To hear his wife describe it, in the first weeks of the pandemic, Scott Meek had lost his sparkle.
“The first week when everything shut down Scott was looking gloomy every day,” Clare Yuan recalls. “I said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And he said, ‘We don’t get to play anymore.’”
But it wasn’t long before they figured out the benefit of being in a four-hands piano duo with your partner: the Meeks Duo could still perform online from home.
They ordered all the tech they needed for high-quality live-streaming and started staging their performances on the internet. Shortly after, they received a National Arts Centre grant and began streaming through the centre’s platform as well.
“After that, Scott’s eyes became sparkly again,” Yuan says. “We decided to do it every week.”
Their run lasted for 22 weeks, but it turned out to have a big impact on their music. “We did a new program every week for 22 weeks. We learned so much repertoire during that time,” Yuan adds.
For Meek, the contradictory mix of more time and more performances led to new creativity. He began to experiment with piano “mash ups.” (Perhaps not the official term in classical music.)
“When we played Whistler [in 2018], I didn’t have any of my own arrangements,” he says. “I think I did my first in 2019, but since 2020, I’ve got nearly 100 of my own arrangements.”
As the duo has returned to in-person performances, that has meant audiences now get completely unique shows where, for example, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” is mixed seamlessly with “Happy Birthday,” or “Fly Me to the Moon” is woven into “Moonlight Sonata.” (You can see it for yourself here.)
Their return to Whistler on Sunday, Nov. 6, will offer a program filled with those unique arrangements. “It’s nice for the audience because they’re getting an experience they won’t get anywhere else,” Meek says. “We’re the only ones doing it.” In that way, the pandemic offered a few blessings in disguise.
“It made us grow in so many ways,” he adds. It also didn’t hurt that the pair was able to capitalize on a big opportunity in 2019, just before the pandemic, when they decided to fly to Taiwan, where Yuan is originally from, and Japan, where Meek still has family, to visit loved ones and perform a pair of shows. They played polar opposite venues: The National Concert Hall in Taiwan and a cafe in Japan.
“The Japanese have a reputation of being very shy, but by the end some people were laughing and someone yelled out, ‘Encore!’” Yuan says. But, for the most part, “pianists don’t face the audience when they perform,” Meek points out. “We face the side, so while we’re playing it doesn’t make much difference [where we are].”
That might be true, but they’re still looking forward to their return to Whistler. “We recorded the concert on video [last time]. In the middle of the concert you could see the snow falling outside the windows. It was really cool,” Yuan says.
Catch The Meeks Duo at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Nov. 6 from 5 to 6:15 p.m. as part of the Whistler Chamber Music Series. Tickets are $25 for adults or $20 for youth under 20. Get them here. For more on the duo, visit . n