The Yo-Yo Ma competition in Three Parts:
Part One by Rhonda
Part Two by Rhonda
Part Three, a few Reader Replies


Four days before a December 31 deadline, an astute friend informed me of a Yo-Yo Ma competition (which apparently began in October!) For the competition, you were invited to create a musical submission based upon the sacred”Dona Nobis Pacem” melody, in the hopes of winning a collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. I would dearly love the opportunity for that collaboration, so I set to work immediately!

Over the four days, I worked hour after hour and into the night, between and during unbelievable winter weather outside! Also during this time, I was heart-stricken by the escalating troubles happening in the Middle East, going from bad to worse. As many of you know, I spent 2006-2007 living there, teaching music to children at a wonderful music conservatory, so I experienced the situation first-hand. Back in the studio, working on the music for the Yo-Yo Ma competition, I could not think of a better melody to be playing: “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Give us Peace). I tell you, I played it on my flute like playing a genuine prayer out into the world!

Between world-strife and the strangest winter weather ever, I finished my rendition in time to submit to the competition.

Now it is your turn…you can vote for me on the website! Please don’t hesitate to contact all your friends to vote, too! Competition voting ends on January 10.

—Rhonda Larson
January 2, 2009


Of first importance, I thank every single one of you who took the time to vote for my submission for the Yo-Yo Ma contest! Because of you, I placed third, for which I’m very happy ! As for the second part of the competition, where Yo-Yo Ma chooses his winner, I received only an honorable mention, and that only because of your votes! It means that at this moment I am not invited to collaborate with the master. That’s too bad, because I was so ready for that opportunity and I saw this as the most perfect of serendipitous happenings (that is an entirely different story!), with exactly the right person at exactly the right time in my life. I was already there in my mind, working with Yo-Man, and God said, “it was Good”. But here is why I cannot feel bad, and in fact, feel much personal satisfaction—pride, even, with this entire experience:

I had only three days to invent something (Ok, I had FOUR, but I took one day off). I did not know if I was capable of doing anything with the melody, let alone finishing something I would not be embarrassed about. To refresh your memories as the contest details, the required melody was a sacred ancient one, Dona Nobis Pacem, whose meaning is, “Give us Peace”. My first instinct was to do what gives the best impression, and I love doing: strut my virtuosic stuff, wow ’em with my abilities! But when I truly lived with the melody and thought about what it “meant”, I thought it entirely inappropriate to create a virtuosic flute piece out of it, because it would be just self-indulgent arrogance—I thought the melody deserved to become a new World Anthem for Peace (and that is how I did my version, complete with tears, says I!), and I wanted it to have that nobility. (Hence my version titled “Dona Nobis Pacem–nobilis”.)

Turns out I was exactly wrong: they only chose on virtuosity, period! Mine really wasn’t “out there” like the ones they chose, which seemed to me quite self-indulgent and rather un-listenable versions (except for the Handbells, did I mention those sweet but sloppy things that also won?), but in my opinion, none who won offered music you really want to put on your CD player and contemplate the Universe… Obviously, that was not their goal for the chosen. I completely read the wrong book for the test, and I’m pretty sure I ditched class that day that the announcement was made that the melody was only to be a vehicle to self-indulgence, never mind it’s meaning. What a dork I am.

But that is why I can feel good about my contribution, as I had made the conscious decision that it should be about Peace, with a loving mood. Now I can finally take the time to expand/finish the piece….this was only the ‘beginning’, from three day’s work, and I’m happy I COULD do it!

I already have an amazing and happy career, and have been privileged to be a musician full time, all of my life! I lack no good thing, and when I think about “Give us Peace”, all I can think of is my dear friends in the Middle East who aren’t even sure if they will live through the day, have food to eat, experience the luxury of electricity–even a home to live in, or have anything to live for in their future, never mind a goal such as personal freedom or recognition. This puts everything into perspective for me.

Still, I can’t help but hope for an eventual collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma. He just doesn’t know what I bring to the table, because I didn’t flaunt my flaut. Perhaps I will write him? Rent a plane with a banner flying behind it with my web address, and “Contact her or Stagnate”—something wistfully subtle like that? Or maybe I’ll just let it go, and get on with the vacuuming and taking out the garbage (in my concert clothes, of course–in case someone important shows up while I’m working)!

Thanks again, dear friends. It truly was you that allowed me to stand out, in whatever subtle way I did! If you want to hear my version and the final chosen few, click HERE

Love and peace,

January 18, 2009

PART THREE – Readers Comments

Just heard the lovely “Dona Nobis” and then read about the circumstances surrrounding it’s creation. I was driving through your area on the 21st of December and got caught in one heck of a blizzard…
It was as if nature was saying STOP, let go of all of the hectic joys and weary blues that surrounded me. Put aside your schedules, your plans and schemes.. just STOP.

And now I hear this lovely rendition of a melody I have known most of my 54 years, and it seems to float out at me from it’s own special place in it’s own special way.. free from the constraints of time and of gravity. And it was being made just up the road from where I was being taught a lesson in humility by the forces of nature. That just tickles my imagination in about a million ways.

There was NATURE showing her power and beauty to us all.

There I was, pounding the steering wheel and railing against nature.

There was Rhonda Larson, hunkered down with her flute and keyboard, digging deeper into herself and into the truth of the tune while the winds pounded around her.

And now that piece of beauty forged comes to the traveler who just happened to be passing by at that moment….

Cool. And, YA GOT MY VOTE!



….I’m a 21 year old flutist on your mailing list, and just wanted to drop you a word in response to your updates with the Yo-Yo Ma contest.

I do not study flute in school, but I’ve been playing since I was ten years old and can say that involvement in music has changed my life. The musical people – the artists – I have met during my years of learning and growing have changed me forever. My high school flute teacher, my friends from flute choir…we grew up together in music! And a few of the most memorable experiences I have had with them were the priviledge of experiencing your music, Rhonda.

Seeing you at the Pittsburgh 2006 convention, showing off the beautiful Hall Crystal Flutes and playing your compositions, I was so impressed and affected by your performance in that small room. And I am moved by your thoughtful and beautiful entry in the Yo-Yo Ma competition. I voted for you with all of my heart! Whatever comes of this, I’m sure that God has His plan for you and that your music will continue to inspire people you never even met, like me.

Thanks for sharing your music and your poise with all of us, especially the children you work with around the world. Thank you also for inspiring a student (who won’t spend her professional life as a musician) to continue practicing and participating in music.

The best of luck and blessings to you,


… Hold your head high. You did what was best, and for the right reasons. Virtue does not always win every game, but there is a peace that comes with the recognition that you wanted to make a really musical statement. After all, “Peace” doesn’t focus on the “I’, but rather the “we”. In the realm of cosmic knowledge, you played for Peace, and that is all that matters. As you know, competitions are never lost for those who enter and grow as a result. Only those who must win, and cannot accept any other outcome, are the real losers.

We have been heart sick about what has been going on in Israel/Palestine. What in God’s name can we do? As Bob Dilan and others sang, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” Let’s raise our heads to the wind and listen. In so doing, we will clear out our own prejudices and let in the refreshment of new ideas….



…. whatever “wrong book” you’re reading … keep reading it!



Well said Rhonda! You composed/played from conviction…which led to your eviction…yet ultimately redemption….cause it ain’t over yet!

The sounds of healing that you sent out to the world, especially Gaza, cannot be measured by votes of popularity/polarity.

Proud of You,


….Keep following your heart and who knows – someday Yo-Yo Ma may enter a contest to play with you!

There is no substitute for loving what you do, and you bring joy and love to everything you play.



I am VERY disappointed with the results of the competition….

I just want you to know that to me (and to a lot of other flute players I know), you are the best.

You are the one who sets the standard for amazing flute playing and music making, you are the one who inspires hundreds of boys and girls who start playing the instrument and need inspiration, you are the one who goes directly to our hearts and amazes our senses.

You are a true winner, no matter what….. I know you will not give up! If Yo-Yo Ma were smart, he would invite you to play an entire album with him! I hope one day he realizes that, so the music world would win.

In the meantime, please keep up your superb flute playing, which makes this world a better place to be.



I read your Yo-Yo Ma competition report with great interest. Those of us who know your work, and your spirit through your artistry, are not disappointed that you stayed true to yourself. The Lord has a way of working through these twist and turns in life and eventually speaks to and through us in renewed and deeper ways. When Nathaniel, in John the first chapter, believed in Jesus, Jesus addressed him saying, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Mundane reality is always transformed by eternal reality. Life’s artistry given to an eternal message will not be contained in one venue.

Blessings upon your ministry of musical transformation in the lives of people all over the world,



….I will be awaiting the celestial conclusion. In the meantime, keep on with the vacuuming and garbage disposal, though please wear your jeans so the neighbors don’t think your outta yer mind. Those are the tasks that keep us grounded.



…….Well, those of us who love your playing and admire your skills respect you even more for what you say here, for what you did! You stood against the tide of mediocrity and presented /real /music. Right on, Rhonda!! I can only imagine that you will get to work with someone like Yo-Yo, if not Yo-Yo himself (Mark O’Connor is pretty fabulous, or Bela Fleck would be a trip to work with : ).



…..In the course of paying one’s dues there comes an epiphany that nothing good ever (ever..? Ever.) arises from a ‘battle of the bands” competition…

I reached that moment of clarity when a band I was in that had a recording contract was asked by a promoter to act as a ‘ringer’ in such a contest to elevate the talent for those assembled. The night before we played to 3000 fans opening for Molly Hatchet to rave reviews and lost the battle of the bands to a group of kids whose lead singer played heavy metal saw with a bow. They were getting booed off stage until the kid accidentally lacerated his forearm and sprayed blood all over the stage. The crowd loved it and we placed second barely eking out in front of yet another KISS tribute band that used a dwarf woman dancing seductively in front of them in mini skirt and go-go boots.

Show biz…

Stay true to your gift. Yo Yo Ma and others will notice.

p.s., I voted twice for you. – ahem…


….I would suggest you continue to create your version of the piece and let others hear it. Release it.

I would also suggest you continue down this road. People enjoy virtuosity, it impresses them, but what touches a heart………well that is another matter. Continue to listen to your heart and take the new melodies that come to you. Express what is deep within you…



….You are a champion – you had the right idea and you should be proud – I am always inspired by entertainment that uplifts and helps the world to be a little better. At the end of the day you can have peace with your goals and ambitions to make this world a more peaceful place – that matters so much more than any marketing scheme. Your version should be heard and we , your fans will look forward to hearing it being inspired to try a little harder to bring world peace and recognize that it is in the mundane and difficult tasks of life that we truly help one another. It is when we make personal sacrifice that we help others the most. Good luck to you! Thanks for your music!!



….I think it IS imperative that you send Yo-Yo Ma a recording of your work…Your talent is so unique that it is important for him to hear what you do..

Glad to hear you are doing housework in your concert clothes – it adds class to a somewhat less than classy task….



Rhonda Larson