Chicagoland

Yo-Yo Ma leads historic peace concert at St. Sabina

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
June 25, 2017

Yo-Yo Ma

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma leads the Concert for Peace at St. Sabina Church on June 10. Ma and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Children's Choir and St. Sabina's Top of the Food Chain performed. Proceeds and donations from the concert benefited the anti-violence and Strong Futures employment program at St. Sabina.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma smiles at the crowd during the Concert for Peace at St. Sabina Church on June 10. Ma and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Children's Choir and St. Sabina's Top of the Food Chain performed. Proceeds and donations from the concert benefited the anti-violence and Strong Futures employment program at St. Sabina. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma embraces Father Michael Pfleger during the musician's Concert for Peace at St. Sabina Church on June 10. Ma and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Children's Choir and St. Sabina's Top of the Food Chain performed. Proceeds and donations from the concert benefited the anti-violence and Strong Futures employment program at St. Sabina. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
With tears in his eyes, cellist Yo-Yo Ma gestures toward Father Pfleger as he acknowledged him. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

One Sunday this spring in between morning Masses, Father Michael Pfleger was told a man saying he was Yo-Ya Ma was in the church and wanted to meet him. The senior pastor at St. Sabina Parish, 1210 W. 78th Place, thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.

The world-famous cellist and Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had stopped by the church on his way to the airport saying he followed the priest’s work against violence and wanted to help.

Ma asked if he could play him a song, and brought in his cello. Pfleger responded, "You’re Yo-Yo Ma. You can do the next service."

Afterward, Ma suggested doing a concert in the church.

"What I saw right away was a man whose gentleness, whose humbleness, whose sweet spirit was so real and so authentic that it just touched my heart even more than his music. The man and his character is what blessed me," Pfleger said in remarks at the start of the concert.

The Concert for Peace took place the afternoon of June 10 with more than 1,500 people packing the pews and aisles. Tickets sold for $20 and 300 free tickets were given to community members from programs supported by the parish.

Members of the CSO, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, St. Sabina’s "Top of the Food Chain" band and the Chicago Children’s Choir joined Ma in the performance. Proceeds from the concert, which also was underwritten by major donors including Ma and his wife, totaled $70,000 and benefited the parish’s Strong Futures program. Ma personally chose which program he wanted the concert to benefit.

Started in August 2016, Strong Futures mentors 50 at-risk young men in job preparation, training and life skills. Twenty-eight of the men now have full-time jobs and another 20 are working part-time. (See story in the upcoming July 16 issue on Strong Futures.)

St. Sabina is no stranger to the CSO, since its music director Ricardo Muti also visited the parish in the past.

The fact that people of all races and creeds — from more than 150 ZIP codes — gathered at 78th Street and Racine and not downtown was the highlight of the day, Pfleger said.

"God is truly smiling today," he said.

While the caskets of young people who died on the streets have occupied the sanctuary of St. Sabina, on this day the sanctuary was transformed into a space for a historic concert, Pfleger said.

The music program had a distinct Chicago theme with its roots in the Columbian Exposition.

"In 1893, an amazing thing happened. Chicago brought the world to the city," Ma said.

The program for the concert picked by Ma featured music by composers Antonín Dvořák and Scott Joplin, both of whom attended the exposition but never met.

"Well, today they will meet at St. Sabina," said the soft-spoken cellist.

Dvořák was a teacher and his students taught others, including Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington. They were on the program for the Concert for Peace too.

After the piece by Dvořák where three violinists accompanied Ma, he high-fived the musicians. The whole concert was an emotional experience for Ma, who was visibly moved several times.

After a solo where he performed "Song of the Birds" from memory, with tears in his eyes, he put his hand to his heart and bowed to the crowd who gave him a standing ovation.

At the end of the concert, Ma told the gathering, "I’ve been in tears all afternoon" listening to Pfleger’s words, the musicians and the children’s choir.

He thanked Pfleger for the work "you and your colleagues have been doing for the last 42 years."

"Music doesn’t do much. Maybe that’s its strength. … We hear the sounds and they enter into our hearts, our minds and then you’ll do something. Words mean so much. Your words mean so much. But words and sounds mean a lot when they’re deeply felt," Ma said. "Let’s hope that everyone here can give of themselves and substance to solve a problem that nobody else can but us."

Topics:

  • parish peace project
  • yo-yo ma
  • st sabina
  • concert
  • michael pfleger

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