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.
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