Guest Blog: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Moment for The People's Music School Students

Monday, June 27, 2016

Editor's Note: Forefront Member, The People's Music School (TPMS), performed at our Annual Luncheon on June 8, 2016. The students were hired to perform for our 800 guests (which would include a certain world-renowned cellist) and were surprised when Yo-Yo Ma took the stage to perform with them! In this guest blog post, TPMS President + Artistic Director, Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa shares one of her student's experience while practicing for this performance of a lifetime.


Giang Z. is Vietnamese and a first-generation American. His parents do not speak English. He is a sophomore at Rickover Naval Academy and has studied at The People’s Music School for 7 years. He joined the string quartet in our SLAM (Service, Leadership, and Mentorship) program this year. Giang, naturally shy, was uncomfortable being in any kind of spotlight. Through SLAM, his teachers and mentors hoped to bring him out of his shell!

People's Music School Practicing for Performance with Yo-Yo Ma

TPMS students working hard to prepare for the Luncheon, with Yo-Yo Ma’s photo strategically placed for encouragement!

The opportunity to perform at the Forefront Annual Luncheon, where Yo-Yo Ma would be in the audience, inspired the kids to work harder than ever. They met for long evenings, multiple times per week to perfect the piece, the 3rd movement of Holst's Brook Green Suite.  Giang was struggling with his part and we wondered how we could arrange for some extra support, which would be beyond our budget constraints.  To the rescue came TPMS board member Michael Buck, a finance professional by day but a trained cellist in a former life, who volunteered to coach Giang one-on-one. Michael then devoted his nights and weekends to be with Giang, clapping rhythms, practicing together phrase by phrase, to be sure he could play with confidence at the performance.

Michael was in the audience when Yo-Yo Ma joined the students on stage. The look on the kids’ faces was priceless - and we can only imagine the intimidation Giang must have felt! Such a young student experiencing such a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

People's School of Music Performing with Yo-Yo Ma

Giang Z. (right), sophomore TPMS student, plays cello next to Yo-Yo Ma.

After the incredible performance (and a rousing standing ovation!), Giang asked Michael, “So… How did I do?” He said with pride, “You rocked it!” Giang, a young man of very few words, could not stop talking about the experience on the ride home.

A few days later, the quintet returned with a rock star’s welcome at The People’s Music School’s Annual Performapaloozathon – where we bring all 500+ students from across the city in a day of performances and community building.  Our greater community cheered proudly as they heard about the students’ experience at the Forefront event, and the quintet closed out the day with an encore performance of Holst’s Brook Green Suite.

Yo-Yo Ma with People's Music School

SLAM Program Manager Sarah Morrow reflected after the event, “This experience allowed Giang to finally understand what it means to ‘be a cellist’ and not just ‘be someone who plays cello.’”  Program Director Carolyn Sybesma added, “This was a proud moment for our entire community – when one of our own achieves something amazing, we all celebrate!”

And THAT is what we call a success story. 

Peoples Music School Takes a Bow with Yo-Yo Ma

Read more about the Forefront Annual Luncheon and the TPMS performance on the Forefront blog and from Susan Noyes at Make It Better.

See more photos and a full video of the performance.

Learn more about The People’s Music School and our SLAM (Service, Leadership And Mentorship) Program for teens. 


~ Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa, President and Artistic Director, The People's Music School