Good Life

State College pianist will bring a classical touch to NPR

Baron Cao, a State College Area High School sophomore will be featured on “From the Top,” an NPR program that spotlights young classical musicians.
Baron Cao, a State College Area High School sophomore will be featured on “From the Top,” an NPR program that spotlights young classical musicians. psheehan@centredaily.com

It sounded like music — probably the first and foremost sign that someone is playing the piano correctly.

Otherwise it can be difficult to tell, especially in the case of Baron Cao, who brushes his fingertips over the ivories so rapidly that it’s tempting to believe that he’s just striking random keys.

You know, like air guitar, with the benefit of an actual guitar.

But everything in that room — up to and including the Steinway & Sons piano — was 100 percent solid. Baron can play, a conclusion backed by a wall full of photographic evidence, glory shots from concerts past.

And again, the music.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but I made a mistake,” Baron said during a brief intermission.

We kind of showed how cool classical music can be.

Baron Cao

But Baron recovered too quickly for novice ears, employing one of the many contingencies he’s been trained to stow away for just such an occasion.

There’s always a plan B, a ripcord in place should Baron happen to miss a key or strike a faulty note. It’s not ideal — but neither is diving out of a plane without a parachute.

That’s too thin a premise on which to ascribe any kind of overarching philosophy. Baron prefers to think of it simply as technique.

“My technique has not reached it’s maximum potential yet,” he said.

Which in a way is good. Nobody wants to peak as a 16-year-old sophomore at State College Area High School. Better he should keep booking gigs, such as “From the Top,” an NPR program that spotlights young classical musicians.

Baron spent three days in April recording his episode in York and visiting with local elementary and middle school students.

“We kind of showed how cool classical music can be,” Baron said.

His own Beethoven moment arrived years ago, when at 6-years-old he accompanied his mother, Shouli Cao, to a performance by a Russian pianist.

It’s like my identity now. It’s in my DNA.

Baron Cao

She had very simple expectations for the outing.

“I just thought he’d go to sleep and I would listen,” Shouli said.

Instead she found herself in the market for a classical music teacher. Dea Baba has been Baron’s mentor for almost a decade now. That whole plan B thing? That came from her.

The rest — including two to three hours of practice a day — all comes down to the young man tickling the ivories. His mother says that he is self-motivated and always has been. Personally, she could stand to be able to listen to pre-recorded music around the house every once in a while.

Baron, meanwhile, has no intention of stopping any time soon.

“It’s like my identity now. It’s in my DNA,” Baron said.

His episode of “From the Top” will air nationally the week of June 12 and will also be available for streaming and podcast at fromthetop.org.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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