Name your favorite dubstep song (Skillrex? Avicii?) and Kristina S. Hu ’16 can instantly turn it into a classical piano cover.
Hu has the unique ability to arrange songs by ear. By the time she reached high school, she had been taking piano lessons for over a decade: With a tight schedule and a waning interest in classical music, she decided it was time for a change. Hu created a YouTube channel and began posting her own arrangements of popular and dubstep songs.
Hu’s YouTube channel, entitled “The Unsung Heroine,” features several of her piano covers, which range from Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.”“I thought it would be a really creative way to showcase some of today’s modern hits,” Hu says, “with something that maybe the older generation can relate with more.”
Serena L. Wang ’16, who has been Hu’s friend since they both participated in Harvard’s First-Year Arts Program, said she is baffled by Hu’s ability to simply listen to a complicated dubstep song and then play it flawlessly on the piano. “She takes whatever chord progressions there are and then makes them her own by putting her own spin on them,” says Wang. “That’s what makes it unique and more fun to listen to than, say, just playing what the piano part is.”
During spring break, Wang and others were able to witness Hu’s ability firsthand while they were staying at the home of a friend, Jessica J. Chen ‘16, in Orlando. “Her sister asked Kristina to play something on the piano, and Kristina was like, ‘Oh okay, what’s your favorite song?’” says Wang. “She picked ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ by Taylor Swift. Kristina hadn’t come up with anything before, but she just went on the piano and played an arrangement. She just did a cover on the spot, just from having heard it so many times. That was really impressive.”
Chen says that after that performance, her sister is now Hu’s number-one fan. For Chen, what stands out about Hu’s covers are the drops, common features of dubstep songs, which are “sick” when transformed for piano.
Youtube viewers seem to agree. Since launching “The Unsung Heroine” in October 2010, Hu’s channel has gained over 40,000 subscribers and more than 6.5 million total views.While copyright issues prevent Hu from profiting from the YouTube channel itself, Hu does get a share of the profit for every song she sells through online music stores such as iTunes, Amazon MP3, and Spotify.
Hu claims that she reads every single comment that YouTube viewers leave on her videos. “Just being able to use my YouTube channel as a creative outlet and inspire people from around the world to pick up the piano themselves, or listen to a new type of music is really cool,” she adds.
The feedback has ranged from words of encouragement to jokes about her Asian heritage and marriage proposals. “The Internet really likes Asian girls, just because there’s this stereotype that Asians play the piano. I’ve gotten a lot of comments that are like, ‘Skill level: Asian,’ or ‘Oh, look, she’s Asian, no wonder she plays Skrillex like that.’ Some other comments have been obviously joking marriage proposals, like ‘Oh, this is really awesome, you really inspired me, will you marry me?’ But mainly, it’s just like, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’”
For Hu, YouTube has become an ideal way to combine her passion for piano and her other musical tastes. “When I used to play the piano with a private teacher,” she says, “sometimes putting emotion into the classical music was a little forced. But my YouTube channel is the songs I like to listen to on the radio, whatever I’m into at the moment, and me putting my own spin on them on the piano.
”Hu adds with satisfaction, “It’s 100 percent me.”