Background music to Vinyasa Yoga

Background solo piano music to a yoga session in Maui led one practitioner on a trip down memory lane.

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Yesterday afternoon, I attended my first yoga session since returning to Maui. The new instructor put on piano music as background to the 1.5 hour session. At first it was not intrusive, for I did not recognise any of the pieces. They seemed like improvisations or new age music that’s not familiar.

This sort of music was what I had been collecting as background music to play in hotels and social occasions: music that is unfamiliar and not intrusive.

After awhile, the music got repetitive. I could figure out the same pattern of chord progressions. Very tonal. Very predictable.

As I lay there on my back with one leg on one side and my arms on the other in a typical “twist” position, I listened to the music and started wondering who wrote these solo piano pieces. More questions arose.

Who played them?

Where did the yoga instructor get her music?

Would I recognise any piece?

Was it all piano music?

How did the instructor select these pieces? Was it a pre-compiled selection specifically destined for Vinyasa Yoga?

Just when I was about to give up trying to figure out the music, or more importantly, whether I could have played and recorded a selection of my own favourites, I heard a chord that I recognised.

It was Debussy’s Clair de Lune. A hesitant introduction to a scene in the movie “Twilight.” I forgot yoga. I started listening actively. This interpretation was different from mine. What’s next?

Erik Satie. Gnossiennes number 1.

While I was listening and hunting for the correct title – not Gymnopedies but Gnossiennes, I also thought of the composer’s background and life. I was no longer conscious of the yoga moves or the yoga positions but completely absorbed in the classical music world that I had left behind in the Netherlands.

Surprisingly, after Satie, came Brahms. It was one of his many intermezzos that took me through my brief stay this past summer in Holland.

After Brahms, I expected more romantic music but instead it regressed to an early Baroque piece. Perhaps it was Bach. Perhaps it was a reduced version of a work used in film music. I could not pin it down. But it reminded me of the piano solo transcription of the theme from one of his harpsichord concertos that was used in the movie “Hannah and Her Sisters.” I played and recorded it on my Steinway in Utrecht, Netherlands in early August 2011.

Anne Ku plays Bach’s theme from Harpsichord Concerto used in “Hannah and Her Sisters” (mp3)

When it ended, I came back from my trip down memory lane. What next?

Just two chords and I knew it was Chopin. It was a nocturne I had played before. It was not my favourite but it was definitely familiar. I had once aspired to record an entire CD of Chopin for my mother but I became too critical of myself.

The yoga session ended when the nocturne ended.

From performance to entertainment

Classical musicians are trained to perform not entertain. However, increasingly audiences want entertainment. Is there a compromise?

At conservatory, we’re taught to perform not entertain. Yet the world of performance is being crowded out by demand for entertainment.

Famous classical pieces take on new meaning after they have been chosen as themes for movies. Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor reminds us of the movie “The Pianist.” Whenever I play it, I think of that tragic atmosphere of loss and hopelessness.

Debussy’s Clair de Lune accompanies that delicate moment when Bella visits Edward for the first time. My friend in Denver wants me to play it exactly the way it sounds in the Twilight movie.

Or is simply that classical music takes on a new context when used in situations that bear meaning to us?

Would it be a compromise on our training and eternal quest for beauty and perfection to abdicate performance and embrace entertainment?

Or should we pay attention to what our listeners want? They want to hear those tunes that remind them of the good times in their lives, the movies they love, the weddings they attended (or perhaps their own). We as musicians can easily execute that.

To us, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may be a performance. To them, it’s entertainment — reminding them of the theme from “Ordinary People.”

My friend in DC sent me the following clip of the most popular string quartet in Poland. They are popular because they are entertaining. But more importantly, they are virtuosic, creative, and fun! Mozart would be laughing at this. Click on Mozart Group.

In short, a performance can be entertaining. But to differentiate ourselves and to draw audiences, we as performing artists may need to do more than interpret the music the way we think the composers expect their works to be played.