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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

SIEGEL: This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. And our next item is about the latest project to spring from the fertile, creative mind of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It's a contest. Here's Yo-Yo on the first track of his new CD playing "Dona Nobis Pacem," the Latin round that means "Give us peace."

(Soundbite of "Dona Nobis Pacem")

SIEGEL: Yo-Yo Ma's new CD "Songs of Joy and Peace" is a series of collaborations, mostly Christmas songs, featuring an eclectic assortment of musicians - Dave Brubeck, Renee Fleming, James Taylor. Here are bassist, Edgar Meyer, and the mandolinist, Chris Thile, doing their version of "Dona Nobis Pacem."

(Soundbite of "Dona Nobis Pacem" by Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile)

SIEGEL: So here's the Yo-Yo Ma challenge: Produce your own virtual collaboration with him. Download Yo-Yo playing "Dona Nobis Pacem" from the website indabamusic.com, add your music and mix, then upload it. You can hear all the submissions at the website, and after the contest deadline, which is New Year's Eve, Yo-Yo Ma will pick a winner. He's trying to use the Internet to make an interactive experience out of his CD.

Mr. YO-YO MA (Cellist): The thing that I've always been slightly frustrated with was that the idea of, you know, of a CD - it's a material possession that you could put in the shelf. And the idea of music for me is always about both the communication and the sharing of content, and so the interactive part is missing. So, indabamusic.com has this wonderful site where people can actually drop in their tracks. And we first dropped in a number of tracks for people to play with. And then the idea is we would then listen to what they put together, and at the end of which, one track will be chosen, and I will meet that person, and I will do something with that person.

SIEGEL: So, what you've done here is you've taken, I guess, what's been an active imagination for as long as there's been recorded sound imagining - me imagining what I would do if I were playing piano along with you as I'm listening to you play the cello, and now I can actually do that, in a way, and not only can I get to hear it, but you might even get to hear it.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Yes, exactly. And, in fact, if you would like to participate in this…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YO-YO Ma: …you still have a number of days…

SIEGEL: Yeah, OK.

Mr. YO-YO MA: …to go and drop in a track, and actually, I will listen to it.

SIEGEL: We're going to listen right now to some these submissions that are - that we can hear online. Everyone could go and listen to the pieces that other people have submitted. And for example, this is from - I guess it's Tashio(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Now, this is sort of big buildup here of the genre, I guess.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And at some moment, talk about surprise, because we don't hear you in there yet, do we?

Mr. YO-YO MA: Not that I could tell. I'm drowning in it.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: What do you think? It's kind of, Give us peace, dude.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Well, this is interesting because, you know, this is like peace in the context of what? And obviously, this is so energetic.

SIEGEL: Mm hmm.

Mr. YO-YO MA: And surprising. There's some surprising harmonic changes in there. I give this one a lot of attention, because I'm thinking, who are you, dude?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YO-YO MA: And what are trying to tell me?

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: And here's a very surprising take on "Dona Nobis Pacem." This was the submission of Mark Wright. It's called "Sold As A Lullaby," and we'll hear you playing "Dona Nobis Pacem," and then two voices, which I'm assured are - one of them is singing in English, and I'm assured the other one is singing in Hindustani, a language that is kind of a Hindi/Urdu mix. Here it goes.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Mm hmm.

(Soundbite of "Sold As A Lullaby")

SIEGEL: That's very peaceful.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Hey, Robert, this is actually really interesting because here it takes, you know, the original "Dona Nobis Pacem" is obviously something. But this person, Mark Wright is obviously extending the idea of vocalized music beyond sort of the medieval tradition. So, it actually takes it into a present age. It takes the vocal element and it seems well arranged. I think it feels quite original without insisting on it being original.

SIEGEL: Well now we're going to hear - this is the submission from Mike Kawala(ph). It's called "Her Eyes."

(Soundbite of "Her Eyes")

Unidentified Man (singing): Every time I look at you I'm falling in love, Maybe it's her eyes, she keeps me in control, Every time I look at you you control me, and I can't stop...

SIEGEL: See, after that dutiful prelude that we had there, now we're into the real music.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And I think that's about it for you in this one. Or maybe you're buried under there somewhere. But you know…

Mr. YO-YO MA: That's interesting because, you know, I think obviously Mike has a particular view on, you know, sort of like a bass ostinato under the "Dona Nobis Pacem" theme. But now, he's riffing into a different kind of vibe, literally. And I'm not sure whether that includes, you know, the content of "Dona Nobis." I would have to dig further in order to find it.

SIEGEL: I don't want to prejudge the competition here, Yo-Yo. But I think it's on - it would be a long shot for Mike to be the winner...

Mr. YO-YO MA: Well you know, again…

SIEGEL: Without further clarification from him.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Exactly. I would like some clarification and I think that maybe it's the play is hidden. But on the other hand, I also think that you can only hide so much, because people will listen to something, maybe a couple of times. And if it's too well hidden, then you know, it's a deep, dark secret.

SIEGEL: So, you're interested here, both in technical proficiency, but also in connecting with the theme and doing something that somehow creatively enhances the notion of "Dona Nobis Pacem" with your cello.

Mr. YO-YO MA: Absolutely. I think, you know, when you deal with that subject of Give Us Peace, I think it is such a wide subject, but it does need very focused approaches in order to achieve that goal both musically, as well as you know - as we all know, in real life.

SIEGEL: Well, Yo-Yo Ma as always, it's been great fun talking with you. And thanks for talking with us about your project.

Mr. YO-YO MA: What a treat. Thank you so much for being interested.

SIEGEL: And you can find a link to Yo-Yo's contest and hear tracks from his latest CD at nprmusic.org.

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