By Ed Runyan
and Graig Graziosi
A rapt audience at the Warren Community Amphitheatre on Monday evening got a taste of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma – and he got a glimpse earlier in the day of what the Valley has to offer.
The overflow crowd appeared to be a mix of people familiar with Ma’s work and ones drawn by the opportunity to see and hear a world-famous performer for free.
“He’s a world-renowned musician,” Reid Young, band director at Warren G. Harding High School, said before the show began.
“You have to hear the unique sound he can make with the cello and the unique way he interprets the music. I think it’s an incredible experience for the community. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
That was what drew Geraldine Rinehart of Warren to the show.
“I hear he is fantastic. I have never seen him,” she said before the show. She’s seen some jazz and classical concerts and also loves Polka music, she said.
Pam Todd of New Waterford said she and her daughter, of Columbiana, brought four grandsons to the show partly because grandson Colin Mercer, 7, will be playing with the Youngstown Symphonette starting in about a month.
The Symphonette is a younger version of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Symphony.
“You can’t pass up the chance to see Yo-Yo Ma for free. You would pay a fortune to see him in New York,” Todd said.
Ma began the concert by performing solo and then took a seat in the cello section for several pieces, including “The William Tell Overture” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
When the show was over, a little after 8 p.m., after Ma had come back out to play one last solo piece, Therese Lussier Hurlbert of Cort-land deemed the whole experience “exceptional” and thinks the community should “tell the whole country about the gems we have in the arts in Warren. We have everything here.”
That sentiment was a big part of a panel discussion that took place after Ma and the orchestra had finished playing.
The arts in the community are among the reasons the quality of life in the Youngstown-Warren area is “second to none,” said Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator.
As for the importance of the arts, Ewing said, “All of the data shows you want students to get to higher levels of thinking, higher levels of education. Arts support that. It helps to free up the mind to allow it take that next step to become an engineer or a doctor.”
Youngstown was the fourth stop on the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts’ “Art Across America” tour.
The day’s events began at the Butler Institute of American Art, where Ma attended a private lunch and discussion with New York Times columnist David Brooks and Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts regarding the state of art and the community in the Mahoning Valley.
“We want to learn what’s happening here,” Brooks said. “Today is about getting to know the story of Youngstown.”
The discussion was part of Brooks’ “Weave: The Social Fabric Project,” a national listening tour focused on the “loss of community” and social fragmentation.
Brooks believes that solving society’s problems is most possible – and most prevalent – at the local level.
“I talk to people in Congress and they’re miserable because they can’t get anything done,” Brooks said. “Then I talk to mayors and they’re happy because they’re actually making things happen in their cities.
Rutter said she hoped to identify “ambassadors” in the region for continued dialog with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She characterized the “Arts Across America” tour as a way to develop partnerships and support music in communities across the country.
“We wanted to know how we, as the national cultural center, could support art in every day cities and communities,” Rutter said. “With each visit I’ve left with more ideas to take back to the center.”
Before the lunch began, Ma was taken by Lou Zona, the executive director and chief curator of the Butler Institute of American Art, on a quick tour of the museum.
Ma – no stranger to the art world – was familiar with several of the pieces in the gallery and had to be coaxed away from the art by event staff to begin the lunch on time.
At the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center, students were inspired by Ma. The juvenile justice center asked that the students’ last names be excluded.
“It was a wonderful day for me and helped me think about the future a lot,” said Saevion.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” said Quortez. “It’s just nice someone famous came in to talk to us and nice for us to have a chance to meet him – a celebrity.”
Niquaia Wright of Farrell, Pa., who was visiting a relative and said the experience would help students become more well-rounded. “It might spark something in them and broaden their horizons,” she said.
Being a part of that experience was exciting to Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court.
“Ma taught the children so many lessons about how to find art outlets and talents each one of them have,” she said. “He also talked about forgiveness – forgiving others and forgiving themselves ... Seeing someone like Yo-Yo Ma, it tells students, ‘You are something – you are someone.’ ... The best thing you can do in a community is give children hope and I think today it was instilled in all of them.”
Contributor: Staff writer Amanda Tonoli