The Bright Side: Twins take classical music series from libraries to a livestream

Brothers Nathan, left, and Henry Wu pose with their instruments in front of their Essex home on Friday, June 26, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The day after twin brothers Henry and Nathan Wu graduated from Essex High School, they went live on Facebook with a two-hour classical music performance.

Over the past two years, the teenage brothers have traveled across the state to perform classical music at libraries around Vermont, in an attempt to spread the genre to people who might not typically have access to it — a project they call “Classical Music Encounters.”

The brothers have been to more than 20 libraries. 

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They had a handful of performances scheduled for the spring. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Wus realized those shows were unlikely to go on. But they didn’t want to give up on the last performances of their senior year, either.

So the day after their graduation, the brothers livestreamed a senior showcase of sorts, in coordination with the state Department of Libraries.

Nathan, who plays the violin, said when they first began the project two years ago, it was difficult to figure out how to organize — even though the brothers have been performing since elementary school.

He said they had to do a lot of research so they knew what to say when they spoke about the pieces they were about to perform. They also had to adjust to performing in much smaller groups than they were used to playing with at school or with the Vermont Youth Orchestra. 

As far as playing with their twin goes, though, Henry, a cellist, said that is something both he and his brother are very used to.

“Being in the same household allows us to put together a lot of duet repertoire, which we’re fortunate to be able to do,” Henry said. “But when we’re rehearsing, we will often argue, that’s probably the biggest challenge.”

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The twins said when they first launched the library series, they accidentally overbooked themselves, and had to do five shows in a week. After that, they slowed down to a more relaxed pace, with the intention of spreading music wherever they could.

“We knew that among young people, there’s a lot of negative stereotypes of classical music — it’s old, it’s antiquated, stuff like that,” Nathan said. “We want to dispel those negative stereotypes and just teach more people that classical music is this cool, interesting, and still changing art form.”

Henry said the twins decided to perform in libraries because they are publicly accessible spaces, for people from all walks of life. He said the hope was that some people would come to the shows because they’re fans of the genre, and others would just happen to walk by and like what they heard.

When the pandemic started, Henry and Nathan were trying to figure out how they could continue the project without that physical space. They decided to take their music online for one big culminating performance before they headed to college at Harvard and Yale, respectively. However, they noted, they might have some extra time to perform in Vermont after all, as both twins are considering taking a gap year in light of the pandemic.

The brothers started preparing three hours before the show, getting their living room set up for the livestream, and figuring out how to operate their technology. Then, when the time came, they started the show.

“During the performance, we would try and switch off, because we would have comments rolling in,” Nathan said, noting that this took the place of the interactions he’s used to having when he performs for a live audience. “It’s a little hard to not have emotional feedback from your performance though, like hearing an audience clapping,”

During the livestream, there were 30 or 40 viewers at any given time, the brothers said. But in the days following the live show, the view count on the video has climbed to more than 1,200.

“Either way, we’re really happy with those numbers,” Henry said.

The twins said in the end, they achieved their goal of trying to bring classical music to people who aren’t normally exposed to it, and maybe bring a smile to a few faces of people stuck at home during the pandemic.

“I think a lot of people appreciated the chance to just listen to music at home,” Henry said. “I think it’s relaxing, and it’s also educational because we’re talking about the stories behind the music. And in a difficult time like a pandemic, music is really important because it’s about sharing emotions with each other and bridging cultural barriers.”

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