MT freshman gets rare class from cellist Yo-Yo Ma

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Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma with MTSU student Cremaine Booker.
MTSU freshman Cremaine Booker spent 30 minutes playing for and getting tips from one of the world’s premier musicians.

Booker, 18, was one of three students from the Nashville area chosen to receive instruction from world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma on his recent trip to Middle Tennessee. The other students were from Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music and home school.

“It is great for the student, for the student and for the school. … It’s a great opportunity to learn and perform in front of a famous cellist,” said Xiao-Fan Zhang, music professor and Booker’s teacher.

Booker played a piece by Franz Joseph Hayden and then Ma critiqued his technique.

“It was kind of like a private lesson, but with everybody watching,” Booker said.

Booker was chosen by recommendations from his teachers, including his high school orchestra teacher Jennifer Painter from Nashville School of Arts.

“Obviously, this is a great honor for Cremaine and by extension the School of Music of MTSU,” said George Riordan, director of MTSU School of Music. “I think it’s indicative of the increasing talent among our students.”

Another example of MTSU’s growing prominence was InTune Monthly, a magazine for music-minded high school students, listing the university as one of the best music schools in the country. Austin Peay and Belmont also made the list.

Riordan said the program is becoming nationally known for producing quality musicians.

Booker came to Murfreesboro from Nashville, after his parents moved to Dallas, Texas over the summer, partly because of the program and because he wants to teach music after graduation.

“(And) they offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse,” he said. MTSU gave him a full scholarship and a new cello to come to the university.

Booker is majoring in music performance and education with an eye to graduate school, so he can teach at the university level.

Having a master class with Ma is a step in the right direction.

Ma, who has won 15 Grammy Awards, was in Nashville for a three-night performance Oct. 16-18 with percussionist Joseph Gramley and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

The premier cellist takes time to conduct master classes with young performers while touring and has trained or mentored thousands of students worldwide.

According to Ma’s Web site, “he works to connect music to students' daily surroundings and activities with the goal of making music and creativity a vital part of children's lives from an early age.”

He has reached out to youth by appearing on various PBS programs, like Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and Arthur.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or

Tagged under  MTSU, MUSIC

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