Classical Pranksters Don't Just Play Music: They Play With It Collective Cadenza, or CDZA for short, is a loose-knit group of musicians — many of them graduates of Juilliard. They've made a name for themselves with funny YouTube videos that have received millions of views. As a result, the group was invited to perform live at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards alongside Eminem, Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire.
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Classical Pranksters Don't Just Play Music: They Play With It

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Classical Pranksters Don't Just Play Music: They Play With It

Classical Pranksters Don't Just Play Music: They Play With It

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Let's hear, now, about a loose-knit group of musicians in New York that makes videos. It's called Collective Cadenza, CDZA for short. And what sets it apart from the city's other video collective is this: These conservatory-trained musicians play music both in front of a camera and with the camera; often turning familiar pieces on their ears through visual gags and sonic surprises. All of this has been a big hit on YouTube.

Jon Kalish has more.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: The first CDZA video to hit YouTube was "History of Lyrics that Aren't Lyrics."


JANE LUI: (Singing) Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, nana na-na...

KALISH: Jane Lui pretty much sings what the title says, accompanied by bass and piano.


LUI: (Singing) La-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, lalala, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la. La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, hey, hey, oh-oh...

KALISH: The video has garnered more than one and a half million views since it was posted on YouTube two years ago. The bass player Michael Thurber is part of the creative team behind the collective.

MICHAEL THURBER: The kind of under-pinning that's always present, regardless of what idiom we're working in, is we're basically playing with culture. We're toying with culture. We're re-arranging it. We're re-mixing it, using this live musical talent.


LUI: (Singing) La-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la.

KALISH: The visual and sonic twists in the CDZA videos are not editing tricks - the musicians have the chops to pull them off. Some, like Thurber, are Juilliard graduates. Others play in Broadway pit bands and as recording session sidemen. But they seldom get the kind of exposure they get with CDZA. Five of the collective's 30 videos have had more than a million views each.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are CDZA and we create musical videos carried by YouTube. Today's (unintelligible) a new one. We are literally going to battle against all the biggest YouTube videos...

KALISH: YouTube's parent company took notice and invited CDZA to perform for thousands of Google employees in Las Vegas.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Up next, we've got our violinist, Mr. Charles Yang.


KALISH: Violinist Charles Yang regularly performs as a guest soloist with symphony orchestras around the country.

CHARLES YANG: Sometimes you can feel very enclosed in a bubble in the classical world and we played something for 12,000 people - 12,000 young people - which is something I have never done in my classical career. That's unheard of. And getting up there and playing some Paganini for 12,000 people was pretty awesome.

KALISH: Yang says he often speaks to high school students about classical music. And they recognize him from the CDZA videos, like the one in which he plays "Amore" with a bass player on a fire escape in Little Italy.


UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing) When the Moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore.


JOE SABIA: They're not really doing anything differently than what they'd e been taught to do.

KALISH: Joe Sabia directs the CDZA videos.

SABIA: If you have a classical pianist, really, really good at the style of Bach, like our buddy Evan Shinners, if we get him to do Kanye West in the style of Bach, it's like still the same language he's speaking, it's just in a different dialect.


KALISH: On afternoon last spring, CDZA commandeered a restaurant in Greenwich Village, owned by a friend of the collective.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Like, as soon as they come through that first set of doors, just go ahead and start playing.


KALISH: They invited passers vie to get a massage while a string quartet comprised of Juilliard alumnae played Haydn.


KALISH: The masseuse in the video is CDZA's recording engineer Matt McCorkle, who sprinkles rose pedals over the lucky souls and serves them champagne and grapes, as the camera rolls.

MATT MCCORKLE: We never sit down and say, OK, today we're going to conceptualize ideas. You know, it happens when we're G-chatting. Or it happens when we're walking down the street, or we're out for a drink, or we're at a show. And that's the most beautiful thing about it because it's natural. It's very, very natural how this all comes about.

KALISH: The three principals in CDZA continue to work on individual projects. But musical director Michael Thurber says they all have a sense that they've given birth to something that will continue to evolve.

THURBER: You don't really know exactly what it's going to be. All you know is that it's got a massive amount of potential. And that's all we're really focused on right now, is just trying to preserve that fun and keep it going.

KALISH: All in their spare time.


KALISH: For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yo. What's up, man?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Yeah. Yeah, yo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Hold on, man. I got to call you right back. I'm in the middle of something. Alright.


MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.


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