Yo-Yo Ma Thrilled To Play At Inauguration

image4728875x.jpg
On Tuesday, Yo-Yo Ma will play as part of a classical quartet just moments just before Barack Obama takes the oath of office.
CBS

He's perhaps the most recognized classical musician on the planet. He's a cultural humanitarian whose good works have caught the ear of the next president of the United States.

"I have to pinch myself to actually believe that 'yes we can' do it," said renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

On Tuesday, his cello will punctuate that sentiment in the moment just before Barack Obama takes the oath of office, CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports.

Has he considered that this will be the largest audience of his life?

"I am so unbelievably elated," he said.

Presidents have chosen poets, sopranos, and even choirs to perform at past inaugurations.

But never before has one picked a classical quartet during such a critical moment in the ceremony.

Along with Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and pianist Gabriella Montero will introduce their ode to Mr. Obama, a piece created by famed "Star Wars" composer John Williams.

"It's very hard to put four minutes, to compose a piece that's short but contains a lot, yet solemn and uplifting at the same time," Ma said.

He gave us a small sampling of the work "Air and Simple Gifts."

In it, there are some magical musical moments. He described: "and then suddenly out of nowhere you hear …" a certain familiar tune ring out.

It won't be his first serenade. Ma has played for five sitting presidents.

We brought him to the Kennedy Presidential Library to share one of those memories.

At the tender age of seven, he and his sister played for President John F. Kennedy.

"This is unbelievable, isn't it? It was like 45 years ago," he said.

Ma is both student and teacher with a humility that can offer a lesson to even the most hopeless of cases.

When Miller showed him a bit of her own playing - a little tune called "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," Ma offered encouragement.

"Nice. Wow," he said.

Ma finds excitement in small things. But nothing beats being the opening act for a man he's most anxious to meet.

What will he say to Mr. Obama when he meets him?

"Um, by that time it will probably be, 'congratulations, Mr. President,'" he laughed.