts, and we are very close to the beautiful historic site of Ephesus," Karakus said. Similar to her Project Harmony students, she did not come from a music family. However, her parents supported her every step of the way.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Ma shared stories about their urban projects for youth and the power of music and cultural empathy to help troubled youth.

Mayor James, who attended the master class as a guest speaker, spoke of the arts as a way to move past obstacles.

“Music and art help us with our emotions, to get beyond certain places of hate, and to move beyond barriers — warring factions — so that we [can build] together,” James said.

Ma’s surprise visit came Saturday during KCPT’s Mister Rogers Kindness Crawl, one of several events from our parent station celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.

Hear Ma’s Surprise Performance and Remarks

Ma surprises participants in KCPT’s Kindness Crawl with a special performance and remembrances of Fred Rogers at The Chesterfield bar. (Brad Austin | Flatland)

Find other Neighborhood-related events here.

Follow Flatland @FlatlandKC.

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