Alpin Hong is a force to be reckoned with; his intense and exuberant presence instantly commands attention not only as he strides on stage, but also when he simply enters your space. So it’s no great surprise that the ruby-red-sneakers-shod concert pianist was treated like a rock star by junior high students attending Darke County Center for the Arts’ initial Arts In Education program of this school year; Alpin’s confident demeanor almost demands such a response. What is somewhat surprising, however, is the sincere appreciation for the music the Juilliard graduate so masterfully plays as he subtly delivers a meaningful message, urging his young audience to bravely risk making mistakes to discover who they were meant to be. “We teach what it is to be real, using music to help kids become who they really are,” the very real artist explained.
After sharing a little autobiographical information, the former prodigy gave a brief history of how the original weak-sounding piano, constructed of wood and leather with strings made of animal guts, grew to become the powerful instrument it is today. Then he deftly demonstrated that power by masterfully playing Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy,” earning sustained enthusiastic applause from his enthralled audience.
At some point a few centuries ago, pedals were added to provide the piano with special effects, altering the instrument’s dynamics while also altering listeners’ responses to composers’ notes and chords. Utilizing those “special effects,” Alpin then played a compelling “finger exercise” written by Chopin, a composer who found a way to make those necessary but boring ritualistic exercises not only interesting but also beautiful, once again winning wild acclaim from the assembled youngsters.
During his dynamic presentation, Alpin discussed how the power of music affects listeners, demonstrating how differing intervals, motifs, and time signatures could instantaneously produce mood changes in his audience. After admitting that he is a video game and comic book geek entranced with super heroes, the super pianist explained that in movies, television shows, and video games, the entrance of the hero is enhanced by uplifting chords and powerful rhythms, while villains are greeted with darker sounds, aptly providing the appropriate accompanying music to support his statement. He went on to show how by playing just two carefully chosen notes, he could create a whole world in the minds of listeners, alternately producing ominous or cheerful sounds earning appropriate fearful or happy audience responses.
After stating his strong belief that music can bind people together, Alpin proved the truth of his statement with his spell-binding closing number forming a mystical connection between artist and audience. A theme and variations encompassing his life story, the final piece began with the very first song every budding pianist learns, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” then progressed to recognizable strains from music of all genres including a few quite appropriate bars from “Piano Man.” The fantastically skilled artist alternately massaged, pounded, and gently caressed the keys, his flying fingers creating a shimmering, moving, and fascinating tale of joy, sorrow, fun and games, hope, and ultimate triumph that was greeted with an instantaneous standing ovation – from enthusiastic seventh and eighth graders not known for their wild appreciation for classical musicians.
When Alpin Hong performed for DCCA’s Arts In Education series in March of 2014, the column recounting his performance was headlined “Alpin Is Awesome.” That assessment, reinforced by the astounding pianist’s most recent engagement in our community, still stands. The charismatic force of energy that is Alpin Hong leaves a lasting impression that reverberates in the lives of youngsters who are discovering who they are while considering the limitless possibilities revealed by an admirably audacious man and his amazing music.