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Arts & Culture

A First (Master)Class Opportunity

Doctoral Student Cellist Chosen for Yo-Yo Ma Instructional Video

By Shannon Clark M.Jour. ’22

Titilayo Ayangade poses with her cello

Titilayo Ayangade, a doctoral student in the School of Music, was selected by cello great Yo-Yo Ma to be filmed playing alongside him in his MasterClass video.

Photo by Titilayo Ayangade, courtesy of duo kayo

As an up-and-coming professional cellist, Titilayo Ayangade D.M.A. ’22 is no stranger to performing onstage. But after months of Zooming her classes in the University of Maryland School of Music from the couch of her New York City apartment, it was an eye-opener to emerge from her pandemic shell at the Boston Symphony Hall, playing next to the world’s most famous cellist.

“I didn’t even have time to freak out,” Ayangade said of the whirlwind series of events that led to her appearing in Yo-Yo Ma’s MasterClass that debuted Oct. 21. It’s the latest episode in the online streaming education series that rounds up some of the world’s greatest musicians, athletes and other experts to provide inspiration and instruction.

She had first encountered Ma in 2015 during her fellowship with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She later auditioned to attend a virtual class he presented at UMD in April 2021, made possible by Sam Steppel and the Barbara K. Steppel Memorial Cello Fellowship, and won that opportunity along with two other students.

“A month later, I got a really cryptic email that said, ‘We are filming a ‘Masterclass’ with a world-famous cellist.’ I was with my mom, and I said, ‘I think they are asking me to do this really crazy thing.’”

She had only two weeks to practice before the filming, and then Ayangade was whisked off to Boston in a state of nervous excitement.

What sticks with Ayangade from the day are images of the odd accoutrements that accompany Ma’s level of renown—“I remember walking into his office and there was enough sushi to feed one hundred people,” —and his companionable informality.

“He took out his cello—and he brought his carbon fiber cello because he thought it would be fun—and immediately the nerves dissipated,” she said. “He emphasized that he didn’t want it to seem like he was the teacher and we were the students, but that we were sharing with one another.”

Sharing the music is a central mission for the 29-year-old Cincinnati native who grew up a block away from a performing arts elementary school, and has felt rooted in music her entire life. Ayangade earned her undergraduate degree in musical performance at the University of Cincinnati-College-Conservatory of Music and her master’s at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, she is taught at Maryland by Eric Kutz, associate professor of cello and strings.

“All music is the sum total of our life experiences,” said Kutz. “Titi is able to tap into that. Her goal is to take the music she is playing, to bring it to life and to share something meaningful with others.”

Today she’s a member of the award-winning Thalea String Quartet, known for its very 21st-century take on chamber music; last year the entire group was awarded doctoral fellowships in the School of Music.

Neglected musical voices are also a focus of a second musical group she plays in, DuoKayo, with her boyfriend, violist Edwin Kaplan.

“Duo’s sort of an untraditional combination of viola and cello,” said Ayangade. “People keep saying, ‘There’s no repertoire for that,’ but we just played a 45-minute concert of all-female composers, so clearly there is.”

In her spare time, she runs a photography business, Titilayoandco, where she combines her love for music with portrait photography. She’s also made several appearances on Fox’s hit TV show, “Empire.”

I had the chance to be on the show while I was in Chicago and they had an open casting call,” said Ayangade. “Miraculously, they plucked my name out of the hat! It was really exciting to see all the behind the scenes about filming and set life, especially as both a musician and a photographer.”

As she works toward her degree and contemplates what comes next, Ayangade is eager to continue embracing the opportunities to perform, whether alongside a global star like Ma in a giant concert hall or in smaller settings.

“I want to run a concert series and eventually find a home base that I really like and I can settle in,” said Ayangade. “But sometimes, these things move slowly, and that’s good. It just means we’ll have time to really get it right and to make an impact.”



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