Like many Chinese children, I was subjected to piano lessons growing up. And like many of us forced to practice hours upon hours each day, playing the piano was a robotic, joyless pursuit (then I discovered Ben Folds Five, and that became a whole other story).
In the last few years, however, I’ve come around on playing the piano. I now find it... meditative. Even with a 20-year absence from practicing, I’ve discovered—much to my shock—that I’m able to play with the same technical proficiency that I had as a 16-year-old. That’s the thing about robotic playing; it never really goes away, it’s all just muscle memory that have laid dormant.
The difference now is that I’m finally appreciating the artistry. I’m hearing piano music now with ears wide open. And would you believe much of it is because of a YouTube channel?
Daniel Barenboim was the former musical director at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and he now stars in a YouTube series where he dissects great works of classical piano music in five minutes. There’s only a dozen or so videos in his “5 Minutes On...” series, and the channel was last active a year ago, but you have over an hour of Barenboim elucidating on the most consequential works in the classical music canon. (There’s also a fascinating interview with actor Christoph Waltz on the parallels of music and acting) If anything, these videos offer context and deeper appreciation, something we could use more in this world.
Here I’ve included his dissections on Chopin, Debussy, and Liszt.