The famed cellist made a memorable appearance in a season 2 episode — and he played live during every take.

By Rosy Cordero
August 28, 2020 at 01:00 PM EDT

The West Wing saw a plethora of talent make appearances during the drama's seven-season run, including an unforgettable performance from Yo-Yo Ma that the cast and creator are still smiling about 20 years later.

During Entertainment Weekly's exclusive virtual roundtable with the reunited cast, series creator Aaron Sorkin made a request: "Talk about the best duet Dulé [Hill] did on the show."

"When we did the Yo-Yo Ma piece," director and executive producer Thomas Schlamme immediately replied referring to the season 2 episode titled "Nöel." "That was extraordinary for all of us, that Yo-Yo Ma showed up. He showed up at 6:30 in the morning before call with a cello on his back, basically, a Stradivarius, which he allowed everyone to play."

That's when Martin Sheen, who portrayed President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet on the series, briefly stepped out of frame during the Zoom reunion and returned to show everyone a framed photo of himself playing the costly instrument as the classical musician observes him.

In the episode, Ma performed the prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No.1 in G Major during the Congressional Christmas party. And the musician was a total pro on set, Schlamme shared. When the director told the musician they could prerecord his piece and mime playing when the cameras rolled, he demurred and opted to play live "for like 74 takes," Schlamme recalled.

Back to that duet with Hill and Ma, it actually happened offscreen. The actor, who is an accomplished professional tap dancer, passed time between takes by figuring out how to tap along to Ma's notes, and it left those present in awe. "Dulé started to do this tap dance and Yo-Yo Ma started playing the cello and it was the most beautiful moment of the absolute essence of creativity," Schlamme remembered.

"It was just a stunning moment to witness," agreed costar Richard Schiff.

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