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Culture & Religion

BT’s Youngest Expert, Pianist Hilda Huang: Playing Bach Is Like Playing Nintendo

Playing fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano is not unlike playing “Mario Cart” on the Nintendo 64, says Hilda Huang, who at 14 years old is Big Think’s youngest expert to be interviewed. With both video games and the piano, she says, “you

have to be really, really focused. …  If you blink or you say, ‘Oh I need to

get something to eat or I need some chips,’ so you put your controller

down, and, wham, the koopa smashes in to you, so you die and lose a

life. And of course, in video games, you have plenty of lives, so it’s

okay. But in Bach, when you’re performing, you don’t have that kind of a

privilege. So you have to stay really focused through the whole thing

and you can’t stop.”

In her Big Think interview, Huang says playing Bach can teach you a lot about multitasking, because

his music requires the person playing it “to deal with so many different voices at once and they all have

to be really clean. … There’s so many running lines, I mean you have

to practice them at first, of course, but after a while when you get the

hang of it, it’s really fun to just see your hands moving all the way

over the keyboard.”

Huang became the first American ever to win the International Bach Competition in Germany earlier this year with a fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. She says she really loves Bach’s music because of its complexity. “When you

look at it from a distance, it’s so simple and pure and elegant that

you would never suspect that it’s such an architectural masterpiece.”

Huang also talked about the iPhone app that she is hoping to create, which could give the user one Bach piece per day (with ancillary information) for as long as three years without repetition. And while she professes a love for the great pianist Glenn Gould, she says she’s following her teacher’s admonition not to copy him.

The very fact that Bach’s music is so profound and so uplifting and the man is clearly not a saint makes it all the more interesting. 

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