Jennifer Lin is a fourteen-year-old pianist from southern California. She began her presentation by playing two very difficult classical pieces; to my untrained ears she sounded as good as any professional performer two or three times her age.
It was her third piece that brought the house down. She announced that she would like to improvise a song… and asked an audience member to select five notes at random, from the C scale. She got the sequence C, G, B, A, E.
Fourteen years old, with a live audience of 800 adults awaiting a brand new piece of music, based on a theme of five notes just handed to her. She had ten seconds to prepare.
It was a masterpiece.
Chris Anderson, TED conference host, was nice enough to post the performance online at the TED site. I highly recommend spending a few minutes listening to the whole piece, to get a touch of the experience that Jennifer created.
1. Go to https://www.ted.com
2. Click “Magic moments from TED2004”. (If the link disappears suddenly, roll the mouse over the “Home” link and it will reappear.) [Yeah, the UI is problematic – dw]
3. A window called “TED 2004 Summary Slides” will appear and start loading. Slide 1 should play momentarily.
NOTE: Slide 2 of 5 is the beginning of Jennifer Lin’s performance, where she gets the five notes (yes, that’s Goldie Hawn) and sits down to play. When that slide finishes playing, you’re JUST about to get to the good stuff.
If Slide 3 doesn’t start playing, click the right arrow-button on the bottom of the window to advance past the end of Slide 2.
Slide 3 plays the audio of Jennifer’s incredible improvisation, and shows a slideshow of TED photos on top of that. Enjoy the photos but pay close attention to the music: remember, Jennifer is playing this multi-movement piece “cold”, with no prior knowledge of the five-note theme, in front of an audience of several hundred.
You can’t see it in the video, but many audience members were crying at the end of the performance.
Instead of fearing absurdity, it’s possible to embrace it as a way of increasing creative confidence