Rene Fleming and Yo Yo Ma Stop By


There was about to be a moment. One of those tiny moments one never forgets.

I was out for a head-clearing walk after spending some hours producing some unusually muddy writing. Thinking about how I really didn’t need the Popeye’s Chicken calling me across the street from Lakeview High School. The neighborhood high school.

Suddenly some cars pulled up and a woman popped out with a smile and radiance, which, even from 50 feet away, would make even the most stubborn spring flowers bloom. Here’s her picture.

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All thoughts of Popeye’s gone, my eyes 3 times their normal size, next out on the sidewalk was a slight, friendly looking man in a blue shirt, with his sleeves rolled up, who looked like he could be some sort of Ambassador for World Harmony. Somebody that everyone would want to know.

Lakeview is not some elite bastion of the super rich. The late Tom Bosely, Richie Cunningham’s Dad on Happy Days, went to Lakeview. There is a movie called “The Bodyguard” (not the one with Whitney Houston) that was filmed at Lakeview. One of the best movies ever shot in the city. But more than anything else, Lakeview is a neighborhood school. And these two magnetic people were not from the neighborhood. These two belonged to the world.

As the small group surrounding the two made their way inside, I recognized the man. “Hey! That’s Yo Yo Ma!” What’s he doing here??

Walking home, the woman’s identity came to me. That’s Renee Fleming! (Of course I had to confirm that by checking out pictures of Renee Fleming on the Internet for an hour or so.)

Through a collaborative project, courtesy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and The Merit School of Music, Fleming, Ma and Damian Woetzel, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, were at Lakeview simply as a way to connect the arts to the way people live.

That’s it. Nothing more. It wasn’t sponsored by VISA. No political favors were exchanged. Instead, these world-class artists spoke with the kids, sang and played. And they listened. The Poetry Club got up to recite as Yo Yo Ma played Bach. Fleming sang with the choir. As the kids looked on in amazement that a human being could really sing like that.

There was even a moment when, in the auditorium filled with normally leaping and fidgeting teenagers, the crowd of kids went totally still. Turned off all their phones. Because Yo Yo Ma was playing Rachmaninoff.

The kids working on the performing arts knew that there was a chance for a trip downtown to see some sort of performance. But instead these world renowned artists came to them.

In addition to the trip to Lakeview, Fleming and Ma also gave an impromptu concert in the atrium of a downtown office building yesterday. Again, bringing art to the people.

While back up in the neighborhoods, heads still reeling from the visit, more than one young boy or girl had the same thought.

They were thinking, “Someday. Someday, I’m gonna do that too. Someday, when I’m an artist and the world knows my name, I’m gonna remember what happened at my school when Renee Fleming and Yo Yo Ma dropped by. And I’ll go back and visit with some kids.”

Just like Renee Fleming and Yo Yo Ma.

(Originally published in the now gone “Open Salon”. March 2012)

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2 Responses to “Rene Fleming and Yo Yo Ma Stop By”

  1. Naomi de Plume Says:

    Oh, to be in the auditorium, those lucky kids will forever have that memory – could you imagine? I think one of my favorite Yo Yo Ma memories is when he played at Mr. Rogers memorial. Don’t know why, that just always stuck with me.

    Here’s to special, non-sponsered moments, Chi Guy.

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