Friday, April 23, 2021

Born to Groove, Kids and Music 3: Henry Lau has a good heart & knows how to work with kids [kawaii alert!]

Who is Henry Lau? His mother is from Taiwan and his father is from Hong King. Henry, as he is generally known, was born in 1989 and raised in Toronto. He plays violin, piano, and guitar and planned on a career as a classical violinist but then SM Entertainment, a Korean firm, recruited him in 2006. He was on his way to K-pop stardom, and more. He left SM in 2018 and started his own studio.

Starting in the spring of 2020 Henry released a series of videos on YouTube under the rubric “Henry Together.” The first video in the series shows how he got the idea. The videos come in pairs. In each pair he teams up with a talented young musician. The first video in each pair shows them getting acquainted. They share a meal, chat, and play around getting to know one another’s musical skills. In the second video they present a little concert, a “collabo” as they call it.

I’ve watched some of them, but not all. Here’s a pair he did with a young violinist, YoEun Seol. She started playing when she was two years and eight months old and is now nine. Here’s their first video, the “getting to know you” one.

Notice that he eases us into things. We see him finding her YouTube channel, and then a series of snippets following her progress from three to about six. And then she comes peeking in through a window and he invites her in, violin case strapped to her back. Obviously some things were worked out ahead of time, but their interaction doesn’t seem scripted, though what we see has obviously been edited from more extensive footage. They chat a bit and he offers her a meal (c. 2:00).

He asks if she’s seen him on TV. Nope, don’t have a TV. But she has seen him play the violin. Asks her who’s better. She smiles, hesitates, laughs, declines to answer. Henry leans back.

Think about what just happened.

She knows that she’s better. But he’s an adult and a musician; she’s reluctant – to tell him the truth? to hurt his feelings? But he accepts her judgment. And she plays some Paganini while he’s suitably impressed. They’re cool.

See how this goes? Food (c. 3:00). He fixes some noodles for her. “They’re very nice and chewy.” Then: “Do you work at this restaurant?” “Yes, so if you’re ever hungry, just come here and ask for me, okay?” “Yes.”

The violin comes out, she tunes (c. 4:17). “How do you know that’s the right tune” “I know by ear.” “No way.” She has perfect pitch; Henry’s suitably impressed. She plays Paganini; Henry’s suitably impressed. Now he gets his violin out; she offers to help him tune (c. 7:16). They trade phrases from Paganini. See how this is going? They continue with dueling fiddles. Guess which one gives up? It’s not the nine-year old. Henry strums the violin like a guitar. YoEun smiles and laughs.

He switches to piano (c. 9:34). She suggests that she’ll play the accompaniment, “three-four time.” They make something up. Together. They play a tune from Frozen. Then “My Favorite Things.” YoEun: “And then, next, go to major.” “Yes, mam.” He gets out his violin and they play “My Favorite Things” together; Henry works out a harmony line.

All of this obvious in the video. You don’t need me to spell it out. I do it, though, because it helps me think about what’s going on, and it creates a verbal record of their playfulness. They’re playing – adult and child – not merely in the sense of playing music, but in the deeper sense of having fun, playing with one another, while also making music. They really are in this together. And we, the audience, get to see music as it is being made, not merely as a finished and polished performance.

In this next video we see them performing together. I’ll present this without comment beyond pointing out how fully YoEun is present during her playing. Watch her move. Had me laughing several times it was so much fun.

Notice that they start with the technically difficult, and therefor showy, showpiece and then they play three songs. Why?

Judging from what I’ve seen of the other video pairs, that’s how it goes with each kid:

Getting to know you.
Let’s make music.

* * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * *

Born to Groove, Kids and Music 2: Prodigies R’ Us

Born to Groove, Kids and Music 1: Three Examples


  1. I hadn't seen/heard the second video. What joy! The two of them together. She plays with so much authority and ease, and his generosity in letting her shine really brings out something even more special. It's as if she makes the music happen out of thin air, a creation both ephemeral and lasting at the same time. I hope they continue to play together through the years. Thanks for posting this video, Larry.

  2. I've watched the second video again. Their performances is so magical. Henry's generosity in cuing YoUn to his lead in the pop songs (especially Let it Go) reminds me of the generosity Victor Borge had with other performers. Some of them -- having never performed with him, and certainly not in comedy -- would say that they "just knew what to do." Henry has the same quality of genius in recognizing where the other performer is at and how to play to a different expressive range of technical ability and emotional connection.

  3. What I'm wondering is if this the first time YoEun's performed in the way, been recognized in this way. I've seen a number of videos of her, starting when she was only 2yr & 2mo. In most of them she's playing an unaccompanied violin piece. But she also performs with a piano accompanist and with an orchestra. But in those latter, she's here and they're over there. Not like with Henry, where they're side by side and have almost continuous eye contact.

  4. Yes! Henry brings such diverse ability -- dance, acting, several languages, several musical instruments. So he is accustomed to working with a range of performers himself. Eye contact is only part of the vibe. (This is true of Borge also with his finesse of timing.) All the richer what Henry brings to YoEun. One of the reasons I say that is that Henry really knows how to set the stage for the freestyling: asking her to sing the melody when she then whispers to him ("too cute"), and he then says he is not smart, can she repeat it. He's setting up her own focus within herself to be the teacher, and to lead him. And his facial expression when he closes that little bit of mutual instruction between them is like a musical chord in itself. YoEun takes that simple melody line of "Let It Go" and plays from all that rich color that Henry has described with her in that little exchange of tune-whispering. The eye contact continues the trust of play. I am a big fan of Henry in this mode of music making because he really brings all the reaches a performer needs: using all the stage, playing to all the people, not just with the notes of music, but also with the newness of the fellow musician being there, being seen, being heard. Heck, I'd like to perform with Henry! Lol!

  5. . . . Ahh, I forgot to mention: in Henry's set up to "Let It Go" when he says he forgot the melody that YoEun whispers, asks to repeat it, she really takes herself into richer musical expression by fully bringing something quiet and whisper-worthy that she doesn't want to forget . . . you can see that her eyes have greater range and the gaze isn't as fixed, her shoulders and hips move more broadly in a complementary rotation with the bowing.

  6. Yes.

    I don't know what he had in mind when he started this, but, judging from what I've seen, he is acting as performance coach for these kids.

  7. Yes. Henry encourages versatility in them.