Classical students back Boston rapper (for this we send them to college?)

Classical students back Boston rapper (for this we send them to college?)


norman lebrecht

June 19, 2015

From the Top, ‘America’s largest national platform dedicated to celebrating the stories, talents, and character of classically-trained young musicians’, has put together a video of students at Berklee and New England Conservatory backing a local rapper in a Wiz Khalifa cover.

The playing is pretty good.

see you again music students cover


From the Top explain: ‘The song, from the movie Furious 7, has a message of loss of family and friends that really connected with these kids, in particular classical violinist Haig Hovsepian and rapper Lotus Taylor. Perhaps most importantly, the collaboration between hip hop, jazz, and classical music was very inspiring to them.’

Inspiring, huh? FTT go on to blether about ‘building bridges across genres’ and ‘reaching new audiences’.

It’s been a long week. See what you think of this.

Roll them credits:

Shot on location at Berklee College of Music.

Lead Vocals:
Lotus Taylor

Kadar Qian

Haig Hovsepian
Sofia Tong

Alexia Delgiudice

Andrew Byun
David Tangney

Harrison Klein

Marton Bisits

Fiona Qu

Austen Yueh

Clara Wang

Dag Hanken

Dan McCallum

Johannes Flecker
Amanda Hatlavik
Caitlin Gjerdrum
Melissa Johnston
Patrick Creedon
Isaiah Sealy
Orla Schwarz
Isabel Fox
Isabel Nichols
Meghan Timony


Executive Producers:
Gerald Slavet
Jennifer Hurley-Wales


  • V.Lind says:

    MOST people in this video have had to study and practise since childhood to acquire the skill required to participate at this level. One had to learn a skill the others all share — the ability to talk. So he does it in a monotonous rhythm…bully for him. And, no, I did not listen to the content. I am bored to death with that rhythm, which seems to be the soundscape all around me.

  • Down Under says:

    Good on them for trying something different!

    Here’s a little snapshot of what 16 Queensland Symphony Orchestra players and beatboxer Tom Thum got up to for the recent QSOCurrent festival, creating a one hour show of original music with composer Gordon Hamilton:

    • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

      Look at that! I clicked on this thread expecting to find one example of the bastardization of the artform, and I find TWO! It must be my lucky day.

      You know what is different? Playing Bach on differently filled beer bottles, or playing tennis with the racket attached to your rear end, or jumping with your tongue, all very appropriate things for ‘America’s Got Talent’ or any of the entertainment-oriented shows.

      Is art entertainment? Surely there is an entertainment component, but when it is 100% entertainment it loses all meaning. The masses – by definition – will not be able to preceive nuances, because if these are sophisticated, by definition only a few will be apt to appreciate them.

      The arts industry grew much larger than it should have, and now it needs numbers to survive (# or donors, # of $$ contributed by government or private donors, # of young people in concerts, # of neurons saved by listneing to mozart, # of intelligent babies after listening to Bach) and the only way to get these numbers is to bastardize the art in order to make it “EASY TO DIGEST” by the majority and expecting a large enough subset of this majority to become clients of these organizations.

      Its a devil’s circle, and the negative externality is unquantifiable: artistic pollution I would call it. It doesnt kill people, it kills intellect.

      But hey, whatever, I have a great new idea for an orchestra out there: PORNO AT THE SYMPHONY! that will surely bring the youth you so much desire.

  • Brian says:

    I’ll give From the Top some credit for the video. If its goal is to draw young people to their show, this stands a better shot than a straight classical piece ever would.

    It’s also more reflective of what the job market for conservatory-trained musicians has to offer (though I wonder how many backing arrangements like this can be just as easily done by a computer).

  • From the bottom says:

    Everyone smiling. Everyone trying out things, being adventures. Everyone having the freedom to express themselves, every single on of them communicating.

    How dare any of you even begin to criticise this. Look at yourselves.

    • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

      Read above.

      • music montreal says:

        dear mr mendizabal: these kids are making music and having fun. they are collaborating, doing something a little different. and they look happy doing it. are you happy? you don’t have to like this music, but please show some respect.

  • Sola says:

    Well it is just an arrangement of a simple pop ditty, with a rapper delivering a rather mechanical and uninspiring rap over top. The Damon Albarn project Gorillaz employed strings with rap much more interestingly in the song “Dirty Harry” from their 2005 album “Demon Days.”

    All that it would take to bring classical music “back” would be for the cultural mouthpieces of the time to stop promoting crap and push classical music as better, newer, hipper. Unfortunately, our culture is so dumbed down now that that will never happen.

    Berklee needs to start educating rappers to write better, more rhythmically complex and thought-provoking lyrics, rather than having all their classical kids playing along subserviently to a kid who isn’t offering us anything interesting. And classical music needs to stop seeing itself as “good for you” Brussels sprouts that must be packaged as candy. It might be “good for you,” but classical music is filet mignon with the most exquisite Bernaise, to pop music’s McMusic.

    We need more new classical music. And that music must be pretty. It must be short, or at least deliverable in short bites for today’s limited attention spans. Composers need to think in terms of giving audiences clear places to applaud, along with virtuosity. But if radio won’t program it, and no one gets to hear it, I guess it’s pointless to try.

  • Classical Musician says:

    Damn right we send them to college for this. Unless you were hoping that conservatories would continue to churn out mindless classical musicians pining for that chance to sit second fiddle at their dying orchestral day job where they never have to think out of the box of a tradition that effectively ended nearly a century ago. These kids (not specifically these ones, just students in general) need to try as many new things as possible in hopes that at least one of them can put a crack in the seemingly frozen cavern we call the “western classical tradition.”

    Also for the record, most rappers blow classical musicians out of the water when it comes to their sense of time and rhythm. When did rhythm stop being important!? Also, I guess most people don’t realize that the ability to freestyle (aka improvise poetry) is a pretty incredible skill, and most rappers do that. I respect that just as much as I respect jazz musicians for being able to improvise melodies.

    • Christopher O'Riley says:

      I was just thinking of chiming in on this very point, CM. Not that the debate of genre-crossover is even worth engaging, but that the cross-over between text and music as represented at its zenith with the subtlety and nuance of Wiz (notate THAT dance-like subtlety of rhythm, posers)’s rhythm and rubato is commensurate with the cantata-conscious, un-sewing-machine-like, text-conscious articulation of Glenn Gould in a seemingly-motoric concerto movement, the infinitely subtle gradations of touch in reaction to each ensuing verse of a Schubert song (and how that then must inform one’s playing of solo Schubert), this is the level on which the pride of my show, my crusade, are laboring happily, genre be damned.

  • Andrew says:

    This is precisely why students go to conservatory. At conservatory, students acquire the artistic maturity to appreciate and participate in projects like this. As an artist it is important to have a mature taste that can be applied to all genres, all cultures, indiscriminately – and outside of personal preferences. And I tell you this as someone who went to conservatory through graduate school. If these students were to be too disdainful to play this music, they’d probably also be pretty poor interpreters of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

    If you’re wondering why the big “WE” sends its children to conservatory, then maybe begin by understanding that, whatever their individual commitment to this project (clearly they are all going to classical conservatory because they enjoy classical music most of all), it was also probably a paying gig. So if you don’t want conservatory-trained classical musicians participating in this stuff, besmirching the classical tradition, think about going more and giving more to your local orchestras so that they can afford to hire more musicians or pay their current members more, so that they don’t have to take non-classical gigs to support themselves.

    And for all those who are saying ‘rap isn’t music, it’s entertainment,’ or even that it’s ‘not art,’ and who categorically refuse to listen to it (@ V.LIND) out of a dedication to high art such as classical music: I could give you some very good theoretical arguments as to why it is both music and art, but if you don’t want to take it from me, read Proust – all three-thousand pages, in the original (if you can) – that’s about as “high art” as you can get. You’ll see that he doesn’t discriminate, he celebrates all forms of art, new and old, from the Norman country-folk to Parisian high society, cross-over and traditional. This was a man who paid for private readings of the Beethoven late quartets in his sound-proofed apartment, and if you read him, you will see that he would have been intrigued by things like this. If you’re already familiar with Proust, just ask yourself: “Am I being like Mme. Verdurin?”


  • Alan Fletcher says:

    To experiment, to have what is clearly a joyful collaboration, to express something reaching a wide audience – yes, I would send someone to college for that

    • Franny says:

      Very well said, Alan! In what art form was there not (at some point) risks? If we didn’t take risks, we wouldn’t have all the beauty we have today. This video was so fun, it’s nice to watch people enjoying themselves and being passionate.

  • John McLaughlin Williams says:

    Everyone in that vid is more talented and has worked harder to become proficient than Wiz. It’s a disgrace, but only because Wiz cannot appreciate what feats those musicians have accomplished to become simply good.

  • Suzanne says:

    Seriously? We are attacking a video of young performers for making music together? Judging? Have we nothing better to do with our critical, music loving minds? It’s a video like this that provides salve for aching hearts after tragic, racist events like the most recent shooting in South Carolina. Bravi… Keep playing, smiling and sharing your talent with the world. And critics, let us find a better use of our time and discerning tastes.

  • Christopher O'Riley says:

    Thank you, Suzanne. <3

  • Geoffry Wharton says:

    Such great young talents, beautiful string playing and a supple piano accompaniment. But I imagine that they all are secretly embarrassed at this trite and shallow music… there is zero authenticity or innovation in the entire endeavor.
    It was perhaps worth trying but the end result is timorous and unconvincing. Maybe someone out there found this exciting and indicative of music’s future.. but somehow I doubt it.
    In my opinion “crossover” is always going to be somehow cringeworthy. What we need is synthesis, synergy, harmonic courage.

    • Jules says:

      “But I imagine that they all are secretly embarrassed at this trite and shallow music…”

      Why would you imagine that, Geoffry? We shouldn’t be projecting our personal biases onto others. FTT is a terrific show, and we should celebrate its successes. Some of the participants have gone on to major competitions, and terrific careers. Others have gone on to be doctors an teachers. Virtually all of them have a fabulous experience…our daughter included.

      • geoffry wharton says:

        Just saw your reply today– I agree with you more than you think! I am not judging the musicians, they do a great job (I tried to express that in my post) but and it is evident that they are all having fun and I have participated in many such excercises in my career and –yes!– it was often fun.
        I think the point I was trying to make was that the musical innovation was not much in evidence with that arrangement, and I suspect most of the classically trained players would agree with me (what does your daughter say?).
        That said, I find my own original post now much too arrogant and I apologize.

  • TCW says:

    Accidentally came across this article. As a person who’s kid is actually in the video, I thought I’d give a bit of insight.

    I know many of these kids are high schoolers. Yes they are all highly trained in classical music performance. My own kid had never done anything like this. They got together one Friday evening for a couple of hours, and the Sunday after that they went to Berklee to record this video.

    When asked about how things went, my child’s reply was a huge smile on the face “it was so much fun!”.

    So like the video or not, it is your prerogative. But as far as I know, no one was embarrassed to play this music. Sounds like they all had tons of fun and really enjoyed themselves.