They were in Taipei to give a concert as part of their 2017 World Tour, and we were meeting at a coffee shop for an interview. Of course, there were two coffee shops with the same name in the same neighborhood, and I went to the wrong one. I ran 30 minutes in the famously hot and humid Taiwanese weather, barely knowing where I was going and if I was ever going to make it. But I kept running, thinking: "I need to try, I need to try, I can’t give up before even trying..." I finally made it. Somehow this prelude ended up setting the tone for the whole interview.
Brett Yang and Eddy Chen founded TwoSet Violin in 2014. Since then, the two Australian musicians use technology and social media "to make classical music relevant to the modern generation through fun, humor and simplicity." They are hilarious indeed, but it is their cause that really touches me. TwoSet is about believing in the music within us and giving it a shot. It’s about challenging preconceptions and breaking them down.
Brett and Eddy began to play violin for the same reason as thousands of other violinists did: because their moms told them to. Playing violin, they said, was part of the "Asian combo," which also includes playing piano.
But it was the social aspect of music that really got them going. At age 13, they joined a youth orchestra, which allowed them to meet other good young musicians - including each other. Playing violin was no longer a lonesome activity, it was a shared interest.
Their love for practice grew with time.
"Practice is that little constant thing in your life. It is the best way to just forget about everything," Eddy said. "Let’s say your boyfriend or girlfriend dumps you. Go practice and it will make a lot of things better."
"If life sucks, go practice," Brett added.
The TwoSet adventure began when the video Gangnam Style came out and went viral. Brett and Eddy decided that they too could make YouTube videos.
They first looked at what other violinist YouTubers were doing; naturally, they came across covers.
"Why did we start? Curiosity. But we soon discovered that covers were not just about playing violin," Brett said. "While we were confident about the playing part, we did not know much about video editing, filming and recording. We are self-taught."
"It is funny how it is always easy to look at something from the outside and think someone has it easy," Eddy added.
They eventually moved from making covers to making funny videos.
"That came unannounced, we just tried it and it worked," Eddy said. "In everyday life we like to mess around. Those jokes were a lifestyle..."
"...because our life is a joke," Brett interrupted.
"Yes our life is a joke," Eddy continued. "All the videos that we've made are drawn from real-life experiences. At the university, when the rehearsals were getting boring, we would play these games with each other."
Brett and Eddy do not deny that at times they were concerned by their reputation and stopped because they were afraid that they would fail.
"The hardest part for us was to actually have the guts to put our videos online back then four years ago," Eddy said. "Our biggest fear was about our reputation."
"Now we have fallen so many times that we have enough experience to know that there is nothing to lose," Brett said. "If the video fails, it fails. We move on, that’s it."
"But if we don’t make that video, we will never know if it would have gone viral," Eddy said.
"That is for sure: If you do not even try, that is a fail," Brett said. "If you give it a shot and you fail, you kind of succeed by learning what works and what doesn’t work."
Millions of views and thousands of "likes" later, TwoSet has found itself a mission. Of course classical music has always been a well-respected art form, but it can sometimes give a severe and unwelcoming impression. Brett and Eddy love classical music and play it seriously, without taking themselves seriously.
"TwoSet’s videos speak of what we feel about ourselves in classical music," Brett said. "Making the videos also made us realize that we want to make classical music more relatable, or accessible really, not just for people learning an instrument but for everyone."
"There are people out there who are ready to love classical music, and we have to actively find them," Brett said. "It is the way classical music has been presented so far that makes it so austere. We were lucky that we learned the instrument for 20 years; if we were not musicians, it would be very hard to get into."
"Everyone has the potential to like it, but sometimes musicians alienate and scare potential listeners with our pride," Eddy said.
"There is a communication gap between people and classical music," Brett said. "Back when classical music was new, it was not 'classical'; it was just music.
"Today our (classical music audience) is very small, but there are many great musicians," Brett said.
"There are so many great soloists these days, it is insane," Eddy said, "So there is so much potential to reach out to more people," Brett continued.
Speaking of reaching out, this year TwoSet has brought the videos to a higher level and is traveling the world with a live show. For Brett and Eddy, the idea behind this world tour is to express and share their love for classical music in their own way. They want to show how much fun one can have with classical music. They want to show the world that it is possible to play seriously but at the same time mess around. They want to give people the ‘permission’ to also have fun.
"With our live shows, we are able to be ourselves and enjoy music," Brett said. "We want to control our own creativity. Granted, the standards for classical music are there for a good reason: people want the best art, and that is a standard we should uphold. At the same time, sometimes we see people breaking down and freaking out because of those standards."
"Those standards can be so scary," Brett said. "It is sad to think of all that lost potential and love for music. We feel we are losing audiences; we are losing people who used to love music."
For Brett and Eddy, classical music does not have to be presented with a superior and judging attitude. They reject the idea that for someone to understand and appreciate classical music they need to be educated first.
"You can teach or give somebody advice, but unless that person is open to learning they will just think you are a moron," Eddy said. "Just like if your mom gives you advice, you are not necessarily going to listen – even though you know what your mom is saying is right."
"We think the first step is not to educate but to create curiosity and a connection, inviting people first as friends," Eddy said. "Once they have this good emotion, this good feeling, this good connection, then they will want to learn more about it naturally. That is when all the education comes in."
Brett and Eddy believe the future of classical music is all about social connections, and they are using Internet to create intimacy and authenticity with their audience.
"We got into music because of the youth orchestra; it is a connection, a human connection," Eddy said. "Everyone likes to feel connected. A big part of what we do is to show the more human side of music. TwoSet is almost not about us, but about community. TwoSet is about a community that we have only touched upon, stumbled upon."
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