The composer Bruce Adolphe first met Yo-Yo Ma at the Juilliard School in New York City in 1970. Mr. Ma was just 15 years old at the time (though he’d already played for J.F.K. at the White House). Mr. Adolphe had just written his first cello piece. “Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing,” Mr. Adolphe remembers. “I’d never written for the instrument before.”
Mr. Adolphe had shown a draft of his composition to a Juilliard instructor, who informed him that the piece featured a chord that was impossible to play. Before Mr. Adolphe could correct the music, however, Mr. Ma decided to rehearse the composition in his dorm room. “Yo-Yo played through my piece, sight-reading the whole thing,” Mr. Adolphe says. “And when that impossible chord came, he somehow found a way to play it.”
Mr. Adolphe told Mr. Ma what the professor had said and asked how he had managed to play the impossible chord. They went through the piece again, and when Mr. Ma came to the impossible chord, Mr. Adolphe yelled “Stop!” They looked at Mr. Ma’s left hand—it was contorted on the fingerboard, in a position that was nearly impossible to hold. “You’re right,” said Mr. Ma, “you really can’t play that!” Yet, somehow, he did.
When Mr. Ma plays today, he still strives for that state of the beginner. “One needs to constantly remind oneself to play with the abandon of the child who is just learning the cello,” Mr. Ma says. “Because why is that kid playing? He is playing for pleasure.”
—Adapted from “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 19. Copyright © 2012 by Jonah Lehrer.
Read the complete article; there’s a ton more: Jonah Lehrer on How to Be Creative – WSJ.com.