Inspired by scenes from Italy of socially distancing neighbors standing on balconies, singing together, Clintonville resident Rebecca Tien (who is also a longtime (614) contributing photographer) had an idea for how her family could make a difference in their neighborhood. Across the street, Tien’s elderly neighbor Helena Schlam was under a self-imposed quarantine due to the coronavirus. Tien knew Schlam loved classical music, and she also knew her children, Taran, nine, and Calliope, six, had to keep practicing on their cellos, even if the school orchestra was canceled for the foreseeable future. So Tien planned for her kids to hold a concert for Schlam on her large front porch, keeping a safe distance away.
If you were anywhere near Twitter that day, you know what came next: another neighbor, Jackie Borchardt, tweeted a clip of the performance. And thanks to Borchardt’s many followers in the media, (she is a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer), the Tiens’ performance exploded across the internet. Taran and Calliope soon landed on national news broadcasts from NBC, CBS, and CNN, as well as in Time magazine and The Washington Post. The story was retweeted by George Takei and the kids’ cello idol, Yo-Yo Ma.
Now that their 15 minutes of fame is winding down, (614) caught up with Calliope and Taran to learn what the experience was like.
Turns out, they found fame not only early in their lives, but also early in their cello careers. Both began playing in fall 2019, with Taran joining his school orchestra, and Calliope taking private lessons (Taran soon began doing the same). It’s an instrument the Tiens took to naturally.
“I tend to speed ahead a lot,” Taran said. “I printed out the Bach cello suite and I’m working on that. I bought new music that’s really advanced today and I probably can’t play it but I want to because I always want to.”
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
It’s the music they can make on the cello that motivates them. “I just really love the sound,” Calliope said. Taran adds that when he was younger, he pretended almost everything was a cello.
With that motivation, they took the Suzuki Level One cello book over to Schlam’s for their concert. “We played multiple songs. One was a Bach minuet. And then there was Twinkle Twinkle,” Taran said. Although he’s the more advanced musician of the two, having played four years of classical guitar before picking up the cello, part of coming together under quarantine circumstances means playing together. In this case, that meant they stuck to songs both of them were comfortable with from Calliope’s book. The song they became internet famous for was called “Song of the Wind.”
Even before the tweet that changed their lives, the Tiens knew they were about to play for their first international audience when they made their way to Schlam’s porch. Schlam had her relatives in Israel on FaceTime; she wanted them to see what her neighbors were doing for her, and told the Tiens their music would be heard around the world. (Little could they have predicted that it would also be broadcast on the BBC a few days later.)
When the news coverage began, the Tien family was surprised, but Taran and Calliope took to it pretty well. “It was really, really exciting!” Taran said. “I was, like, feeling a little shy, but also pretty excited,” Calliope added.
Rebecca was concerned all the attention might be too much for her neighbor during her period of isolation, but Schlam enjoyed it, telling Rebecca, “I feel like a little kid. I guess I like all the attention. I think this is wonderful.”
Taran and Calliope had different replies when asked about the best thing to come out of this for them. For Taran, it was the retweet from his cello hero, Yo-Yo Ma. “It was literally the best thing ever. Like, I’ve really wanted to meet Yo-Yo Ma and play with him and stuff, but, at least this is a step towards that.” Meanwhile, Calliope said she was glad to make her neighbor happy.
One reason the concert resonated across the internet and around the world is that the Tiens managed to find joy and connection during a time when both are in short supply. So what advice do the kids have for others trying to navigate this moment? “Play a musical instrument. Sing. Do something you really like. And just do one of your favorite hobbies and don’t get bored and have a good attitude and be kind to everybody,” Taran suggested.
And remember at the end of the day, this moment is about all of us; our own health and happiness is tied into that of our neighbors. For Calliope, the best part was helping Helena. “She was like ‘bravo! bravo!’”
Taran also remained focused on the bigger picture. “This is all for Helena. It’s all to make her happy. Not to get all famous and stuff. It’s cool that all this is happening, but it’s just for Helena.”