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Classical music is great! But it isn’t always accessible for young students, and sometimes even those of us who play it and love it just want to have some heart-pounding fun on our instruments. Fortunately, we can do both – for proof, check out what these classically-trained musicians are playing:
1.David Garrett –
David Garrett has been a virtuoso classical violinist since he was a child. At 10 years old, he debuted with the Hamburger Philharmonic, and he has been performing as a soloist with professional symphonies ever since. But in his adulthood he’s also built a second career as a crossover artist, producing albums of pop covers and posting music videos on YouTube. This unconventional career-choice has lent him significant notoriety and acclaim – he has played to sold out audiences all over the world, received numerous accolades from cultural institutions, and even starred in 2013’s The Devil’s Violinist.
However, Garrett’s genre-crossing isn’t just about expanding his audience; he is also working to expand the interests of his audience – particularly, he’s trying to turn his fans on to classical music. His pop covers don’t so much “cross” into the world of pop as draw pop music into classical contexts, effectively turning songs by Coldplay, Michael Jackson, Nirvana and others into violin concertos, complete with minutely arranged orchestral accompaniment. The result, executed through Garrett’s charismatically expressive playing, is something to see and hear.
2. Time for Three –
A personal favorite, this trio of highly accomplished classical musicians from the Curtis Institute and Philadelphia Symphony is notable for the musical depth of their pop covers, which are some of the most interesting and engaging available. Time for Three does not simply parrot formulaic pop tunes on stringed instruments – they add to and improve upon the original while keeping intact the musical structure that makes you like the song in the first place. For serious classical students who are turned off by most other pop string covers, Time for Three can offer a refreshing reminder that serious skill and fun need not be mutually exclusive.
3. Lindsey Stirling –
These days, it’s almost impossible to play the violin without coming across Lindsey Stirling. Her steadily growing celebrity has flourished –mostly through YouTube- despite her early rejection from mainstream record labels. Today she has a whopping 11 million YouTube followers, and her videos regularly rack up tens of millions of views. While her flamboyant blend of pop-style violin playing and acrobatic dance moves isn’t for everyone, for a student who just isn’t inspired by what’s on the classical station she could be the right change of pace – because what Lindsey Stirling offers is not just a different style of music, but a whole new image of what a “violinist” can be. She is fully, and successfully, a pop musician: not only her covers, but also her originals are contagiously catchy and her videos are visually striking, full of entertaining narratives, and frequently quite funny.
4. 2Cellos –
If Lindsey Stirling is the popstar of violinists, 2Cellos is the quintessential rock band of cellists. Rising to popularity around the same time (the 2010’s), 2Cellos similarly presents an alternative vision of who a cellist can be – in this case, a charismatic rockstar. The two conservatory-trained Croatians who make up the group exude the larger-than-life personas of rock guitarists, enthusiastically head-banging over their playing, jumping into their audiences in the middle of pieces, and falling dramatically to their knees, then their backs, then spinning in circles as they crunch out chords. While they offer fewer originals than Stirling, their covers have an electric energy and similarly entertaining narratives that often comment on stereotypes about classical musicians and their audiences.
However! While 2Cellos does like to highlight it’s break from classical modes of music performance, it’s YouTube channel also features canonical classical pieces and classical pieces performed as rock music (see Vivaldi Storm)– an effective reminder that being “classically trained” doesn’t limit our ability to play whatever we like, however we’d like to.
5. Damien Escobar –
There are a few intriguing artists who perform under the label of hip-hop violinists. The highest profile currently might be “Black Violin” – who, by the way, will be coming to PPAC on April 3rd – but my favorite of what’s available on YouTube is Damien Escobar.
Damien Escobar is one half of the group Nuttin’ But Strings, which gained notoriety in 2008 when it took third place on American’s Got Talent. That group has since disbanded, and Escobar is now a solo, self-styled hip-hop violinist also known as Dame Esco. In his YouTube videos, he plays sometimes frenetically quick, sometimes lyrically meandering lines over an R&B beat, occasionally throwing out an “oh yeah”, or “that’s right” in the way of rappers between verses. His playing is improvisatory and spontaneous – he often seems to be riffing on a mood or a state of mind rather than playing a planned melody. And given this character of his music, one might reasonably guess that he comes from a jazz background – but interestingly, he doesn’t. Rather, Escobar emerges out of a decidedly classical world: he studied the violin at Julliard as a preteen and graduated when he was only thirteen years old.
As a Julliard-trained African American violinist playing hip-hop, Escobar crosses a lot of social and cultural lines, breaking with expectations in ways that other crossover artists simply don’t. Because more than just genre-bending, Escobar addresses difficult questions about culture and identity, dwelling in his videos on themes of race, musical culture and self-actualization. However, in doing so he stays diligently positive. His music doesn’t so much critique the status quo as suggest possibilities for something different – an optimistic view of what could be, for himself, and for his audience.