Bekkerus: Accidental change

Columnist Paula Bekkerus expresses her relationship with music in terms of change.

Paula Bekkerus

I saw world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in concert with the San Antonio Symphony in June 2016. I didn’t know it at the time, but he would come to be one of my favorite musicians and role models.

Yo-Yo Ma came to New York from France at age 7 in 1962. A prodigy, he performed for President John F. Kennedy at age 7 and at Carnegie Hall at age 9. He studied at both Juilliard and Harvard, earning his degree from the latter in 1977.

He was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 1978, and he earned an honorary doctorate in music from Harvard in 1991. Yo-Yo Ma’s discography includes over 100 albums with 18 Grammy Award wins.

Similar to Yo-Yo Ma, I was born into a musical family. Music was never a choice I consciously made; it was always there, and it was something I did with my family and friends. It has shaped who I am, where I’m at today and who I spend my time with.

I can’t say I have 18 Grammys, but I can still relate to Yo-Yo Ma because music, as an experience, is universal. Music crosses boundaries of language, age and nationality. It unites people across different cultures, religions and beliefs. One Harvard study has shown how music transcends cultures.

“The finding suggests that not only is music deeply rooted in human nature, but that some types of songs transcend cultural boundaries,” according to an article from The Harvard Gazette.

Although there are differences between styles of music, the common goals and emotions are the same. By listening to music, we gain insight into the lives of people around the world. This shared experience enables us to appreciate other cultures and empathize with others.

“Culture leads us to seek truth, build trust and act in service of one another,” Yo-Yo Ma said in an article for Time. “Culture is the foundation on which we will imagine and build a world in which we reaffirm our commitment to equality and safety for all, we act with empathy and we know that we can always do better.”

“We can always do better.” No one is perfect, not even Yo-Yo Ma, but it is up to us as individuals to grow and learn on a daily basis. Even if it doesn’t feel like we’re changing, we are, just really slowly over a long period of time. Compared to yesterday, you may not feel any difference, but compared to a year ago, you may be a completely changed person, and it didn’t happen overnight.

Every day, we learn new things that change our outlook on life, that shape our perspective and ultimately change who we are. One of Yo-Yo Ma’s most famous quotes describes how we “accidentally learn,” which shapes who we are as people:

“Culture opens our hearts to one another. And the currency in culture is not money, but trust,” he said. “Each day, I move toward that which I do not understand. The result is a continuous accidental learning which constantly shapes my life.”

We may not actively make decisions or learn something new every day. We may not feel as though we actively chose to be musicians or chose where we are in our lives. But we still feel the effects of each and every second.

This constant change in life can be daunting; however, it’s not meant to be existential. Rather, I find it hopeful: at any moment, we have control over our lives, beliefs, values and connections with other people. Change doesn’t have to be scary.

“Rather than get depressed when change occurs … what would be the opposite of fear?” Yo-Yo Ma said. “I would say it’s hope.”