German pianist Stefan Aaron plays paino on the Great Wall in Beijing on Aug 12, 2012. Wang Jing/Asianewsphoto
German pianist Stefan Aaron has quickly become a famous foreigner in China because of his recent performance — not on stage of but on the Great Wall in Beijing.
Wearing a black T-shirt and black pants, the 40-year-old musician climbs up the Great Wall at Juyongguan, or Juyongguan Pass, a mountain pass in Changping District 60 kilometers from downtown Beijing, on an early Sunday morning. Like any international tourists visiting the iconic place, he is exhilarated and exhausted as he climbs the steep stone stairs.
Besides the green mountains and ancient bricks of the Great Wall, there is a bright orange piano waiting for him.
"It's my baby. It shines in the mountains," he says, pointing at the orange piano, which took eight men more than an hour to carry onto the 300-meter-high Great Wall.
A 15-member film crew is also busy testing cameras and setting up equipment. When a curly haired French man says "action", the musician begins playing a song called Great Wall Song, which he wrote a month ago, primarily for this video.
"10,000 miles I've flown to come to Beijing. I've sold my car and tried to learn Chinese ... So indestructible and solid since 7th century BC, this wall survived so many years now for eternity," he sings as he plays the piano. He ends the song with a line in Chinese, which draws feverish applause from the people who have stopped to watch.
"Singing a song about the Great Wall at the Great Wall is a very special experience," he says. "I've always wanted to visit the spectacular Great Wall, which is a must-see destination for international tourists. Singing a Great Wall song I wrote and playing my piano upgrades the music to a much meaningful level."
This is the second stop of Aaron's Orange Piano Tour, which was first launched in August 2011, when his orange piano was flown to the peak of the 4,204-meter-high Alphubel mountain in Switzerland. The show also set an official Guinness world record for the highest piano performance.
"I wanted to do something crazy. Something that was never done before," he says. "I want to put my orange piano at unusual places and see what happens."
Aaron said a helicopter transported the orange piano up the mountain in Switzerland. The film crew didn't have much time to prepare for the shooting in Beijing, so the piano had to be carried up the Great Wall.
"We've never done and even thought about this before. It's very challenging not only to move the piano up here but also make all these shooting details possible," says Christopher Dolan, the director and coordinator of the project, who founded Triple Three Production three years ago in Beijing. Under sunny skies, Aaron also performed another song, Doing the Undoable, the theme song of his Orange Piano Tour, which is about perseverance and believing in one's dreams.
"Nobody knows how a piano sounds above a 4,000-meter altitude or among ancient stones. The piano needs time to adjusting to the environment. Last time, when I played the piano at the mountain peak, the sound of the piano was so lasting and deep among all the quietness in the mountain," Aaron said. "When I played it today on the Great Wall, it became as hot as the sun. The sound is so strong and energetic."
The color of the piano also fits the song's vibrant beats. "It's a customized piano," he says. "The piano was brown when I bought it and I spray painted it orange last year before the shooting. I don't know why pianos in the world are all in black, brown or white, which make the piano players feel depressed. But my music is happy and I want the piano to be happy too."
Born into a family with no musical background, Aaron took his first piano lesson at 6. After school he studied vocals and jazz-piano at Munich, he immigrated to Los Angeles, where he studied American pianists at clubs and bars.
"I observed how they communicate with the audiences. Unlike classical pianists who immersed in their own music world, those musicians at small venues talk to the audiences during their performances. They always cheer up the atmosphere and regard audiences as part of their show," Aaron says.
He then returned to Germany and began playing piano at hotels and on cruises.
"I never want to become a great musician, who has amazing techniques and can play the hardest notes in the world. I like writing my own songs and have a very different approach to music," he says.
Aaron says playing at locations such as the Great Wall renew his passion for music. His next goal is to play piano at the Mayan Pyramids in Mexico on Dec 21, the date which marks the end of the world on the Mayan calendar.
"I am working on my next goal and if it could happen, I will write a song about the end of the world prediction," he says.