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Guilty Pleasures Of Some Classical Music You Tube Users

Bill Zeeble
Bass Adam Lau and soprano Nicole Car at the Dallas Opera watching a You Tube video of one of their favorite singers

 You Tube turns 9 and a half this Saturday, and of course we all use it for everything from cat videos to Korean pop. Meet some professional classical musicians who revealed their own guilty pleasures.

Opera singers Adam Lau and Nicole Car have both used You Tube as a learning tool, catching technique and timing tips from opera uploads. But the bass and soprano who just finished a run with the Dallas opera also love swooning over their singer heroes.

“Oh my gosh. I’m like a binge You Tuber.  There’s Cesare Siepi recordings, where, I’ve got like a man-crush on him (sorry honey),” Laus says, quietly. “My girlfriend will kill me. His singing is incredible top to bottom. The notes are just glorious.”

Car has a crush on a decades-old performance of Tosca by Leontyne Price. This was the first video Car watched on You Tube, after she graduated from  Melbourne University in Australia.

“I learned that stillness in the body when singing was quite a good thing,” Car explains. “Because so often when they’re on stage and moving around, you don’t see them up close because you you’re so young you can’t afford tickets that are close enough to see them. To see her filmed was pretty cool.”

Dallas Symphony Orchestra co-concertmaster Alex Kerr revels in those old clips, watching violin masters like David Oistrakh and Jasha Heifetz. He encourages his students to do the same, and gets frustrated when they complain they can’t find good interpretations. 

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Alex Kerr is co-concertmaster with the Dallas Symphony. He grew up and mastered his profession before You Tube existed. Now he urges his students to use it and he loves finding rare, archive performances of great classical musicians

“You have the internet,” Kerr exclaims. “There are 15,000 performances of these pieces by some of the greatest artists who ever lived and all you can watch is a cat video? I thought this is insane. It’s an incredible resource and such a cheap resource.”

Kerr’s 44. You Tube didn’t exist until after he turned professional. But now he uses it every day, like many musicians he knows. There are some teachers who discourage it, though.

When the Dallas Symphony’s Assistant Conductor, Karina Canellakis, was in Juilliard, her teacher insisted she stay away from it.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Karina Canellakis is the Dallas Symphony's Assistant Conductor. She often uses You Tube when programming concerts.

  “If you never do that, and  if you  never isolate yourself in that way and you just constantly use this overabundance of information that’s available on the internet,” Canellakis says, “you will never be creating something yourself. You’re just regurgitating what somebody else did.”

Canellakis says that was school. Now she uses You Tube all the time, for pleasure and business. Gone are the days of sending VHS tapes or a disc to a potential employer. Musicians can just email a You Tube link.

But the singers say there can be problems.

“Anyone can come into the theater on any given night, bootleg a recording, you might not be having your best night,” Car says. “They put it up on You Tube. And all of the sudden it’s there. Forever. It’s there.”

“That’s so true,” adds Lau. “Even in competitions, I’ve seen people with little camera phones and all of a sudden you find out you’re online.”

“ I have not given you permission for this!” Car says. “Why is this up here?”

Maybe that’s when it’s time to check out that cat video for a little comic relief. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.