When Classical Instruments Find A Hip, New Beat

lookback400x603For many of us, our parents forced us to learn one of the two designated "Asian" instruments: the piano or the violin. As someone who learned both, I know I'm not alone in griping about the endless classical pieces and wishing I could have learned a cooler instrument, like the guitar. That is, until a recent season five "So You Think You Can Dance" dance brought Ahn Trio to my attention and made me rethink ‘boring’ classical music.

Ahn Trio is part of a growing collective of Asian musicians revitalizing the classical music genre. This classical piano trio consists of three Juilliard-trained Korean American sisters, Angella (violin), Lucia (piano) and Maria (cello), who use their traditional instruments to create beautiful music with elements of hip-hop, electronica and lounge. Although I've only recently heard of them, Ahn Trio has been in the spotlight since 1987, when Time magazine featured them in an article about "Asian American Whiz Kids." You can check out their songs, “All I Want” (featured on "So You Think You Can Dance"), a sorrowful love lament, and “Riders on the Storm,” a haunting cover of a rock staple.

If Ahn Trio is too tame for you, there’s always Vanessa-Mae, another famous classical musician. Born in Singapore and best known for her self-described “violin techno-acoustic fusion,” her music shows that there’s nothing stuffy about the violin. Her song “Storm” has furious speed and attitude like you wouldn’t believe, while “Aurora” has a hip-hop feel with heavy rhythms.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Twelve Girls Band, who make up in innovation what they lack in a creative band name. Twelve Girls Band uses instruments that make the piano and violin look newfangled. They transcend culture and genre by using Chinese and Japanese instruments such as the erhu (Chinese fiddle), pipa (lute) and yangqin (dulcimer) to play Western covers. Listen to their cover of Coldplay’s “Clocks” here — you might even like it more than the original. They even made a spectacular cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You."

All of these bands make me realize that classical instruments can be as modern and hip as you make of it.

Here is a video of Vanessa-Mae playing her rendition of Giuseppe Tartini’s “The Devil’s Trill”:

Photo courtesy of Sony BMG Masterworks