Michelle Obama Tours Pittsburgh's Cultural Highlights With First Ladies

By Alexi Mostrous
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 25 -- As world leaders discussed the intricacies of global finance here at the staid Group of 20 meetings, their spouses enjoyed a more urbane Friday afternoon in Pittsburgh, taking in a concert at a performing arts school and then touring the Andy Warhol Museum.

First lady Michelle Obama joined 15 other first ladies and six wives of leading financial officials to hear performances by Yo-Yo Ma, the world-famous cellist, as well as by music students and other established musicians at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, a colorful modern building in the city's cultural district.

"The arts have the power to connect us to each other throughout nations like nothing else can," Obama told 250 excited students. "It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and express hopes for our future."

Obama, accompanied by Marisa Leticia da Silva of Brazil and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy of France, looked in on some lessons at the arts magnet school, which has 800 full-time students in grades 6 through 12 studying a range of performing arts.

After a group photo, the spouses enjoyed performances from 13 CAPA students; Ma; Trisha Yearwood, the country singer and cookbook author; and Sara Bareilles, whose No. 1 hit "Love Song" is on heavy rotation on Obama's iPod.

Bareilles, who sang her single to wild applause, said that she was so nervous beforehand she "was doing jumping jacks in the back." Her music, Obama said previously, had "gotten me through many a day."

Jason Yoder, a 16-year-old CAPA junior who played percussion with Ma in a rendition of Saint-Sa?ns's "Carnival of the Animals," said the concert was a great experience.

"Someone told me my playing had made one of the first ladies cry," Yoder said in a telephone interview. "Yo-Yo Ma was standing beside me and he said: 'Yeah! We want to make them cry.' "

Ma called Yoder's performance "extraordinary" and praised Obama for recognizing the value of arts education.

"Part of being a good citizen means you care about something that's bigger than yourself," he said in an interview. "I think the whole act of performing music is not saying, 'Look at me,' but saying, 'Look at this.' "

The spouses also heard students perform a song dedicated to the G-20 leaders. "We honor your presence, we salute you," the choir sang, accompanied by Ma's cello.

Obama, dressed in a purple-and-black V-neck dress by Maria Cornejo, left CAPA with her guests just after noon to have lunch at the nearby Warhol Museum. The celebrated 20th-century artist was born and raised in Pittsburgh, although he reputedly did not like the city.

The spouses were scheduled to "silk-screen" a Warhol image onto a tote-bag that they could then keep as a memento, according to a statement from the first lady's office. Silk-screening was a technique used by Warhol to produce his famous, brightly colored depictions of Marilyn Monroe.

The group was also to see the opening of one of Warhol's famous sealed Time Capsules, one of 600 sealed boxes the artist assembled, which contain a variety of objects. "This is a chance for modern history to spring to life before the eyes of the First Lady's international guests," Obama's office said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company