Daily Princetonian pieces

Joke Issue: With “Ode,” sexy, fierce Frist Pianists scintillate, titillate

Originally published Jan. 11, 2013 in The Daily Princetonian’s annual joke issue.

What is art, really? If anything in this world is certain, it’s that the Frist Pianists know.

Princeton’s foremost Frist Campus Center-based spontaneous piano performance group opens its 2013 concert season this Dean’s Date Eve with “Ode to the Super High Bits,” an envelope-pushing, passion-stirring 23-minute opus played entirely on the piano’s topmost five keys. With “Ode,” the Pianists have brought performance on this campus — nay, performance all over this world — to heady, cerebral, provocative new heights, truly breaking the mold on what has to this point been considered art.

“Ode to the Super High Bits” was composed on the spot by Rand Oh ’16, a resilient artiste who has doggedly pursued his craft through setbacks such as an allergy to tuning forks and a genetic condition responsible for the webbed fingers on his right hand. Oh joined the Pianists during Princeton Preview, when he discovered the group while wandering around campus alone.

“I went to Tiger Night, this thing where all the drama companies do a skit and there are girls belly dancing, but there was nothing for me there,” Oh said in a November interview with “Piano Prodigy Weekly.” “Then I stumbled upon a piano by a statue of a tiger, with a shrouded, faceless figure playing one half of ‘Chopsticks’ at half-speed, over and over. And I knew in my heart that I was home.”

Now one of the Pianists’s most promising young stars, Oh credits that performance — April 2012’s “A Single Chopstick” — with inspiring this January’s “Ode.” In the show, Oh sits on his throne regaling his adoring audience for 20 minutes, alternating between repeatedly pressing the uppermost C and repeatedly pressing the uppermost G. The final three minutes of his work are devoted to flipping back and forth between the two in an improvised rhythm Oh says is inspired by his favorite scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” namely that one scene where the birds attack the woman in a boat.

“Ode” as a piece of music may very well go down in history for redefining what melody means, but Oh’s dedication to music as art as performance as life also deserves note. “Ode” as a performance is stirring, both sexually and emotionally, and here the Pianists’s incomparable ability to blow the mind stands out.

In the climax of the piece, Oh breaks from his mask of concentration as he switches for the 13th time from G back to C to glance up at his surroundings and make eye contact with each member of his audience. It’s a daring bit of audience participation-as-art that challenges the individual to become one with the show and truly feel. Then, just as the viewer is rapt, on the edge of tears, Oh looks back down at his instrument, breaking the spell, reminding all of us that it’s the Frist Pianists’ world. We just live in it.

3.5 out of 5 paws

Pros: This reviewer was brought to orgasm.

Cons: None.

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